God is Good (2)
So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Luke 18.19
He’s all good
The sum and substance of all good is to be found in God, as Calvin observed. This is because God alone is good. God defines goodness by Who He is, what He does, and what He wills. The only way to escape a merely self-interested understanding of goodness is to know God and submit to His will. All goodness, and everything that is good, issues from God and expresses His being and will (Jms. 1.17).
The implications of this are enormous. We cannot know what is good for us as individuals and societies apart from knowing God. In any situation in which a moral action is required, we cannot know the good choice unless we know God. In thinking about our life’s course, and the many choices and decisions that entails, we will only be able to determine what constitutes the truly good life from within the framework of knowing God and His will.
Now of course, many people who do not know God can do good works, and many do. This may seem to contradict our insistence that people cannot know or do what is good apart from knowing God and submitting to His will. Why is there yet so much that is good in the world, even though ours is an age of unbelief and secularism?
The reason people do good is because they are made in the image of God, and the works of God’s Law have been written on their hearts (Rom. 2.14, 15). Everyone has a conscience, and a conscience at peace is more desirable than one haunted by guilt or shame. The conscience, even the seared consciences of those who reject God, reads the Law of God, written on the heart, and strives against mere self-interest to encourage what is good. All people retain a basic knowledge of God, even though they may deny or ignore Him (Rom. 1.18-21). While in the main they may be inclined to pursue goodness in strictly self-interested terms, nevertheless, they will, under the influence of God’s Spirit, wooing and guiding them, and piquing their conscience, do many good works in line with the teaching of God’s holy and good Law. These do not merit salvation, but they serve to keep the devastating effects of sin in check, and to remind us that a standard of goodness exists which is universally recognizable.
This universal moral standard is what C. S. Lewis referred to as the Tao in his book, The Abolition of Man. Try as we may to break free of the grip of God and define human beings as merely a higher form of animal, a constant witness to our spiritual provenance and nature can be discerned culture by culture, in the universal norms of goodness that bear witness to a common source and standard.
And that source and standard is God, Who alone is good.
God’s goodness begins here
But what is God, that He is good? We may discern the true nature of goodness, and therefore of what is truly good for us, by knowing God and understanding His will and works. As we begin to consider God, as He reveals Himself to us, the first and most obvious attribute that gives us insight to His goodness is the unity and concord which exist between the Persons of the Godhead.
The triune God of Scripture is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each is fully God, yet each is distinct from and complementary with the others. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit; and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Yet each is fully and truly God, and as such, these three eternal Persons exist, and have always existed in a perfect state of unity and concord. As individual Persons in the one Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each have their unique attributes and functions; yet together they enjoy perfect unity of being and purpose, without competition, suspicion, jealousy, or fear.
We do not have to reflect too deeply on other world religions to understand how truly unique the God of Scripture is. In Greek and Roman mythology, for example, the various deities that shared residence on Mt. Olympus dwelled together in a condition of mutual suspicion. Jealousies, contrivances, plots, and schemes of various sorts against one or another of their cohort were merely de rigueur for the gods and their human collaborators. Similarly, in other religions, contests and struggles between the gods explain the origins of earth and man, and the various tumults that beset the earth and its peoples.
People everywhere recognize the value of unity and concord. We are happiest when we’re not arguing or fighting with one another, when others’ borders and privileges are honored, and when we are free from the fear of invasion or violence. Peace is good, in our souls, marriages, homes, communities, nations, and times. And this desire for peace, unity, and concord derives from our knowledge of God, whether unacknowledged or treasured, remote or refined. For the eternal God of Scripture exists in perfect peace within Himself; and His will for the inhabitants of earth is that they might share in His peace by knowing Him, embracing the Prince of Peace, and doing those things which make for peace on earth as it is in heaven.
God is the God of peace, and peace – unity and concord – is definitely good.
Called to peace
God’s intention is that people should live together in perfect peace, thus reflecting His being and will in their relations with one another. When people live in unity and concord, individuals flourish, generosity prevails, kindness and considerateness are the norm, and jealousy, striving, and competition are restrained. The first Christians startled, then attracted, their unbelieving neighbors by the unity and concord they demonstrated in their lives together (cf. Acts 4.32-37; 6.1-7). When people know peace in their soul and with God, they can practice unity and concord with others, and thus extend a measure of God-likeness to their neighbors.
It is good for brethren to dwell together in unity, the psalmist reminds us (Ps. 133.1), and this is because such unity refracts the being and will of God into the human condition, and creates a context in which the rich and varied possibilities for human flourishing can take root and bloom.
Peace is Jesus’ gift to His followers (Jn. 14.27) – peace with God, peace among themselves, and peace that surpasses all understanding, even in the face of anxious and troubling conditions (Rom. 5.1; Eph. 4.3; Phil. 4.6, 7). Christians are called to pursue whatever works for peace (Rom. 14.19), because living together in unity and concord is a very good thing, a realization of heaven’s reality within the vicissitudes and uncertainties of our temporal existence.
God is good, and the goodness of God may be discerned, in the first instance, in the unity and concord He enjoys within Himself.
1. Do you agree that peace is a desirable condition? How is it evident that almost everyone agrees with this?
2. Christians are called to work for peace, beginning in their churches, and then wherever peace is lacking. How is this an example of fulfilling what Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6.10?
3. What are some ways that people try, apart from God, to maintain peace in society? What does this longing for peace indicate about their sense of what is good?
Next steps – Conversation: Is peace a good thing? Ask some people in your Personal Mission Field – Christians and non-Christians. Why is peace good? Where does the desire for peace come from in the human heart?
T. M. Moore
What are you doing at 8:18 am? If you’re with Bruce Van Patter, you’re observing the goodness of God in your immediate surroundings. Take a look at Bruce’s column, and let your world come alive with goodness (click here).
Everything makes sense in life, and is good in its time and place. But only when we see things “under the heavens” rather than merely “under the sun.” Our book Comparatio shows you how Solomon struggled with this distinction, but ultimately returned to the place of seeing all goodness as of the Lord. To order a copy, click here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.