If God is good, then why…?

What does it really mean to say God is good?

And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. – Exodus 33:19

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.  The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:5-7

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! – 1 Chronicles 16:34

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. – Ezra 3:11

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

Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
    you restored your inheritance as it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. – Psalm 68:9-10

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! – Psalm 118:29

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. – Lamentations 3:25

They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. – Psalm 145:7-9

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, – Titus 3:4

The idea that God is good is ubiquitous. We all hear phrases like, “good Lord,” “the good Lord above,” and “good God.” Those phrases are usually not voiced as a nuanced theological statement, but a belief that sort of floats around in the air and is not thought out.

Skeptics regularly attack Christianity with the statement, “If God is so good, then how come…..?” You fill in the blank wth any undesirable aspect of human existence. I believe it is intended to either show God is not good or that there really is no God. Otherwise these things would not exist.

So, what do the Scriptures say about what it means that God is good?

The most prominent basis for the goodness of God is detailed in Exodus 34:5-7 (see above), even though that passage doesn’t mention that God is good. In chapter 33, it is referred to as his goodness. A key phrase in that passage is quoted over and over again (17 times) as the basis for God’s goodness, “his steadfast love endures forever.” I have written before about this here, here and here. This is the declaration of God’s name, the most comprehensive statement of God’s character, I believe. His revealed character is the basis of his goodness.

To whom is God good? To some extent, everyone. This is theologically referred to as common grace; it is given to all. The rain falls, grass grows, crops grow, we eat, etc. All people partake of this common grace or goodness of God. More specifically, God shows his goodness to those who seek him, fear him, and have a heart for him and work for those who take refuge in God.

Those who hate God still get to experience his goodness in his common grace. However, they will also, if they remain his enemies, experience his wrath and judgment. You see, God is not only good. He is good, but that isn’t all he is. He is also just.

The ultimate goodness of God is demonstrated when God our Savior appeared saving us according to his own mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. This is the goodness of God that is available to all who call on his name, all who will seek him. Unfortunately, it is clear that not all will do so. Consequently, not all will know the ultimate goodness of God.