In a world of evil, pain and suffering, some question whether God is good. Instead they claim that the God described in the Bible is cruel and definitely not good. But how do we define “good”? Is it what makes me happy? Is it what only happens in the short-term? It is being nice and politically correct? Or is it different to these?
What does the Bible reveal about God’s attributes, characteristics, nature or qualities? In this case we are looking at who God is, not what He does. Erickson (2013) divides these attributes into two categories: God’s greatness, and God’s goodness. My previous blogpost summarized aspects of God’s greatness.
This blogpost summarizes eight aspects of God’s goodness. They may be grouped into purity (holy, righteousness, and just), integrity (genuineness, honesty and faithfulness), and love (benevolent, gracious, merciful, and persistent).
God is Holy
The Bible says that God is holy (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2;2; Ps. 99:3). He is “high and exalted” (Is. 6:1; 57:15). In this context, the Hebrew word qadosh (Strongs #6918) means that God is separate from all of creation. The proper reaction to God’s holiness is awe and reverence (Ps. 99:3). Also, God is not wicked or evil. He “cannot be tempted by evil” (Jas. 1:13NIV). This means that God is absolutely pure and He is untouched by the evil in the world. So God is holy.
God is Righteous
David says, “The Lord is righteousness in all His ways” (Ps. 145:17). He always does what is right. Nothing He does is wrong. There is no sin or wickedness in Him (Ps. 92:15). In fact, He defines what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s the source of morality. God sets the standard of righteousness. And He commands only what is right (Ps. 19:7-9). So God is righteous.
God is Just
Isaiah says, “the Lord is a God of justice” (Isa. 30:18). Justice is when God requires others to follow His moral laws. The Bible says that sin has consequences and that God will punish sin. For example, although the wicked may prosper (Ps. 73:3-12), they will be ultimately destroyed (Ps: 73:17-20, 27). Although this justice may not be evident in the short-term, it is certain in the long-term. So God is just.
God has Integrity
Integrity includes genuineness (being true), honesty (telling the truth), and faithfulness (proving true). Jeremiah says “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King” (Jer. 10:10). God is real, unlike many other gods. And His attributes are true. So God is genuine.
What God says is accurate. God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). God “does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a human being, that He should change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). Because of this and His omniscience, He can always be trusted. So God is honest.
God keeps all His promises; “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfil?” (Num. 23:19). So God is faithful.
God is Benevolent
God is loving and caring. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). This is a sacrificial, unselfish love, that seeks the good of others and which is called agape in Greek (Strongs #25). He died for His enemies, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us … while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:8-10). God’s benevolence extents to all humanity and to animals (Mt. 5:45; 6:26, 30; 10:29). So God is benevolent.
God is Gracious
God deals with us according to our need; not according to our merit, worthiness or what we deserve as sinners. He supplies underserved and unmerited favors. God told the Israelites, “The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7). And Paul said, “In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood (death), the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us” (Eph. 1:7-8). Our salvation comes through God’s grace: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). This is God’s response to the fact that we have rebelled against Him and so deserve to be banished from His presence forever. So God is gracious.
God is Merciful
God is also compassionate; “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (His faithful followers)” (Ps. 103:13). For example, when God rescued the Israelites from Egypt He said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Ex. 3:7). Jesus also felt compassion for the physical and spiritual condition of the people He met; “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). In response He “went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Mt. 9:35). So God is merciful.
God is Persistent
Another aspect of God’s love is persistence. He withholds judgment and offers salvation and grace over long periods of time. David said, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ps. 86:15). God often delays judgment so that people will repent and turn to Him (Rom. 2:4; 2 Pt. 3:15). It seems that God warned Noah’s generation for 120 years about the coming flood (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pt. 3:20). Also, He was patient with Israel even though they repeatedly rebelled against Him. And Christ’s second coming is delayed because God doesn’t want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). So God is persistent in His love.
God’s goodness in Scripture
The Bible refers repeatedly to God’s goodness. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each said to be good (Neh. 9:20; Mt. 7:11; Jn. 10:11). God is inherently good and His actions are good – “You are good and what you do is good” (Ps. 119:68). The Hebrew word towb (Strongs #2896) means good and kind (Brown-Driver-Briggs).
The Israelites praised God with thanksgiving saying “He is good” because His love to them endures forever. (1 Chron. 16:34; Ps. 136:1, Jer. 33:11; Ezra 3:11). Reasons to praise God include being good, loving, and faithful – “the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5; 135:3). David gives reasons to praise God – “They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness” (Ps. 145:7). According to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, His righteousness is said to be equivalent to His abundant goodness.
David appeals to God’s goodness when he prays for forgiveness – “you, Lord, are good” (Ps. 25:7). He mentions God’s goodness in association with His guidance of those who fear Him – “Good and upright is the Lord” (Ps. 25:8). David is confident that God will answer his prayer for deliverance from his enemies – “the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 27:13). When he was being pursued by his enemies, David used a figure of speech urging people to trust and experience God – “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8; 1 Pt. 2:3). The context is the Lord delivering the righteous in their sufferings. And when David prayed for deliverance from enemies, he praised God for being forgiving and good – “You, Lord, are forgiving and good” (Ps. 86:5).
Moses saw that God’s goodness included His mercy, forbearance, love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and judgment (Ex. 33:19; 34:6-7). And Hezekiah appealed to God’s goodness when he prayed for forgiveness of those who ate the Passover without purifying themselves – “the Lord, who is good” (2 Chron. 30:18).
Jesus reminded the rich ruler that only God is intrinsically good – “No one is good—except God alone” (Mt. 19:17; Mk. 10:18; Lk. 18:19). The Greek word agathos (Strongs #18) means inherently good (Thayer’s Greek Lexion). It describes what originates from God.
Peter alludes to Psalm 34:8 – “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pt. 2:3). Since they have personally experienced God’s goodness, they should lay aside the sins mentioned in verse 1. This shows that we must personally experience God to know His goodness.
The kindness (goodness), love and grace of God is why He acted to save fallen humanity (Tit. 2:11; 3:4). The Greek word chrestotes (Strongs #5544) is translated goodness, or kindness (Thayer’s Greek Lexion).
God and humanity
These are all positive moral attributes because God has no negative moral attributes (sin). And God exercises these attributes all the time, they are part of His character. Because God is good, everything He does is good. For example, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28).
The attributes listed above can also be found in humanity, but not on a continuous basis. They are part of humanity being created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). People can be holy, righteous and just, but not when they are sinful. People can be genuine, honest and faithful, but not when they are sinful. People can be benevolent, gracious, merciful and persistent in love, but not when they are sinful. This means that people don’t exercise these attributes all the time like God does.
The fact that we can share these attributes with God would help Christians to represent Him on earth. Through them we can “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). For example, our new self is righteous and holy (Heb. 12:10; Eph. 4:24). And Christians and churches are urged to be holy (2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:25-27). Although they are already positionally holy through Christ, they are to become holy in practice.
Lessons for us
Our God is good because He is pure, trustworthy and loving. His purity is evident as holiness, righteousness and justice. His trustworthiness is evident as genuineness, honesty and faithfulness. And His love is evident as benevolence, grace, mercy and persistence. In this respect God is unique, being far above humanity and any other deity. He’s greater than all other gods. So He deserves our praise and thanks!
That’s how the Bible defines what is “good”. Because God is pure, He deserves our respect. Because God is trustworthy, let’s trust His message in the Bible. Because God is loving, let’s accept His love shown in Christ’s sacrifice. And because God is good, let’s follow and serve Him.
Millard J. Erickson (2013) “Christian theology”. Third edition. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.
Written, April 2017
In Part 1 we saw that Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time, and in response to his preaching a church was established. People had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They became a good example for all the believers in Greece.
Previously, Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his conduct while he was with them: “You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Th. 1:5). His life matched his message; he lived consistently and was not a hypocrite. Let’s learn more about the example set by Paul, Silas and Timothy.
Paul reminded them how he brought the gospel to them by asking them to check their memory with three phrases: “You know” (2:1,5,11); “You remember” (2:9) and “You are witnesses” (2:10). Paul did this to defend himself against criticisms raised by his opponents after he left Thessalonica. They had accused him of such things as heresy, impure motives, craftiness, flattery and greed – not the kind of person one should imitate. They attacked the messenger in a way that also discredited the message. By defending his character, Paul also defended the gospel. God used this incident to provide a written description of the example that the Thessalonians imitated, and we should imitate as well.
“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition” (1 Th. 2:1-2 NIV).
Their visit to Thessalonica had been effective, as there had been a radical change in the lives of those who turned to God from pagan idolatry and formed a Christian congregation.
Before Paul came to Thessalonica, he and Silas were in Philippi where they healed a demon-possessed slave girl. When the girl’s owners realized that they could no longer use her to make money by fortune telling, they had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped of their clothes, flogged severely and thrown into prison (Acts 16:37). Paul and Silas suffered in Philippi, but didn’t quit. Instead, they went to Thessalonica where God gave them courage to preach the gospel in the face of opposition. The Jewish leaders caused a riot and Paul and Silas left the city. In spite of this opposition, Paul was eager to preach these truths: that all had sinned and were separated from God; that Jesus was the only way to heaven; and that salvation was a free gift from God accepted by faith alone (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
Paul practiced what he believed: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). Paul wasn’t courageous by nature (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:5). Where did he get help to face opposition? It was “with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition” (2:2).
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We were not looking for support from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you” (1 Th. 2:3-6).
Why did Paul persist in preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians despite its unpopularity? Paul says it was not for any of the three reasons given by the opposition. First, Paul was not a false teacher. He didn’t promote his private conviction, but instead preached God’s truth. Second, he didn’t encourage people to indulge in immoral behavior and do whatever they liked. Third, he did not deceive nor delude his hearers with fine words. The Greek word used here describes a lure for catching fish; it was used for any sort of cunning for profit. Paul faced the same accusation of craftiness in Corinth (2 Cor. 12:16).
Then he told why they continued to preach even though it led to trouble: God had entrusted them with the gospel; It was God’s message, not theirs; They were not trying to please people but God; They knew that God’s opinion counted more than that of others. The person who seeks to please God makes decisions based upon the principles found in His Word.
Paul then countered two more reasons given by the opposition – flattery and greed. They never used flattery to influence others or to please people (2:4). They didn’t preach for money, even though they were entitled to support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-11). Personal profit was never Paul’s aim (Acts 20:33). He said that God was his witness as only God can know our motives. And Paul didn’t promise prosperity.
Paul’s Gentle Love
“We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Th. 2:7-8).
After dealing with the accusations against him, Paul gave more information about their behavior in Thessalonica. Paul’s team behaved like a nursing mother caring for her children. They were gentle, protective and loving. As a mother puts the interests of her baby ahead of her own interests, they put the interests of the Thessalonians ahead of their own. As a mother expends energy day and night for her baby, so they spent time and energy shepherding the Thessalonians. They cared about them individually. What a contrast to the false accusations!
Paul’s Hard Work
“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Th. 2:9).
Paul was a hard worker, a tentmaker by trade. He could have relied on the support of others, but he worked to pay his own expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding new believers, he was making and repairing tents.
In his second letter to Thessalonica he wrote: “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day … so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this … in order to make ourselves a model for you to imitate” (2 Th. 3:7-9). He worked so he wouldn’t be a burden to the poor and persecuted, and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Th. 2:10).
Paul described their conduct in three ways. First, they were “holy” – set apart to God from sin. They had a good relationship with God. Second, they were “righteous” in character and conduct. To the Corinthians he wrote that if drinking wine or eating meat offended anyone, he wouldn’t touch either (1 Cor. 8:13). Also, he told Titus, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (Ti. 2:7). Third, they were “blameless” towards God and people. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but that they had confessed and knew that “God … tests the hearts” (2:4).
Paul set a high standard of integrity. This is the standard of living that we should aim for; not one of wealth, but one of integrity. It is the pattern of life of those who desire to please God.
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:11-12).
Paul not only cared like a mother, but he also coached like a father. In that culture the wife did most of the nurturing and the husband was responsible for the training. Paul’s goal was that they “live lives worthy of God.” This training was one-on-one discipleship: “We dealt with each of you.” A father coaching and training his children would include three elements: “encouraging, comforting and urging.” True discipleship takes time and patience. In order to grow to spiritual maturity, a new Christian needs all of these elements of discipleship. For the trainer to know what a trainee needs, he needs to get to know him personally.
What can we learn from Paul? First, he was an apostle. While we don’t have apostles today, as they were the founders of the Christian Church (Eph. 2:20), we do have elders to provide leadership in the local church. Second, Paul was a preacher, particularly to the Gentiles. The mission to spread the gospel is a responsibility for all believers, especially those with the gift of evangelism. Third, Paul was a teacher who wrote a significant portion of the New Testament. Elders, preachers and teachers can learn from Paul who said he was a servant to the Church (Col. 1:24-26). He worked hard to bring people to the Christian faith and to help them grow in it.
Is our lifestyle drawing people to Christ? Let’s follow Paul’s example and live lives worthy of God. His key message was the gospel. His motive was to please God. His manner of living was one of courage, gentleness, hard work and holiness. He showed love to new believers. He was bold, honest, full of integrity, and a toiler. His speech and behavior brought glory to God. The Thessalonians became model believers by imitating Paul’s example. Whether we are elders, preachers, teachers or servants, we can all imitate Paul.
Published, February 2009