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Four Ways God Shows Us His Goodness

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God’s goodness is an immense subject. Stephen Charnock, a seventeenth-century English Puritan, wrote extensively on the subject. In his two-volume work on the existence and attributes of God, he devoted 145 pages to God’s goodness along! Many of us would be hard-pressed to fill one page, but not Charnock. All of God’s acts, he says, are the outpourings of divine goodness. Charnock lists some examples:

When it confers happiness without merit, it is grace; when it bestows happiness against merit, it is mercy; when he bears with provoking rebels, it is long-suffering; when he performs his promise, it is truth; when it meets with a person to whom it is not obliged, it is grace; when he meets with a person in the world, to which he hath obliged himself by promise, it is truth; when it commiserates a distressed person, it is pity; when it supplies an indigent person, it is bounty; when it succours an innocent person, it is righteousness; and when it pardons a penitent person, it is mercy,—all summed up in this one name of goodness.1

Much of our Christian experience depends on our understanding of God’s goodness.

Disbelief—or perhaps too little belief—in God’s goodness is the root of many of our problems. Even professing believers may lack the basic conviction that God is good. Think about it: When we distrust His provision, aren’t we condemning His faithfulness? Or when we fail to give thanks, aren’t we also taking for granted His good gifts? Our Christian experience depends in large part on our understanding of God’s goodness. 

Like us, the people in Nehemiah’s day needed to recover the doctrine of God’s goodness. Written during a period of spiritual decline in Israel, Nehemiah offers a panoramic view of God’s work in history. We read that in the midst of renewing their commitment to the Lord and His Word, “the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” (Neh. 9:1–2). Then some of the Levites led the people in prayer (vv. 5–15), recounting four ways that God had revealed His goodness to His people. We should listen carefully, learning from the past to live faithfully in the present.

God’s Goodness Revealed in Creation

You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Neh. 9:6)

God is self-existent and self-sufficient. Being perfectly one within the framework of the Trinity, He doesn’t need anything from us. “Well then,” someone asks, “why did God create anything at all?” Because God is good! Nehemiah reminds us that it’s God who positioned the stars and structured the heavens (v. 6). The activities of the created order are brought forth and sustained by Almighty God.

The psalmist says, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all” (104:24). In other words, there are countless expressions of God’s goodness all around us. When we sit down for a meal, our food is evidence of God’s good provision. Every time we get dressed for the day, donning clothes to cover our imperfections, it’s a testimony that God is good. The art that hangs on the walls of our homes points to a Creator who is good.

Further, God didn’t simply give us the ability to see but beauty to behold. Nature teems with objects to gratify our senses. He could have made man as lumps of stone or made us like the creatures in the animal kingdom. We wouldn’t have known otherwise. But in His goodness, God created us as personal beings, for relationship. We have the privilege of knowing and enjoying Him forever.

It’s easy not to give these matters serious thought, to take them for granted. Twenty-first-century man has a high view of himself and a low view of God. We would do well to consider: Do we know God as He’s revealed in Scripture, in all His manifold goodness? Does the created order point us to the creator and sustainer of all things?

God’s Goodness Revealed in Election

You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. (Neh. 9:7)

God chose, or elected, Abraham. There wasn’t anything special about Abraham, no merit that would commend him above others to God. He was one among many Semitic people roaming the Middle East. He likely would have grown up in a family of idol worshippers, ignorant of early biblical history. He wasn’t searching for God. But then God came and knocked on the door of Abraham’s life, saying, “I will bless you and make your name great” (Gen. 12:2).

How God dealt with Abraham is analogous to how He works in the lives of those who believe. Like Abraham, we weren’t particularly wise or righteous, either. We had no merit that would commend us to a holy God. But in God’s grace—out of His abundant goodness—He knocked on the doors of our lives, calling us to Himself. Purposing to have a people who are His own, He lifts us from the muck and mire of our sin and establishes us upon the rock (Ps. 40:2). God’s electing grace reveals His goodness.

Rather than make us proud, the doctrine of election silences our boasting.

Rather than make us proud, the doctrine of election silences our boasting.  It stimulates our love for God. And it spurs our evangelism. In the same way that God called Abram’s name, and he heard, so God calls our names, and we hear (Heb. 4:7). The offer of the Gospel is grounded in the unmerited, loving, and free decisions of our great God.

God’s Goodness Revealed in Redemption

And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. (Neh. 9:9–10)

As this prayer continues, the words describe God’s care for Israel in history—specifically, the events of the Exodus from Egypt. The whole story, from raising up Moses to sending the plagues and leading Israel out of Egyptian captivity, displays God’s powerful working. It’s a picture of redemption.

What God did in Old Testament history is typical of how God works in a life by faith. In other words, Israel’s story is ours if we are in Christ. God liberating Israel from slavery prefigures the greater redemption that would come through His Son, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice for sin frees us from its bondage, producing new life (Rom. 6:18).

This is the testimony of faith: that God by His Spirit worked in our hearts, exposing our need for a Savior and stirring us to cry out to Him. God heard our cry and responded in saving power. And on both occasions, in the history of the Exodus and in the work of Christ’s atonement, He made a name for Himself (Neh. 9:10). “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel told Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

God’s Goodness Revealed in His Provision

You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. (Nehemiah 9:13–14)

God reveals His goodness not only in creation, election, and redemption, but also in the provision that He makes for His people.

God’s law regulates our lives, that it may go well with us.

After redeeming His people, God provided for them the law. Importantly, it was after the redemption from Egypt that the law was given. In a similar way, God redeems us in His grace and then provides the law—putting it into our minds and writing it on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). He didn’t come down on Sinai to spoil our lives, relegating us to legalism. Like a good father does with his college-age son before leaving the house, training him on the dos and don’ts of life so that it may go well with him, so God’s law regulates our lives so that it may go well with us. 

Each day we as believers rise from bed, we may be sure that God in His goodness looks from heaven and desires that it would go well with us.

Confessing the Goodness of God

Nehemiah 9 ends with a tension. Israel recognized that while they were enjoying a measure of His provision, they weren’t where they wanted to be. Under pagan rule in the land promised to Abraham, the people were “in great distress” (v. 37). It would seem they had every reason to scrutinize God’s goodness.

But at the chapter’s close, we see Israel confessing God’s goodness rather than complaining. “Our God,” they proclaim, “the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love…” (v. 32). Israel’s example is instructive for us. Like God’s people of old, we also embrace God’s goodness now while looking forward to a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6). We anticipate the time when all kinds of people will unite in worship around the throne of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 7:9–10). And on that day, we will declare,

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.2

 


This article was adapted from the sermons “The Goodness of God — Part One” and “Part Two” by Alistair Begg.


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  1. Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God, in Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: John Nichol, 1864), 2:284–85. ↩︎

  2. Thomas Obadiah Chisolm, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (1923). ↩︎

     


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