“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…” (Psalm 23:6 NIV).
This is the most amazing reality of Christian life. We are pursued not by terrors or misfortune, but, as the various Bible translations explain it, by the goodness, the mercy, the kindness of God and His unending, unfailing, faithful and gracious love. All trials and hardships are temporary – when the goodness and mercy of God overtake us, they vanish like frost beneath a rising sun. As the chosen flock of God and His ‘called out ones’, all the riches of His house are ours to enjoy; yet no earthly benefit compares with the goodness of God, which makes every encounter with Him, however brief, a time of unimaginable heavenly joy.
What is the goodness of God?
Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of goodness, especially the goodness of God. Most dictionaries define goodness as ‘the state or quality of being good’, ‘moral excellence or virtue’, ‘kindly feeling, kindness, generosity’, ‘the best part of anything’ and so on. These beautiful words and phrases, are yet inadequate to explain the depth of meaning contained in the biblical terms for goodness. The scriptures, in speaking of the goodness of God, seem to point to 1. a quantity that is limitless and difficult to measure, 2. quality that is so multifaceted, as to be almost indefinable, and 3. everlasting durability. The English equivalent for the Hebrew word ‘tobh’ translates as abundant in goodness or loving kindness, plenteous in mercy, or a continually enduring goodness. The NT Greek word ‘chrestotes’ further indicates a quality of being benign, yet useful, as something that works in us and for our benefit.
God is goodness personified. Outside of God there can be no goodness, which is why Jesus said to someone who called Him “good Teacher” – as though this goodness were a quality He possessed within the nature of His humanity and therefore independent of God – “Why do you call me good… Only God is truly good” (Luke 18:19 NLT). For we must remember that Christ, in His humanity, had emptied Himself of all divine attributes (Philippians 2:6-7), and as an example for us, depended on the goodness of the Father.
The effect of His goodness
So, we have no goodness within ourselves, that is separate from God. But His goodness is available to us in infinite measure to meet our every need in each hour and season of our lives. And what is the effect of His goodness? To the Romans, Paul wrote – “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). It is God’s goodness which leads us to repentance and salvation, or as the Aramaic BPE puts it, “the sweetness of God brings conversion to you”. His goodness is full of sweetness; it is also patient and forbearing, as it pursues us all the days of our lives, gently prompting us to return to Him or to persevere a little longer on the narrow road.
The goodness of God is deeply satisfying to our souls – it fills the emptiness within our spirits, quenching the inner thirst and hunger. “I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, And My people will be satisfied with My goodness,” declares the LORD’ (Jeremiah 31:14 NASB). “… Your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy” (Psalm 68:8 ESV).
Our homes and streets may fall short in many ways – either materially or in providing that sense of community, friendship, social and emotional well being, that we all desire; but in our interior spaces, we might enjoy something infinitely better. The presence of our good King and Shepherd fills all desolate spaces – both within and without – with joyous celebration: “Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste… in the streets… that are desolate… there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness… the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10-11 NIV).
The afflicted are not forgotten, but pursued by a good God, who seeks them out to bless them. The goodness of God is given to us not in tiny rations, as we often tend to believe, but poured lavishly upon us – “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19 ESV). It makes our faces radiant as it refreshes our inner lives, fills our souls with joyful singing (Jeremiah 31:12 ESV), and causes us to flourish in every area of our lives (Zechariah 9:17 ESV).
So it transforms us. “… by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness…” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV). The Young’s Literal Translations says that His goodness leads us to ‘reformation’ (Romans 2:4). It births within us a desire to be good ourselves, and then fulfils that desire.” Goodness in man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good” (Easton). As the goodness of God penetrates our souls, others around us will see a distinction between us and the world – in our speech and conduct.
How should we respond to God’s continual goodness in our lives? We ought to remind ourselves and one another that God is good, that He will do what is good for us, and that His goodness toward us is never ending. We must, as an act of will, choose to remember this even when everything seems to go against us and our feelings incline towards fear, inadequacy or discontentment, and He will soon fulfil His promise to satisfy us with His goodness. We must thank and praise Him for His goodness in our churches and house gatherings as the Israelites did – “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34 NASB). Finally, we ought to embrace a lifestyle of contentment and thankfulness, and allow our minds and spirits to be renewed by this unchanging truth.
Goodness is the fruit of the indwelling Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22). As we live and move in Him, we will demonstrate His goodness to the world. His life-giving sap flowing through our spirits will produce this fragrant fruit which carries the divine sweetness. People will notice in us the same patience, lovingkindness and desire to keep faith with others, not giving up when they seem tardy or difficult. The result is that we will enrich many lives, and be ourselves enriched in this earthly walk.
Father, thank You for Your eternal goodness to us, demonstrated on the cross of Jesus Christ. Help us to dwell on this goodness continually, to be thankful and to allow ourselves to be transformed by the reality of Your word, rather than by our external experiences.
Easton, Matthew George. “Entry for Goodness”. “Easton’s Bible Dictionary”. Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. “Entry for ‘GOODNESS'”. “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia”, 1915. Public Domain.