If there’s one descriptor that’s used often to describe God, it’s that He is “good.” We are invited in the psalms to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (34:8). James tells us that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” (1:17). But, what do we mean when we say God is good?
God is the absolute, the standard by which all that is good is judged. Things are good because they reflect the character of God. To say that God is good means, among other things, that He is morally ultimate, lavish in His love, and perfectly noble and true in his purposes and intentions. God is good in His basic essence, in His character, in His ultimate plans, in His purposes, in His intentions for the world and for humanity in general, for you specifically, and good in his motives and love.
There are times when we might question the goodness of God, when “bad” things happen to us or, maybe more often, when we don’t get those things we think are good for us. As I’ve talked about before, we are a people of story. Narratives, often subconscious, feed our ideas of what is good, and beautiful, and true, driving our decisions and the way we live our lives. Sometimes these narratives conflict with what is truly good for us.
I mentioned one of these narratives last week, the story of prosperity or consumerism: the idea that goodness is found what I own, or buy, or consume, and that achieving good is working to get these things. Another narrative is the story of achievement- goodness is found in what I accomplish, so I work hard to achieve certain things, whether a position of leadership, or recognition in the eyes of my peers, or a certain job or vocation. Yet another narrative is the story of romance–goodness is found in seeking my one true love, the one who will complete me and bring me happiness.
But what if these things really aren’t good for us? I don’t mean they are universally bad, meaning that having things, or accomplishing deeds, or finding someone you want to do life with can’t be good things, but what if they’re not always good? What if we look to them for transcendence, and give them power over our lives they were never meant to have? What if, in the pursuit of them, we neglect a greater good, like investing in those we love? What if, in pursuing them, we actually hurt others? What if pursuing these “good” things make us compromise our integrity, or act in a way that induces so much pressure and stress that it undermines our mental, emotional, or spiritual health? What if pursuing them jeopardizes our relationship with the only true transcendent good, to know and be known by God?
All these stories, and many more, have the tendency to take us off course in our broken, fallen state. They are inclined to corrupt us into doing things we know we shouldn’t to get them, or to give them too much importance or emphasis in our lives, placing our identity or purpose in them, or making them transcendent when they are not and cannot be. Anyone who has a lot of stuff, or who has accomplished many things, or who is married knows that these things, in and of themselves, are not inherently good. Sometimes these things can make you miserable, or aren’t what you expected they would be before you had them. Sometimes you do awful things to others or yourself to get or keep them. And, looking to any of them as your purpose and meaning in life destroys them and you.
God is infinitely aware of this finite tendency in His children to pursue the wrong good things as ultimate things. And, His desire for us is that we develop His goodness- moral excellence, lavish love, and noble and true intentions and purposes. As His children who will live with Him forever, these things are infinitely more important than anything we can own, any earthly achievement we can attain, or even falling in love with someone who won’t be ours in the world to come.
So, how does an infinitely good God develop these tendencies in us, knowing that in our current state, just giving us things that make us happy all the time, is the equivalent of feeding a three-year-old a steady diet of candy: sure, they’re happy, but they’re marching toward morbid obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay? God develops eternal goodness in eternal beings the only way He can– by letting life in a fallen, Genesis 3 world happen to us, facing the challenges, trials, and pain, and forcing us to trust and press into God’s goodness as the defining characteristic of who He is.
I’m learning this truth all over again as we walk one of my daughters through recovery from a long-term injury. Her prognosis is good, but the pathway to good is very hard. It will require her to press through significant pain and to be strong, brave, and resilient. It will get worse for her as it is getting better, according to her health care providers. My heart aches as we gear up to walk this path with her.
This was the kid who had mono for six months her sophomore year in high school, from MLK Day to June, and did in-home schooling before it was cool. Her senior year, she had symptoms of a stomach virus the entire first semester of her senior year, for four months. All she could keep down was brown rice and Cheerios, so that was her diet during that time, as she did school and cheered. I still remember her cheering on the track at the football games, running into the locker room at halftime to throw up, then running back onto the track to finish the game.
She’s endured four concussions. She’s been through many other things I can’t write about here, because they’re her story to tell. The point is that God has been good to her. He has made her tenderhearted and as tough as nails. Resilient and kind. Strong-willed, yet compassionate and merciful. And, His. She is all His.
As we stare down the winding, rocky road to her recovery (whatever that looks like), I can confidently say that by God’s grace she will more than endure it- she will crush it. And, at the end, she will be morally stronger, love better, and be more resolved than ever in her intents and purposes. Because my God is very, very good, and He is working in and through her. And, also in and through us.
As moms and dads, we want good for our kids, yet God’s good comes in all kinds of packages. We don’t always see it when it’s happening. We can’t always imagine that what we’re seeing right now, what we’re enduring with them, could in any way be good for them, or preparing, molding, and shaping them for who they’ll be and what they’ll need tomorrow. We have to trust, though, in God’s goodness.
I recently read an article by Tish Warren, who says we have to believe and resolve in our hearts that God is good before we know the outcome, not dependent upon it. And, we have to pray for wisdom and discernment to know when to stand by and let God do His good work, making sure we’re not standing in His way in some misguided attempt to protect those we love. God’s goodness often looks like not saving ourselves or our kids from the hard. As parents, we have to know when to show that side of God to our kids in our own lives; loving them, cheering them on, but letting the painful side of God’s goodness prevail.