The Goodness of God

jesus-good-shepherdc. 425 AD, Mosaic, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

The goodness of God can be seen throughout the Bible. For example, when God created the world and filled it with living creatures, He looked back on all that He created, and, as Genesis 1:31 says,

God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

But God didn’t just create a good world and leave it to govern and order itself. God has good intentions for the world, including humankind. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 says that God intends good for Israel:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (NLT)

But God’s goodness is not limited to Israel. God invites everyone to receive His goodness in their lives. The question isn’t if God is good, but how can I receive God’s goodness in my life? Psalm 34:8 gives us the answer:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

In order to see God’s goodness in my life, I have to taste and see—I have to trust in Him. It is only by trusting in God that I can begin to understand how His goodness shows up in my life.

Trusting God means recognizing His sovereign rule over all creation and our humble position within God’s created order. Many people think that God is required to give the same blessings to everyone everywhere all the time. But this kind of thinking comes from a prideful entitlement mentality so common in the world today. Our very existence—the breath in our lungs, the blood in our veins, the thoughts in our minds and the intents of our hearts are all blessings from God. Every aspect of our lives is an undeserved gift from God. And as the ultimate gift-giver who owes us nothing, the ways and degrees by which He shares His goodness varies from person to person, according to His purposes.

It is also important to understand that, especially concerning spiritual matters, God does not force His blessings on those who truly do not desire them. The invitation to believe requires exercising the free gift of informed choice about the sin in our hearts and our eternal destiny with or apart from His loving presence.

God has made it very clear that He has created two different spiritual destinies. One, created for people, is residing with Him for eternity. The other, created for the devil and his spiritual cohorts, is a place of eternal torment called hell. God never desires for anyone to go to hell. But when we truly don’t desire eternity with God and willfully reject His invitation to receive eternal life, God grants us our desire for an eternity apart from His loving presence by giving us the only other alternative, hell.

But this is also one of the reasons why receiving God’s invitation requires trusting in Jesus. In the trusting we acknowledge His existence with our minds and voluntarily submit our hearts to the truth that God is wholly good and has good intentions for His creation and our lives.

The Existence of God

Painting by: Jan Brueghel the Younger, God Creating

John 3:16 begins with the phrase for God. This is the beginning point for the Christian faith—believing in God. The Bible offers no explanation for God’s existence. It simply claims that from the very beginning, God always is. Going back to the beginning, the very first verse of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, says:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Notice, before the beginning of the universe, God already exists. God has no beginning, middle or end. God simply is. The Psalmist set this truth to song in Psalm 90:2,

Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

Consider the last phrase, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. There is no before God, as if there were some point in time before He existed. Nor will there be any after God, as if He might stop existing while the world continues operating without Him. The Bible teaches that the physical universe had a beginning and that beginning came by the will of God. But God has neither beginning nor end.

It is interesting to note that the most prominent scientific theory for the origin of the universe, the Big Bang Theory, agrees with the Bible that the physical universe had a beginning. Beginnings and endings are easy enough to understand. Life is filled with examples of beginnings and endings—schooling, job opportunities, home improvement projects, even life itself. Beginnings and endings are commonplace human experiences. The challenge for the human mind is acknowledging the existence of something or someone without beginning or end.

I’ve been asked often by children, “if all things have a beginning, then who created God?” On the face of it, the question seems puzzling. It puzzles even the most educated people in the world, some who honestly admit they don’t know while others perceive this question as one of the greatest challenges against Christianity. But the child’s innocent question isn’t an unanswerable logical challenge. The question demonstrates one of the common misunderstandings many people have about God. God does not need a creator because God is self-existent. God’s existence depends only on God Himself.

God is not physical, but spiritual. He is not bound by time, space, or matter. He exists beyond the physical universe in the spiritual world. The Bible teaches that this spiritual world is real, inhabited by spiritual creatures and governed by God. The question isn’t who created God, but whether we are willing to accept the possibility that Bible’s claims about God’s spiritual existence are true.

The spiritual world can’t be seen, but evidence for its existence is all around us. The struggles of daily life are very real, but what we see is just the surface. Like the tip of an iceberg giving an indication to an approaching ship of the danger beneath the surface of the water, so our daily life struggles give us a glimpse into the battle taking place behind the scenes in the spiritual world for the souls of humankind.

The spiritual world, sometimes called the heavenly places, includes two opposing factions, one of which is set against both humanity and God. Paul describes the battle in the spiritual world in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

And we are not passive spectators in this battle for human souls. Rather, we become active participants when we align our thoughts and behaviors with or against God’s will. Our alignment begins with our response to God’s invitation to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. When we respond in faith, God welcomes our souls into His heavenly household, where we rest in the truth that God is the sovereign ruler over both the spiritual and physical worlds. As Psalm 103:19 says,

The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.

As ruler, God has supreme power and authority over every event that takes place. On the one hand, that means God sovereignly chooses to allow events that contribute to the perceived evils of this physical universe. However, the truth of God’s ultimate power and authority brings comfort when we recognize that He is also good.

Fear and the Goodness of God

wrath-of-god-martin

Fear (terror) compels people to do all kinds of things. History has proven this to be true at all levels of human experience, from personal interactions to community concerns to international conflicts.

Concerning salvation, many Christians confess that the fear (terror) of God’s wrath resting on unrepentant sinners (John 3:18-21, 36) is what initiated their faith in Jesus.[1]

There is another sense of fear that also plays a role in the Christian’s faith. The Bible teaches, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7, NKJV). This kind of fear (awe, reverence) comes from some measure of recognition of how truly great, mighty, and awesome God is and how small, puny, and powerless we are in contrast to Him.

But when it comes to salvation, God isn’t just interested in handing out “fire insurance” or “keep out of hell” cards. God doesn’t save us to set us on a pedestal. God desires changed hearts producing changed lives, lives that increasingly become transformed to reflect the the righteousness of the Son.

This kind of change is not produced by fear, but by the goodness of God. As Romans 2:4 says, “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Thus, the Lord invites us, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

Consider an example from Jesus. It was not the fear (terror) of death that drove the prodigal home. His fear caused him to reflect on his life choices and remember his father’s house. It was the goodness of his father that convinced him that he might find some small portion of sustenance after squandering his resources and exhausting his options (Luke 15:11-32).

Thus, in facing the fear (terror) of death apart from God, we learn the fear (awe, reverence) of the Lord, which draws us to the Son. And when we come to the Son by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), we find we need no longer fear death and the grave because God’s wrath no longer abides on us. What we find is good Father who welcomes us with open arms.

[1] R.C. Sproul relaying the testimony of some of his congregants for their reasons for believing in Jesus https://youtu.be/fcOzTZUOBn0?t=293.

Topical Study on Worship

Biblical worship begins in the heart with an awareness of God’s greatness, producing reverence toward God and motivating sacrificial service in the worshipper’s life. The basic idea in both the Old and New Testaments is bowing in reverence. Bowing may or may not be reflected in physical posture, but it is certainly a spiritual disposition before the presence of the Lord, informed and guided by the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the worshipper. Central to this awareness of God’s greatness is the person and work of Jesus Christ—Who accomplished God’s plan of salvation by dying on the cross for our sins, proved He is worth of praise by resurrecting from the grave, and brings glory to the Godhead by manifesting His unfailing love and life-changing presence in the worshipper’s life. Finally, worship is not a passive activity for spectators, but a recurring sacrifice of service rendered by the lives of participants. On the whole, then, Biblical worship might be summarized in this way:

Worship is the Christian’s reverent response toward God
for who He is and what He has done for us—
in, through, and to the glory of the Son,
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To view or download the entire study, click here:
Topical Study on Worship

Word Study on Wrath Gk #3709

In the New Testament, the English word “wrath” from the Greek term ὀργήν may originate with humans or God. Human wrath is vengeful and always denounced. God’s wrath, however, is always God’s just response against sinfulness. God’s wrath is both present and future—present in that it rests on those who have not believed in Christ (e.g., John 3:36), and future as a promise for those who die in their unbelief (e.g., Rom 2:5). Of the two Greek terms for wrath, ὀργήν at times suggests the premeditated intent of the heart, but not always. Regardless, Christians should not conduct their lives in patterns of wrath against others, but rather, seek peace, even with their enemies, praying for their persecutors (Matt 5:44) and leaving all forms of righteous vengeance to God (Rom 12:17-19).

To view or download the entire study, click here:
Word Study on Wrath Gk #3709

Word Study on Perfect Gk #5046

The English word “patience” from the Greek term τέλειος has the idea of fullness of completeness. Something that is τέλειος is fully accomplished and lacks nothing. Old Testament sacrifices were without blemish. Old Testament saints were blameless. However, God is the standard of τέλειος. Christians are to look to Christ as our example of full spiritual maturity. So, when the Bible uses the word τέλειος for Christians, it means being wholly surrendered—heart, mind, and strength—in every aspect of life to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Spirit transforms us by renewing our minds to discern God’s will (Rom 12:2) and continually leading us in living out the fullest expression of the law of liberty by conducting our lives in personal purity and sacrificial love toward others (Jas 1:25-27).

To view or download the entire study, click here:
Word Study on Perfect Gk #5046

Word Study on Patience Gk #5281

The English word “patience” from the Greek ὑπομονή has the idea of staying, remaining, or abiding under a burden or situation. It describes the Christian’s inner disposition to hold fast to faith through various trials. Patience is a necessary part of the fruit-bearing process in the Christian life (Luke 8:15). Its source and sustainer are God (Rom 8:25), beginning with a focus on God’s promise of eternal hope for the Christian (Rom 2:7), growing through trials (Rom 5:3-4), being evidence of the surety of the promise of eternal life (Heb 10:36), and manifesting as a habitual character trait of the maturing Christian (Jas 1:3-4, 2. Pet 1:5-7). Thus, patience strengthens the Christian’s faith, evidences their inner maturity, and produces spiritual fruit in their life for the Kingdom to the glory of God.

To view or download the entire study, click here:
Word Study on Patience Gk #5281

Make God Your Resolution

resolutions

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let them go, and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will be on your cattle in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the oxen, and on the sheep—a very severe pestilence. And the LORD will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.” ’ ” Then the LORD appointed a set time, saying, “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.”

So the LORD did this thing on the next day, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the children of Israel, not one died. Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go. (Exodus 9:1-7, NKJV)

Many of us know the Exodus narrative. How God called Moses from birth to deliver the Hebrew people from their slavery in Egypt. How Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew babies killed, but Moses’ mother hid Moses in a basket in the river. How Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses and rescued him. So, Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace, saw the bondage of his people, killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, fled to the wilderness of Midian, and lived as a shepherd. Then, at Moses’ lowest, God spoke to him through the burning bush, and despite all Moses’ protests, God was adamant that He would deliver the Hebrew people through the leadership of Moses. And here, in this passage, we read how Moses, with Aaron’s help, is waging God’s war against Egypt through the plagues until Pharaoh finally lets the Hebrew people leave.

Tomorrow begins a new year. Many of us are thinking about resolutions. Maybe you want to lose weight, manage your money better, be a better mother, father, sister, brother, friend. Find a job. Get a promotion. Whatever it is, there’s probably something on your heart you’d like to see happen in the New Year. I’d like to suggest one additional resolution for each of us to make.

When God started the plagues in Egypt, they were a sign to Pharaoh about God’s power, an attack against Egypt’s God’s that would ultimately provoke Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt. But with some of the plagues, like the flies and the livestock, God adds another element: a difference between His people and Egypt.

Spiritually, we can look at Egypt as a picture of the world and the Hebrew people as a picture of the church. As believers, we live in this world, working alongside believers and unbelievers, providing for our households and improving our communities. But even though we live in and work among the world, God has called us to come out from the world, to be different—to come and worship Him.

Our worship offends the world because our world doesn’t understand God. But God doesn’t call us to change this world by Christianizing governments, arguing with skeptics, or slaughtering unbelievers. God instructs us to go and make disciples. He commands us to love Him and others with our whole being and to show that love by our actions toward others. And He describes those acts of love as being light in a dark place, salt to preserve the world (Matt 5:13-16).

As we begin this new year, I want to encourage you to let God’s invitation to His people—to come and worship—be your invitation as well. God wants to make a difference between you and the world, bringing His light into this dark world through you. But He makes that difference by changing your heart and renewing your mind (Rom 12:2). How does He do that? By His Spirit, through prayer, through the Word, through fellowship with believers, and through circumstances, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, as you yield your heart to His presence in your life.

Let God change your life. Let Him make a difference between you and the world. Let God bring His light into this world through you. Let God be your resolution this new year.

Where Can Wisdom Be Found?

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But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire.
Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

“From where then does wisdom come? and where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
Destruction and Death say, ‘We have heard a report about it with our ears.’
God understands its way, and He knows its place.
For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heavens,
To establish a weight for the wind, and apportion the waters by measure.
When He made a law for the rain, and a path for the thunderbolt,
Then He saw wisdom and declared it; He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:12–28, NKJV)

Job was a man whose heart was fully devoted to God. But Satan was wholly devoted to turning Job’s heart against God. So God, knowing full well who Job was and what Job was about, let Satan take everything from Job except his life, his wife, and his so-called friends. In this passage, Job responds to the criticisms from his so-called friends and reflects on wisdom’s value and source.

First, Job asks the question, “where can wisdom be found?” He answers his own question: it’s not of human origin, nor found in all of creation. It cannot be bought with currency or bartered for precious stones. It’s value is immeasurable, but it cannot be found anywhere in nature.

Second, Job concedes that wisdom is “hidden from the eyes of all the living.” Animals don’t possess wisdom and even Death has only heard rumors about it. True wisdom is found only in God. Job explains that the God who looks upon the whole universe, exercising authority over all the elements including wind, water, and storms, envisioned wisdom and spoke it into existence. God is the measure of what wisdom is, and all true wisdom begins and ends in Him. Thus, Job concludes with a thought echoed throughout the Proverbs, “Wisdom is found in the fear of the LORD.”

We can fill our heads with information—that’s called knowledge. And over the course of life we amass innumerable experiences that hopefully we learn from, that’s called maturity. But God is the source of true wisdom. That’s why James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Not because God is hoarding wisdom and we need to beg Him to give us a little taste. But because God is the author and source of all true wisdom, so there’s no greater, truer source of wisdom than God Himself. And the more time we spend in God’s presence through prayer and Scripture, the more opportunity we give to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to guide us into all truth and help us grow in the wisdom of the LORD (John 16:13).

In John 16, Jesus explains that if he did not die, resurrect from death, and ascend to heaven, then He could not send the Holy Spirit to do this great work in our lives. But the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit is one of the beautiful blessings of the New Covenant under which we live. God says in Jeremiah 31:33–34, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me.” And in Ezekiel 11:19–20, God promises, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

These promises of a New Covenant have been made available to all believers through the blood of Christ. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:4–6, “We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” And finally, as Jesus Himself said of the cup that he shared with His disciples at the Last Supper, “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28). So then, through the blood of Christ we belong to the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit lives within us. And the Cross is the wisdom of our of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, offering eternal life for all who believe in Him.

God Our Rock

mountain

“For You are my lamp, O LORD; The LORD shall enlighten my darkness.
For by You I can run against a troop; By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.

“For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?
God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me; So my feet did not slip. (2 Sam 22:29–37, NKJV)

These words, sung by King David, are part of a song that David composed toward the end of his life. The song is quite lengthy, beginning in 2 Samuel 22:2 and continuing through verse 51. It is a kind of memoir of David’s life, an ode to the LORD, with its primary theme being how the LORD was David’s light, his strength, and his deliverer.

David describes how the LORD is like a lamp in his own life: He brings light to David’s darkness, which, in context, probably refers to how the LORD delivered David time and time again from death at the hands of the Philistines, Saul, Absalom, and everyone else who tried to kill him. The LORD illuminated David’s mind and heart, giving him wisdom on the battlefield and to overcome even the most challenging obstacles in his life.

We, too, have a lamp in the LORD our God. We were in a state of spiritual darkness. But when we surrendered to Christ and trusted in Him, the Light of the World became the Light in our lives, delivering us from the power of darkness and delivering us into the marvelous light of His eternal kingdom (1 Col 1:13).

In the second stanza David shifts his analogy to the idea of the LORD as his rock. The LORD made David into a man of war and used him to lead Israel in subduing the surrounding nations and expanding the borders of ancient Israel. So I think its interesting that David first speaks of the LORD as his rock, strength and power regarding his feet. But a warrior is only as effective as his foundation. And David’s foundation was the LORD God Almighty. There is no surer foundation than the LORD. And with the LORD as our champion, leading us into battle and teaching us the art of spiritual warfare, we need not fear the Enemy. We need only to trust and follow the LORD.

Similarly, our hope for eternal life rests on our foundation in Jesus Christ. He is both the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2), a faith based on the sacrificial love of our Savior who died the death we deserved and payed the ransom for our sins with his death on the cross. A faith secured by a proclamation on the cross, “it is finished.” A faith that was proven true when Christ conquered sin and death and rose victoriously from the grave on the third day.

In both verses 31 and 36, David describes the LORD as a shield—first, as a shield for all who trust Him, and second, as a shield of salvation. With David’s many run-ins with near-death experiences, both as a shepherd (with wild animals) and as King (from enemies trying to kill him), David surely knew first-hand about the saving power of the LORD, Who, as we’ve already mentioned, rescued David from death numerous times throughout his life.

As David surrendered his heart to the LORD Who delivered him from death many times, so we, too, receive the “shield” of the LORD’s salvation when we surrender our hearts to the LORD and trust Him with our eternal destiny. Then, as we learn to trust the LORD daily in our lives, His shield grows from a tiny buckler, barely big enough to protect our souls, to a giant Roman shield capable of deflecting the Enemy’s arrows and inflicting incredible damage when we use it properly in spiritual combat.

So, the LORD is our light, our rock, and our shield. All of these speak to God’s immense power to guide, strengthen, and protect us. And yet, David confesses, it is the gentleness of the LORD that raised him up. There are some who think that God is some kind of sinister overlord, actively checking a naughty list ready to zap us if we get out of line. Well, it is certainly true that God is righteous and just, punishing evil and wickedness. But God’s righteousness and justice flow from His love.

God’s love is so great that He decided to share it. So He created an entire universe and populated it with living creatures to share His love with them. Then, when  we humans rebelled against Him, we received the just penalty of death for our rebellion. But the LORD, not willing to condemn us without a means of deliverance, gave us a promise of salvation, and made good on that promise by sending His One and Only Son to live the sinless life we never could, die the death that we all deserved, and usher in a new era of salvation for everyone willing to trust in the name of the Son–Jesus Christ.