This post is one of a series looking at four Scriptural truths about God’s nature. You can read an introduction to the series here.
A few months ago, as I was walking down Windmill Lane, I realised that I had been thinking completely wrong about God’s goodness. In my head when I prayed and worshipped, I always thought of a whole set of attributes – good, loving, kind, faithful – and tried to express to God that he was fully all of those things. Perhaps that doesn’t sound very wrong to you, but the difficulty is that it sets up the idea of a “scoring system” that’s independent of God – as though on some objective cosmic checklist, God alone gets full marks. The fact is, God doesn’t score 100% – he defines what 100% is. To be fully good is to be fully like God – no other concept or person works as a yardstick for God.
This can affect how we think about things. Perhaps you struggle when you read passages about God’s judgment on sin, or struggle with the idea of His wrath, or His jealousy? Certainly outside the Church, people frequently make claims that God isn’t good because He does x or y1for some idea of how deep this goes, read for instance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_the_Hebrew_Bible#Prophetic_books. Wittingly or unwittingly, we often develop our own ideas of “good” and “evil”, and expect God to conform to them, and this independence, this determination to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil, is the sin of our ancestors Adam and Eve.
How would it change our lives if we saw God as the source and benchmark of all goodness? It would change our motivation for so many things:
- If God is my reward2Genesis 15:1, I don’t need to make myself feel better by looking important.
- If God satisfies me3Psalm 103:5, I can live celibately in singleness or faithfully in marriage because I don’t need to seek pleasure outside that status.
- If God is my treasure4Philippians 3:8, I don’t need to find fulfillment in what money buys, and I can live generously.
The truth we want to internalise is this:
One really helpful application of this is in shaking engrained sinful habits or mindsets. If you find yourself wanting to get free of an addiction or a besetting sin, one tool in the inventory is to ask, “what is going on in my heart when I …?” Very often, the answer is that we are plugging a hole – perhaps loneliness, low self-worth or boredom. We can then go to the Scriptures and ask, “what does the Bible tell us about God which meets that need?” We can then make it part of our self-discipline to memorise those Scriptures, and to make them part of our daily thoughts. Rather than simply “trying not to sin” (also important!) we are also seeking goodness where it should be found – in the Lord.
As a worked example, we could take jealousy – let’s imagine that Arthur really struggles not to envy other people – in particular Beatrice, who is younger but has already been promoted above him. As he sits down and prays it over, it dawns on him that underneath all the comparisons, he doesn’t really believe that God has given him enough. He also realises that he really wants affirmation from other professionals, and the lack of it is leaving him feeling unvalued.
Going to the Scriptures, he reads this:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.2 Peter 1:2-4
As he reflects on what a great treasure it is to have received God’s grace and peace, he is struck that he hasn’t fully appreciated how amazing that is. He’s provoked by the statement that “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life”, and decides to memorise that Scripture, and make a daily habit of repenting for his past ungratefulness and reciting that verse.
Other changes might be needed – he may need to confess his jealous thoughts to another believer, or perhaps rethink his approach to work and identity – but he has identified a weak foundation and shored it up from the Scriptures.
What about you? Are there areas of your life where you struggle to believe that God is good, and that you don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction? What Scriptures might you call to mind, and how might you see those areas changed?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:2