The Bible states, J.I. Packer comments and I have written that God can be both good and severe at the same time. The previous post “Santa Claus Theology” makes that argument. It also acknowledges that man prefers “good” God to “bad” God. My guess is that our desire to see God as good is only natural. Who wants to have a close relationship with a God who is severe?
According to Pew Research, Christianity loses more people than it gains from religious conversion. They found that 23% of Americans raised as Christians no longer identified with Christianity, whereas 6% of current Christians were converts. Infant baptism has declined in many nations, with thousands of churches closing or merging due to lack of attendees.*
Maybe a “severe” God would only contribute to our troubles within the church, causing more people to lose their faith, resulting in fewer people going to church and more parents not worrying about trying to raise their kids in a Christian home.
A friend commented on a recent post dealing with God’s wrath [another tough topic]. I am paraphrasing here but he basically said that “pastors today don’t give people the truth.” They would rather talk about God’s goodness, God’s favor, God’s forgiveness of our sins, God’s grace and a multitude of God’s more positive attributes.
This is only natural. Pastors want people to come into a nice church, with happy people, experience a good introduction to a “good” God. Pastors naturally want people to stay and become members.
Severe God discussions may equal empty pews.
Yes, maybe severe God discussions may equal more people losing their faith, resulting in fewer people going to church and more parents not worrying about trying to raise their kids in a Christian home [I know I repeated, but I was trying to make a point].
But the truth is, God is good and God is also severe: one coin; two sides.
Packer spends some pages discussing the good side of the coin and I will comment on those ideas in this post [the “severe” stuff will follow in the next post].
Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote a classic Christian song in 1897 entitled “Count Your Blessings.” In almost childlike lyrics, he wrote about the good God that we all want to know.
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”**
A simple word but what does it mean when you apply it to God? Packer says God’s goodness means “something admirable, attractive and praiseworthy. When the Biblical writers call God good, they are thinking in general of all those moral qualities which prompt His people to call Him perfect, and in particular of the generosity which moves them to call Him merciful and gracious and to speak of His love” .
Let’s paraphrase Exodus 34: 6-7, as the writer describes God as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful, loving to thousands, forgiving of wickedness, rebellion and sin. These qualities point to the moral perfection of God and they make it easy to worship Him. David writing in Psalm 18 describes God’s way as “perfect, the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.”
Packer goes further in his “good God” discussion. He is particularly impressed with God’s generosity. “Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy” . This generosity from God is different from generosity from man. Often man’s generosity has “strings attached.” God has no mercenary motive in His generosity. It could be best described as spontaneous, without thought of payback or need for credit. God does not need to feel good when He is generous. He is good…always good.
One might ask how is God generous? Some pastors today love to espouse what is called the prosperity gospel. They preach that you should not be happy with what you have; you should strive for more, more money, more job responsibility, a larger home, a bigger car. Believe God for more! Maybe that is God being generous. I will have more money, more things in my life.
Personally, I don’t think that is what the Scripture means. God controls everything in this world and good abounds all around. God’s goodness is in the meals we eat, the pleasure we get from playing the piano. God can give pleasure in the sink we wash our face in, the light switch we flip to turn on the lights and the door that keeps out the cold. God is good when He allows the sun to shine in the back door of my home in the morning. He is good in the restful sleep that I get at night. When I feel good as I walk through my home, I feel His goodness in the ability to walk, especially when the steps are pain free. Packer states that “everything that sustains and enriches life, is a Divine gift.”
Too often we get caught up in the magnificent goodness of God and we miss the small goodness we can experience throughout the day. The Bible is full of extraordinary examples of God’s goodness. Look no further than Psalm 107 when God delivers the helpless Israelites from their enemies, God shields them from the shadow of death when they rebel against Him, God heals them from diseases when they disregard Him and God protects voyagers by stilling a storm when their ship is in danger of sinking.
Surely God is capable of all types of goodness on a large scale and I can point to times in my life when I know He has done big things for me, but I want to see God’s goodness daily, several times each day. All I have to do is open my eyes, attend to what I have around me, and marvel in the abilities that He gives me to live my life. Truly we don’t appreciate what we have and we don’t give God the credit for giving what we have. The world’s focus is on acquisition and working hard to acquire more. We want the credit for what we have; we don’t want to give it to God. Spend some time with a woman who cannot breathe and you will be thankful to God for your breath. Spend some time with a person who is homeless and you will thank God for your home, your heating system and the furniture you enjoy. Spend some time with a grieving spouse and be thankful that God has given you a person to share your life with.
I recently had a wise woman tell me that I should take a long legal pad and start listing the gifts that God has given me. She said the exercise will cause me to hone in on the multitude of things that our good God has allowed us to have, God’s gifts. She said that the more you do this, the more you begin to realize that a good God is giving us things all day long. When you hear the beautiful birds, you realize the gift of beautiful sounds. When you turn on the water, you thank God for clean running water in your home. When you get a friendly card in the mail, you thank God for friends. The list goes on and on, page after page of the legal pad gets filled and you begin to see that truly God is a generous, good God to us all the time.
Earlier, I quoted from Exodus 34 and now I must admit that the quote was not complete. Indeed “God is a compassionate and gracious God” and He loves us all, every day in lot of big ways and small ways. At the end of Exodus 34 [6-7] the writer includes a phrase that does not support God’s goodness. It goes like this; “He does not leave the guilty unpunished.” I left it out because it does not support the goodness of God which this post is discussing; it fits the upcoming post that will deal with God’s severity.
Right now, let’s acknowledge all the goodness that God gives us. Let’s celebrate it. It is truly awesome.
“Count your blessings, name them one by one….and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
*2013 Pew Research statistics…
**from “Timeless Truths” free online library [accessed January 17, 2020].