The Goodness of God

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (v. 17).

- James 1:12–18

Today we will be considering divine goodness. Our Lord’s goodness is one of the most frequently mentioned divine attributes in Scripture, but it is also one that is all too often misunderstood. Therefore, it is vital for us to remember that divine goodness, like God’s other attributes, cannot be considered in isolation. God will never exercise His goodness in any way that would cause Him to set aside another of His attributes.

As a divine attribute, goodness is first a description of God’s essential character. It means that the Lord is not evil, that He does not love sin and, indeed, cannot even be tempted with evil (v. 13). In this way, it is synonymous with some aspects of what we typically call divine holiness, which refers both to God’s being set apart from everything else and to His moral character. Divine goodness is also closely connected to divine justice. Goodness abhors evil, so punishing evil is intrinsic to what it means for God to be good and just (Ex. 34:6–7). The Lord forbids human judges from perverting justice (23:2, 6), and that is not surprising because all His ways are just (Deut. 32:4). Consequently, divine wrath in the service of divine justice is one way in which God manifests His goodness to His creation.

Our Creator shows goodness in other ways as well. First, the Lord reveals His goodness in His benevolence to His creation. God’s benevolence is the kindness the Lord bestows on all people, and includes such things as His giving rain to both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45b). God has a specific love only for believers, and by this love He works out all things for the good of His people (John 1:12–13; Rom. 8:28). His benevolence, however, is a more generalized display of goodness that is not the love that leads to salvation.

God’s special love for His people also manifests His goodness. This love is a holy love, which means that our sins are punished, but they are punished in Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:21–26). In saving us, God does not set aside His love for what is good and His hatred for what is evil, but He judges us in Christ so as to save us without compromising His justice. In His holy love, God also disciplines us for our good and His glory (Heb. 12:5–11).

Finally, God’s mercy flows from His goodness. The Lord would still be good even if He never showed mercy, for mercy is not obligated (Rom. 9:14–24). Yet in His mercy to us, we see that He has purposed to be good in a special way to His people.

Coram Deo

God’s love is not a wishy-washy love that overlooks evil. Even in His love, God manifests His justice. He does not love sinners without dealing with their sin, and if we are in Christ, our sin has been dealt with in our Savior’s atonement. Let us proclaim all aspects of God’s goodness and call people to repent so that they will receive God’s goodness and His mercy.

Passages for Further Study

Psalms 73:1; 86:5
Zechariah 9:16–17
Matthew 7:7–11
1 Peter 2:1–3

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