This past Sunday, my pastor preached a message in which he encouraged people to remember, “God is a good God” when they experience suffering or difficulty. This is a wise counsel. However, what does it mean? I know it means God is good and not evil, but what does “good” mean? Is there some standard that stands above God, which he meets, and therefore is good? Or, is he good because there is more about him that we like than that which we don’t? How we answer this question is extremely important. In fact, I would argue that if God is not good, then good itself does not exist. If God is not good, then “good” can only really mean, “I like it.” If good is nothing more than “I like it,” then evil can be nothing more than “I don’t like it.”
Some have argued that good things are good because “God says so.” Then they say that God could have called what we think of as evil “good” if he wanted to. Therefore, these are arbitrary categories. On this view, good simply means, “God likes it” and evil means “God doesn’t like it.” There is nothing really good or evil in and of itself. These are mere statements of preference, either ours, or God’s. If you think about this, and you consider things you care deeply about, such as the wrongness of genocide, or the rightness of self-sacrifice, you will find neither of these explanations satisfying.
When you think of genocide, you not only think it is evil, you think everyone ought to agree. In fact, if someone disagrees, you think there is something wrong with that person. When you here stories of self-sacrifice, you want to celebrate, and encourage others to follow the example. How do we explain this? It is because God is good.
If you have been to an evangelical church in the last few decades, you have probably heard “God is good” so many times it might seem like a cliché. However, I want to encourage you to think of it a little differently. “God is good” can be understood more than one way. Typically, it is understood that “good” is an adjective that describes God, and it is. That is one way to take the statement. Here is another way, and I want you to wrap your mind around it. “God is good” also means that God is the very standard by which we call anything else good.
Before I unpack that, let me clarify what I mean by good. There is another way “good” is commonly used. It is used to mean, “Well suited for its intended purpose.” However, you could easily see how something can be good in this sense, but not good in a moral sense. For example, a hollow-point bullet is well suited for doing maximum damage to a living organism into which it is fired. It is a good bullet, in this sense. However, no one in his or her right mind would think such a bullet striking an innocent person would be a good thing.
The definition above, however is not far off the mark (no pun intended.) I would argue that when God declared his creation “good” in Genesis 1, he meant that it was well suited to the purpose for which he created it. The important difference is that God’s purposes are always good, because he is good. Here I mean he is good in that he is the embodiment of good. Good in this sense that which reflects God’s character. God is good by nature. As such, whatever he commands is good because his commands express his nature. Therefore, whatever he commands us to do, it is good to do it. Whatever he forbids us from doing, it is evil to do those things.
It may be helpful at this point to say something about evil. Evil is not a thing or a force in and of itself, just as cold or darkness is not a thing. Just as darkness is a lack of light, and cold is a lack of heat, evil is a lack of good.
God is good. This is the standard by which we rightly call anything else good. The difficult thing to realize is that if God allows us to suffer, in the end, it is good. God promises “all things work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This does not always mean we will see that good any time soon after some painful thing happens. It may not be until you stand before God and look at your entire life that you see how that thing is used for your good. However, since our lives here on earth are SO short compared to our life in eternity, we will see how these truly are what Paul calls “light and momentary afflictions.” (See 2 Corinthians 4:17)
God is good. If you deny this because of bad things happening to you or those you love, you are denying the very meaning of the word. All you are left with is “I don’t like this…” Is that really a preferable alternative?