“That was good.” This simple phrase renders a judgment on the flavours of a meal, the thrill of an experience, the quality of a book or movie, or the excitement of your first motorcycle ride. “Good,” for us, is a positive affirmation of something pleasant. Seldom do we quantify a root canal with the phrase, “Well, that was good!” Or discover a flooded basement with, “Wow - that is so good! An indoor pool!” No, goodness is innately pleasant. Neither root canals nor flooded basements are.
One of the hardest qualities to understand of God’s character is that He is good. Always. We love to say it to one another, “God is good - all the time.” We not only believe it, but we are dependent on the truth of this statement. Yet our reality isn’t always that good. Our immediate circumstances and environment may be mostly pleasant, but on a global scale (assuming God is a global God) there is a lot that will never merit a “Wow, that was good” evaluation. And for the last few weeks it is even here in our own backyards, it is painfully obvious not all is “good.” God is good? Where? His goodness appears to be somewhat intermittent.
That God is good doesn’t mean He has a “good streak” running in Him (implying there is also room for a “bad” streak!). It means He is goodness and all that He does is good. But what does that mean? Not everything in life is as pleasant as a great meal or as exciting as a motorcycle ride. How is it that God is good?
Going all the way back to Moses’ story of creation, the idea of “good” appears frequently and consistently. Each day of creation is called “good,” and the final summary of all that God had created is called “very good.” In describing the creation of people, God says it is not “good” for a man to be alone, so He creates woman. What is the meaning behind this constant use of “good” in the creation narratives? Is this a statement where God is simply saying “that was good,” referring perhaps to the experience of the creative process or expressing His satisfaction with the quality of a job well done?
It is neither of these.
The word “good” as used by Moses speaks to that which has purpose and value. All of creation has value and fulfills a purpose: to reveal the Creator and to sustain the life of His image-bearers. Man was created to care for that creation but could not do it alone - he needs woman. Fulfilling God’s image-bearing responsibilities requires both man and woman to work together. Without woman the man would be unable to fulfill his purpose.
So contrary to popular usage, when describing God, “good” does not necessarily mean pleasurable or exciting. Although it does not preclude those moments. I wonder what the disciples of Jesus felt every time they observed yet another miracle! How brilliant was the sunrise on the morning of the resurrection? These were pleasant and exciting moments, but that isn’t what makes them “good.” They are good because they fulfilled a divine purpose.
Knowing God is good sustains us in difficult times. When life isn’t that pleasant, when it is downright overwhelming and the dark nights seem endless, we find comfort knowing that God is still accomplishing His plans. There is still purpose, and there is still value in life, regardless of the circumstances. David put it this way in Psalm 119:65-67:
O LORD, just as you promised.
Teach me proper discernment and understanding!
For I consider your commands to be reliable.
Before I was afflicted I used to stray off,
but now I keep your instructions.
You are good and you do good.
Teach me your statutes!
Arrogant people smear my reputation with lies,
but I observe your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are calloused, but I find delight in your law.
It was good for me to suffer, so that I might learn your statutes.
The “affliction” to which David refers is not punishment from God. We do not serve a “you get what you deserve” kind of God. Because of sin all of creation is broken and dysfunctional. We all feel those effects everyday. But even the worst of those moments will not interrupt God’s working or interfere with His plans. In fact, He uses them for our benefit! As David concluded, “It was good for me to suffer , so that I might learn your statutes.” Unless we are convinced of God’s faithfulness, love and goodness, that statement is bizarre.
To speak of God’s goodness, we must understand it is much more than the designation that He is a pleasant deity. God’s goodness means He is also providential, engaged in accomplishing His purposes, and in molding and crafting our hearts and character into that which reflects His own. Sometimes the sinfulness of the world around us and of our own hearts makes that an unpleasant experience. But it is still a good one.
There are an endless number of followers of Jesus who have experienced almost inexpressible trauma and suffered unfathomable loss only to later express the “good” that has come out of that process. How is this possible? Only by being convinced that God IS good and all that He does IS goodness.
I’m not looking to live a life marked with pain and suffering. Pain for pain’s sake does not touch the heart of God. I cannot garner His favour by creating my own suffering. But, if by living with integrity and faithfulness to the Creator and His Kingdom I should suffer, then I must have the assurance that He is still good, regardless of my circumstances. And someday, when I see Jesus face to face, I will be able to say, “That was good.”