God Is So Good!
April 20, 1997
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” 1 Chronicles 16:34a
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” Psalm 145:9
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8
Let’s begin with a definition, which isn’t as easy as it might appear. The theologians tell us that God’s goodness is “his benevolence to his creation” or “his kindness exhibited toward all he has made.” That seems a bit vague so perhaps we might state the matter this way. God’s goodness is the answer to the question: Is this a friendly universe? The answer is yes; when we come to the end of our thinking we find that behind the vastness of this universe stands a God who cares about what he has made. He is not indifferent (as in stoicism) or undecided (as in dualism) or absent (as in atheism), but he is fully involved for the good of the universe because he himself is a good God.
In studying the matter this week I have been impressed with the vast amount of material that bears on this subject. God’s goodness is a vast subject that occupies a huge portion of the Old and New Testaments. In preparing a sermon such as this, the expositor has two choices. He can provide a survey of the entire biblical doctrine or he can focus on just one part and hope it points toward the whole. It is the latter course I have chosen to take in this message. Rather than cover God’s goodness systematically, I would like to focus our thinking a bit.
We often sing “God is So Good. He’s so good to me.” That’s true of course, but to say it that way limits our thinking to us. We know that from God’s point of view the human race is divided into two broad categories:
Everyone on the earth at any given moment is in one of those two categories. Either you are lost and estranged from God because of your sin or you are saved and your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood.
Since those are the two overarching categories of humanity, I would like to investigate how the goodness of God is displayed to both the lost and the saved. I find this subject fascinating and ultimately encouraging because it glorifies the goodness of God toward all mankind.
How God is Good to the Unsaved
We begin with a simple observation from Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” This statement comes just after the Apostle Paul has leveled a damning indictment of the entire human race (Romans 1:18-32). To those pious religious types who proclaim their innocence, he reminds them that they are just as bad as the heathen and they too have no excuse. God always punishes sinners but sometimes his judgment is delayed so that men will have time to repent. Thus every breath taken by an unsaved man is a sign of God’s goodness, meant to lead him step by step to repentance and faith.
In that spirit let’s survey briefly ten specific ways God is good to the unsaved.
A. By creating them knowing that they would rebel
Seven times in Genesis 1 God surveys his creation and calls it good. The last time he looked at creation and pronounced it “very good” (1:31). Yet God knew that man would turn away from him. Shortly the peace and joy of paradise will be broken by Adam’s foolish sin. Paradise gained soon becomes paradise lost. God knew what Eve would do, he knew what Adam would do, he knew all the pain that would result from their sin, he foresaw the long stream of suffering that would flow out from Eden that pollutes the world to this very day. Yet seeing it all, and knowing it all, he created man anyway. Would you do that? Would you create a race knowing it would turn away from you, would rebel against you, would reject you, and would violently kill your son? I daresay no human being can truthfully answer yes. We would not do it. Why create a race knowing that it would plunge headlong into disaster. Yet God did that. He created us knowing what we would do. While there are many mysteries here, we may say with certainty that creation in the face of foreknown rebellion is a mark of God’s goodness.
B. By sustaining them in spite of their continued rebellion
Here is a second sign of goodness, that God does not execute the wicked the moment they sin. Exodus 34:6 tells us that God is “slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” God would have been justified to slay Adam and Eve the moment they sinned. No one could blame him for aborting the human experiment and starting over again. But he continued to show goodness to generation after generation even when men continued to turn away from him. Luke 6:35 reminds us that “he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Most of us have trouble showing kindness to the kind and goodness to the good. But God shows kindness to those who hate him. This too is a mark of divine goodness.
C. By pouring out common grace upon them
Common grace is a theological term that refers to the general blessings God gives to men regardless of their spiritual state. Many blessings come from God without discrimination. Matthew 5:45 tells us that he causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. The earth flys through space, the seasons change, the rivers flow, the fields give forth their produce-all for the general benefit of the human race. The worst sinner may get the best suntan or he may run barefoot through the falling rain. Although he does not know it or appreciate it, he is a recipient of common grace.
D. By putting a desire for God inside every human heart
Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has put eternity in every human heart. When Romans 1:18-20 speaks of the lost it describes the knowledge of God seen in creation and found to some degree in the heart of every person. When Paul preached in Athens, he complimented the Athenians by calling them very religious people. In fact the city was filled with idols, including a shrine “to the unknown God.” Anthropologists tell us that man by nature is incurably religious. There is something in him that drives him to seek ultimate meaning outside himself. He may turn to God or he may worship idols of his own making or the evil spirits of his ancestors. That “something” inside him is put there by God. The French philosopher Pascal called it a “God-shaped vacuum.” St. Augustine gave us this oft-quoted prayer: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
That leads me to comment that atheism is the most unnatural philosophy in the world. It goes against the very fiber of what it means to be human. A man has to deny himself in order to be an atheist. He must stifle his inner longing for God in order to deny his existence.
That’s why you meet very few true atheists. It’s not a natural philosophy. That men should by nature seek God is one more aspect of God’s goodness.
E. By hearing the prayers of the saved for the lost
Here we find an aspect of God’s goodness that the lost don’t realize and probably don’t appreciate when they do learn about it. God is good to the unsaved by allowing the saved to pray for them. In Romans 10:1, Paul says that his heart’s desire and his prayer to God is for the Jewish people to be saved. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told a story in order to encourage us to always pray and not to faint. James 5:16 tells us that the prayers of the righteous are powerfully effective in the spiritual realm.
How many of us are in the kingdom of God because someone prayed for us? While we were still lost in our sins, a mother, a father, a son or a daughter, a neighbor or a friend at work befriended us, and unbeknown to us, brought our name before the throne of God. Only eternity will tell how much the prayers of others were used by God to bring us to salvation.
F. By allowing them to see God’s power at work in the lives of the saved
There are many examples of this truth, but none so striking as the story of the three Hebrew children in Daniel 3. When Nebuchadnezzar ordered that all those present bow down before the golden statue, they refused and boldly remained standing. In a fury the king had them thrown in the fiery furnace. But when the soldiers looked, they reported to the king that they saw three Hebrews standing and a fourth standing with them-one like the son of the gods (Daniel 3:25). The king ordered the three men brought to him. When he saw they had emerged unhurt, he publicly praised the God of Israel, saying “He sent his angels to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than worship any god except their own God” (3:28, New Living Translation).
This is why we should be bold. The unsaved watch us all the time. They study what we say and do, they watch whether or not we will live up to our own convictions. And when we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for what we believe, they see God in us, and many of them praise God because of our faithfulness.
G. By allowing them to share in his blessings to his own children
At this point I’m thinking of Joseph who, after being sold to the Midianites, was later sold to Potiphar, chief of Pharoah’s security force. Because God’s hand was with him, he rose in power to become administrator of all Potiphar’s household. Genesis 39 tells us that God blessed the entire household on Joseph’s account. In this we see the unsaved receiving blessings simply from the presence of a saved person in their midst.
The same principle is at work in 1 Corinthians 7:14, which instructs Christians not to leave a marriage with an unbeliever if the unbeliever is willing to stay. Why? Because the unsaved spouse is “sanctified” by the presence of the believing mate. And the children are deemed holy in God’s sight. That is, the unbelievers live under the influence of a godly mother or father and the whole family draws closer to God as a result.
That’s why Christians ought to think twice before they leave a bad marriage or before they leave a job where they are the only believers in the office. Believers are the light of the world. If we leave whenever we are surrounded by unbelievers, we take the light with us. If the light goes out, the darkness will only get worse.
Here, then, is yet one more overlooked sign of God’s goodness. He allows them to share vicariously in the blessings he gives to his own children. He blesses them on our account.
H. By using them to accomplish his purposes
God often uses the unsaved to further his purposes in the world. Here we may think of Pharoah whose stinging rebuke exposed AbramÃs shocking deception regarding his wife Sarai (Genesis 12:10-20). Or we may think of a later Pharoah whose heart God hardened, which led to the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 5-13). Hundreds of years later God raised up Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to judge Israel for her sins. This factÃ³that God would use pagans to judge his peopleÃ³greatly perplexed and troubled the righteous prophet Habakkuk. Fifty yeras later God raised up Cyrus as his anointed leader to decree the return of the Jew from captivity (Ezra 1). Along the same lines we may think of Caesar Augustus whose decree led Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem at just the moment when Jesus Christ was born (Luke 2:1-3). Finally we could add the testimony of Felix and Agrippa, who played major roles in the life of the Apostle Paul, thus allowing the great apostle to make his way to Rome, the most important city on earth at the time (Acts 25-28).
None of these things happened by accident. Each one illustrates the truth that Ã¬HeÃs got the whole world in his hands.Ã® God owes the unsaved nothing, yet it is a mark of his goodness that he allows them to play an important role in the unfolding drama of redemption.
I. By inviting them to salvation and making provision through Jesus’ death
Ezekiel 18:23 tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of wicked. 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that God desires all men to be saved and that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man. Second Peter 3:9 adds that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. And Revelation 22:17 is the very last invitation in the entire Bible. It invites “whosoever will” to come and be saved. To those verses we might add the most famous verse in the all the Bible-John 3:16, which tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Some commentators have vainly tried to make the “world” in this verse mean something other than the world of mankind. But their efforts are not convincing. In some way that we cannot fathom, God’s heart yearns for all men, all women, all children-every person in every country on every continent-he loves them all and wants them to be saved.
Why then are they not all saved? Manifestly it is because they have chosen the path of sin and disobedience and have not believed in Jesus Christ. But do not miss the point. No one will ever be able to say to God, “You cheated me because you loved others but you didn’t love me.” No, God demonstrated his goodness toward the lost in sending Jesus Christ to be the sufficient payment for the sins of the entire human race. In some sense Jesus truly died for all men and it is on that basis that God invites sinners to salvation.
J. By answering their prayers for mercy when they cry out in Jesus’ name
Here is one final proof of God’s goodness to the lost. He not only makes provision for their salvation, he not only invites them to be saved, but when they cry out in Jesus’s name for mercy, he hears them and saves them. Just as the thief on the cross was saved after a lifetime of heinous crime, even so the “vilest sin who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” No sinner will ever be able to say, “I asked for mercy in Jesus’ name but God turned me away.” That will never happen because those who come to God through Jesus will never be turned away.
All of this leads me to a simple but profound conclusion: God is truly good to the lost even though they don’t appreciate it. In a deep sense everything that God does for the lost is meant to lead them to repentance.
How God is Good to the Saved
With that we now turn to the other side of the question-How God has been good to the saved. In thinking about this subject, I found myself humming that old gospel song, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
A. By giving us eternal life the moment we believe
Here is a remarkable fact. Eternal life begins for the believer the moment he believes in Jesus. John 6:47 tells us that he who believes has everlasting life. First John 5:12 adds that “he who has the Son has life.” Eternal life is not just heaven, it’s also the experience of God’s life while we are still on the earth. God could have made us wait until the moment of death to see whether we were going to be faithful, but instead he gives us eternal life when we trust Christ as Savior.
B. By giving us immediate access through prayer
Probably most Christians have memorized Hebrews 4:16, which speaks of coming boldly to the throne of grace where we can find grace to help “in the nick of time.” It’s the image of a great monarch opening his court to any and all the citizens of his realm. Instead of access being granted only to a few, now we may come freely and boldly and openly-whenever we like-into God’s presence.
Let me illustrate. Suppose I call the White House and ask to speak to President Clinton. They will ask my name and then say, “I’m sorry, but the President doesn’t know you.” “But I know the President.” “I’m sorry, he’s not expecting your call.” No matter how much I beg or plead, I won’t get through because the President doesn’t know me. Although I am a citizen, I have no access to the Oval Office. However, whenever Chelsea wants to speak to her father, she can go right in. Because the President is her father, she has immediate access.
We are like the President’s daughter. Through Jesus Christ, we have been brought into God’s family. We can “go right in” to the Oval Office of the universe and speak to God himself. This is a remarkable sign of God’s goodness.
C. By answering our prayers, but not all of them
Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t talk to me about the mystery of unanswered prayer. Why is it that some of our prayers are answered and some are not? Why are some people healed and others not? Why do some marriages make it and others end in divorce-even though we prayed fervently that the divorce would not happen? I’m not sure the Bible offers just one answer to these questions. Often we won’t know even after the fact why some of our prayers are not answered. But I take great comfort from Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12. Three times he prayed that the “thorn in the flesh” be removed. Three times God said no. Then the Lord spoke directly and explained his refusal. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul then says that he boasts in his weakness that God’s strength may be seen in his life. He concluded that it was better that God didn’t answer his prayers because he then experienced God’s power in a new and deeper way.
The same thing happens to us. Have you ever thanked God for the prayers he didn’t answer? We’re accustomed to praising God for answered prayer. Sometimes we would benefit from praising God for unanswered prayer. (Someone told me recently about a certain country singer-Garth Brooks, I think-who has a song called “Thank God For Unanswered Prayer.” It’s all about going to a county fair with his wife and seeing his old girl friend there-the girl he had hoped to marry. Seeing her made him realize that God had saved him from a great mistake and preserved him for the right woman. Many of us have had similar experiences.)
God is good to answer our prayers-but not all of them.
D. By giving ultimate purpose to the worst tragedies of life
Romans 8:28 reminds us that “all things work together for good.” That’s an easy verse to believe when the sun is shining, but it’s something else entirely in the darkness of human tragedy. We doubt this verse for two reasons. First, Paul says “we know” when most of us don’t feel like we know. Second, Paul says “all things” when most of us would rather say “some things.” Surely the key word is the word “good.” For us, “good” usually means happiness, health, prosperity, and good fortune. Those things are indeed good, but God’s good far exceeds our limited vision. Romans 8:29 tells us that God’s good is that we should be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Anything that makes us like Jesus is good. This gives an entirely new perspective to heartaches and tragedies. They are part of God’s plan to chip away little by little at our character until Jesus is fully formed in us.
I don’t propose that this answers every question or that it turns sorrow into joy, but it does reassure us that something good is happening even in the worst moments of life.
E. By disciplining us when we begin to stray into sin
There are really two parts to this truth. First, Hebrews 12:5-6 reminds us that those whom the Lord loves, he chastens. God disciplines us precisely because we are his children. After all, I don’t discipline your children, I only discipline mine. But I do it because I love them and because I want them to grow up and be mature adults. The same is true with God. Second, God forgives us when we cry out to him. Psalm 86:5 says, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.” Both these aspects flow from God’s goodness. He will not let us remain in our sin, but disciplines us that we might turn from our sin, cry out for forgiveness and begin to walk in newness of life.
F. By uniting us with Christ in his resurrection life
There are many, many verses that teach this vital truth. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Galatians 2:20 speaks of our crucifixion with Christ so that our old life has died with him and the life we live we now live by virtue of our relationship with him. Second Corinthians 5:17 sums it up by saying, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”To be in Christ means to be joined with Jesus himself in his resurrection life. Instead of saving us and then leaving us on our own, God has joined with Jesus so that our ultimate victory is completely assured.
G. By giving us the Holy Spirit and the Word of God so that we have everything we need to live righteously in this world
Ponder this verse for a moment: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). We have a source (“his divine power”) and a channel (“our knowledge of him”), but most of all we have a promise (“everything we need”) with an awesome range (“life and godliness”). No one ever has an excuse for sin. No one can say, “I couldn’t help myself” or “That was just too tough for me” or “I had no choice but to give in to sin.”
God’s commands are not grievous. He never asks from us what he does not also supply for us. If we sin, we have only ourselves to blame. In the goodness of God, we truly have everything we need to live a life that pleases God.
H. By giving us whatever we need so that we can be content whatever our circumstances
I’m thinking here of verses such as Philippians 4:19, which speaks of God supplying all our needs and of James 1:17, which tells us that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father above. In my reading recently I ran across a statement attributed to a man from Montana who used to say regarding contentment: “If you can’t be happy with what you already have, why should God trust you with anything else?” Good question. Far too many people go through life chronically unhappy with their circumstances. Yet in every situation we have whatever we need to be content (if not happy). When we focus on material things, we will often feel frustrated, but when we focus on the Lord, we can rejoice that what we have can never be taken from us.
I. By giving us a reason to rejoice when the world turns against us
You may remember that Jesus ended the Beatitudes with a blessing for those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12). Few of us would want such a blessing, yet I am convinced that all of us will experience it sooner or later. Because we live in a fallen world, we will often encounter spiritual hostility. In the words of Jesus, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). This may not be happy news but it is the sobering truth.
It is the goodness of God that even though we are bitterly attacked and slandered for our faith, our opponents may rob us of everything except our joy. They cannot take that away no matter how hard they try.
J. By giving good hope for the future so that we have nothing to fear at the moment of death
Many years ago I discovered Hebrews 2:15, which says that Jesus came to destroy him who has the power of death-that is, the devil-and to free us who were held in slavery by our fear of death. Death is the great leveler. In this life there are many differences among men, but in the end we leave the way we came-naked and powerless.
Several centuries ago Christians often spoke of “dying well.” In fact, John Wesley claimed of the early Methodists that “our people die well.” I could say the same things. The Christians I have known-with no exceptions-have died well. They have died full of faith in God, still believing in Jesus till the very end. They have trusted in God’s Word and have found that in the moment of death, the Lord could still be trusted completely.
What does it all mean?
We often say “God is Good … all the time.” Indeed he is. This little survey is just that-a little survey. We could expound in many other directions regarding God’s goodness. But this much is sure. God is good whether we see it or whether we don’t. In the words of the Psalmist, God is good and his mercy endures forever!
Everything About God is Good!
Let’s wrap up this message with the following thought. God’s goodness is the sum total of all His attributes. To say it another way, there is nothing about God that is not good. Goodness may be appended to all his other attributes.
His wrath is good.
His mercy is good.
His justice is good.
His holiness is good.
His love is good.
Everything God does is good. There is nothing but goodness in his being!
Since God is good, he always has our best interests at heart. That must be true and if we are going to be happy, we must believe it. Because God is good, nothing happens to us that is not for our ultimate good. In saying that, I do not mean to downplay the pain of tragedy or the sorrow of unexpected loss. I too know what it is to stand by the graveside and say farewell to those I love. I too have wept many tears. And I certainly know what it is to pray and have my prayers go unanswered-sometimes very fervent prayers for healing and help and life itself for those I love.
When God Says No
How does the goodness of God square with the pain we all experience? The answer moves along these lines. When God says, “No” He does it because he loves us. What God forbids is for our own good just as much as what he grants.
I do not mean to suggest that we will always see the good in the midst of our pain. Generally we won’t. I’m simply saying that because God is there, he is in the midst working out that which is for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory. We see this by faith and believe it by faith.
Oftentimes we won’t see his goodness until after our trials are past-if we even see it then. In other sermons I have referred to Job 23:10 and I now bring it up again. “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Both parts of this verse contain precious truth. “He knows the way that I take.” How wonderful to know that God knows. Very often we walk in such darkness that we cannot tell where we have come from or where we are going. Even the next step is a mystery to us. God knows! He knows where you are at this moment, he sees the path in the darkness as though it were the blinding light of day. God knows! Let this thought comfort your heart, child of God.
“When he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Gold is produced by taking the raw ore, putting it into the smelter, and heating it until the impurities rise to the top to be skimmed away. Then nothing is left but pure gold itself. Do you feel as if God has put you in the furnace of affliction? Does it seem as if the temperature is too hot to bear? Fear not, my friend. God knows what he is doing. In the end, you will come forth as pure gold. The heat of your present trials is producing pure gold in your heart. Some day you will look back with joy on your present struggles.
Run to the Cross
If anyone reads these words who is not saved, I urge you to run to the cross and fling yourself upon God’s mercy. You must not presume on God’s goodness. It will not last forever. God for the moment withholds his hand of judgment, but his hand will not be stayed forever. I urge upon you the deepest concern for your spiritual welfare.
One final comment and I am done. Truth always demands a response. What shall we say to the goodness of God?
If you are saved … Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.
If you are lost … Taste and see that the Lord is good.
I close with the good news that the gospel is the ultimate good news! That’s what the word “gospel” means: Good News. God has made a way for you to go to heaven. The way is now opened. The goodness of God is meant to lead you to repentance. May that be your experience and may you come to know the goodness of the Lord today. Amen.