There is much spoken of the goodness of God in the North American church these days. I suspect some see it as a new revelation. Yet in fact within my lifetime I know it goes back at least decades in the Charismatic movement. It used to be sung almost as a little ditty. “God is good all the time. All the Time God is good.” I have no dispute with the concept, however let us look at the scriptural context and then look at the concept in light of the whole counsel of God, which is always a good practice. Below are the main verses that speak of His goodness.
1 Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually. Psalm 52:1 (NKJV)
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days. Hosea 3:5 (NKJV)
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4 (NKJV)
22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. Romans 11:22 (NKJV)
11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 2 Thessalonians 1:11 (NKJV)
In addition to God being good we also know He is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8). They are similar concepts and from this perspective we could insert ‘love’ instead of ‘goodness’ in Romans 2:4. However, I will focus on goodness and what His goodness actually means. From what I hear around the body of Christ I think that many of us equate God is good with ‘God is nice.’ That is, He will never do anything to hurt or offend us. If that were the case what do we do with this passage?
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Hebrews 12:1-8 (NKJV)
Does this line up the scriptures on His goodness? It does if we better understand Romans 2:4. The primary meaning of the Greek word translated as ‘goodness’ is moral excellence in the first instance and useful morals in the second. They are slight variations of the same Greek word. We don’t talk about morals or moral standards much in our culture but I think we would be better off if we did. As Christians we are called to a high moral standard. This should be a key desire of our hearts. So look at the verse again with these meanings inserted.
4 Or do you despise the riches of His moral excellence, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the useful morals of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4 (NKJV)
Look at a more recent translation that I think gets it right.
4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? Romans 2:4 (NLT)
If we put this together and remember Hebrews 12:1-8 we can see that because He is good God seeks to bring us to a place of repentance. When Jesus took a whip and cleansed the temple in Jerusalem (Jn. 2:15-17) was He reflecting the goodness of God? Absolutely. When Peter gave the first sermon in the newly birthed church and accused the crowd of murdering Jesus (Acts. 2:23) and they came under conviction (were cut to the heart) and repented (Acts 2:37-38) was this His goodness on display? Absolutely.
God is good and He loves to bless and honour His children. Yet as Hebrews tells us He also disciplines us when we go astray. If He doesn’t discipline us it is evidence that we aren’t really His children. The danger in equating His goodness with niceness is what I observed in a conference I just attended. The conference was being live streamed around the world and one of the speakers commented on how their spouse was out running and came back saying they were praying and reflecting on how God searches and tries us. The speaker referenced this as being in Psalm 51 and said their spouse thought this meant God was looking for the good/gold in us and the speaker affirmed that interpretation. The problems here are more than one. The first is that the verse isn’t in Psalm 51, though that is not a major issue (see below). The second is that in context it means the opposite of what the speaker said and lastly, none the leaders said anything about it.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NKJV)
I don’t know if the leaders didn’t recognize what happened or didn’t want to address it but the end result was leaving all those watching with the impression that God just wants to be nice to us. In truth, He wants to be good to us. He wants to bring forth the gold in us. I deeply believe and practice that but if the gold has mud on it then the mud needs to be scrubbed off (not ignored or tolerated) so the gold can be seen. The scrubbing is a manifestation of His goodness as much as His healing us or blessing us in some other way.
So, as we move forward in our walk with Him I pray we encounter His goodness over and over and more deeply reflect His character to those around us. In doing this let us also pray that our understanding of our experience is rooted in His word!