God’s goodness

Scriptures: Psalm 145:8-16; James 1:12-18

As we continue in our sermon series, we are going to approach an attribute of God today that is actually one of the more problematic parts of His nature for us human beings. It may be difficult to conceptually explain the Trinity, or to conceptually explain how God is omniscient or omnipotent or omnipresent, and all those other things.

But it becomes even more difficult when we look at trying to explain God is good. Now, that may seem very straightforward, very simple on the surface. But there is a saying I’ve heard for, well, as long as I can remember, in the church. And that is, one person says, “God is good,” and the other person says, “All the time.” Then that first person responds, “All the time,” and the second person says, “God is good.”

So, God is good. [Congregation responds] “All the time.” And all the time [congregation responds] “God is good.” So we know that, and we say that. And yet, we struggle with it. Particularly the unbeliever. Because we say that God is good.

Jesus himself, in the Scriptures, when called “Good Teacher,” said, “There is no one good but God.” Now, the Pharisees were trying to trap him on something, they were trying to butter him up for a trap, and he was kind of subtly rubbing their nose in it, because by saying, “There is no one good but God,” and they’d just called him “Good Teacher,” he’s implying that he is God.

But the fact is, that God is the only good being in the universe, by the understanding of Scriptures. The psalmist talked about how good God is. “All your works give thanks to you, O Lord, and your faithful shall bless you. They speak of the glory of your kingdom, they tell of your power, and make known to all your people your mighty deeds and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”

He talks about the Lord being faithful in all His words, gracious in all His deeds, upholding all who are following and raising up all who are bowed down. God is good, and he wants to share with the congregation the fact, and remind them of the things that God has done in His goodness.

And yet, we struggle with understanding and recognizing that God is good. And part of the reason we struggle is because sometimes things happen that don’t seem good. There is the presence of evil in the world. Sometimes even just events themselves – there was a book written by a rabbi, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, in an attempt to explain some of this.

So many times, we look at evil and we look at bad things, and we try to figure out how a God who is omnipotent, a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-knowing, and a God who is all-good, allows evil to happen. If evil is here, one of those three must be wrong, is the way some people try to argue it.

So we struggle with understanding this nature of God. Let me ask you a question, then, the way I respond to some people. I would say, “What does it mean to be good?” Would anyone like to share a definition of what good is? [Someone says, “Not to be bad.”] Not to be bad. OK.

Good, sometimes, is a lot more complex than it seems, on the surface. Most of you have been parents, many of you are grandparents. Let me ask you a question. But first, there’s a saying, “Once burned, twice shy.” (There are a lot of aphorisms like that, right?) So, you’re a parent, you’re a grandparent, you see the little child reaching up a hot pan or maybe the burner on the stove. You’re faced with a dilemma, a situation.

Do you snatch the hand away and pick the child up and tell them “No! Don’t do that” even though you’ve probably told them that already before. Or do you let them touch the pan, burn their finger, and the next time they won’t do it again.

These days, there’s a lot of discussion in the media and on the news today, about corporal punishment and how that works, and whether it’s right or good. I’m not going to get into a discussion about the politics and philosophy of corporal punishment, I don’t want to get into any arguments. But I will tell you that I grew up with corporal punishment. My mom’s wooden spoon knew my hind end well.

And we used corporal punishment with our boys. It was rare, but we had certain set consequences for certain set levels of disobedience, or sin if you will. There were some things that caused time out. There were some things that caused loss of privilege. And there were a few things that caused a spanking.

And the question that I asked, with that child that was going to touch the pan, and with the corporal punishment in a situation I’m going to describe to you, is that parent good? Is that parent good? Is it a good thing to let the child touch that pan so that they learn not to do it again? Good sometimes isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

There was a time when my older son was in nursery school. Tutor Time is what it was called. It was a time when it was Parents Night there. Parents were there, and they were all lined up for things. My son was always larger – he was a big kid until about ninth grade, and then he wasn’t growing anymore and everybody else was.

But he was a big kid. And another kid pushed him, another boy. And so Zach pushed him back, knocked him on the ground. A teacher turned around and looked, sees this going on, and being a fair-minded teacher she put them both in time out. Now, my son has always had a very acute sense of justice. He tried to explain to her that he did not push first. She didn’t care. She put them both in time out.

So then they finished their time out, and then she brings them together to shake hands and say sorry. One kid stuck his hand out, and my son punched him in the gut. If he was going to be punished, then by golly he was going to be punished for something that he deserved. I took him – I had already given them a note (which almost got me in trouble with Child Protective Services) saying that I allow corporal punishment if they saw fit, if it reached that point in time.

And I took him, in front of those people, and I put him over my knee, and I spanked him four swats, because he was four years old. (That’s what I did, that was our family rule, one swat for every year.) I used my hand because, unlike something like a wooden spoon, because that way I could judge how hard it was, so that I could make it sting without actually hurting him.

The question I would ask you, then: Was I a good parent? I mean, I humiliated him in front of all those children. But we had a solid, hard-and-fast rule: you never hit in anger, and you never hit first. Even at four years old. You have a dad in the military as I did, you learn these things at a young age. A hard-and-fast rule, certainly. And that was the prescribed discipline for that particular transgression.

So, some people would say, I was just a terrible parent. Even admitting to this, I’m as bad as could be. And yet, the purpose was not to hurt him but to teach him, and remind him, so that later on in life, he would restrain himself. And I have to say, I have not just one but two of the most upstanding boys that you’re ever going to find.

I’m very proud of my son. He is a boon to wherever he goes. He knows how to treat a lady. He’s as good as they come. Now, a lot of that’s due to my wife, not me. But the fact of the matter is, that we did something “bad” in order to allow something good, because there was a longer view in mind.

I know that it’s a cliché, but in Romans 8 it says that “all things work to good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes.” So the question that we struggle with is, how could God be good if there’s evil in the world? Well, sometimes there’s a longer range thing in mind. And sometimes, it’s a discipline. Sometimes it’s neither of those and I’ll get into that in a minute. But first, the discipline.

James talks about temptation here. And he says “No one when tempted should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But when one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it, then when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Be not deceived.”

You see, temptation comes from within. Part of the reason that there is evil in the world is because God gave us free will. If we’re going to love someone, there has to be a free choice to love them. We need to love God back. And if there is that free choice, then there’s the possibility that we’re going to screw things up, and we certainly did in the Garden.

Adam and Eve made a wrong choice. They had a simple choice, very simple. Don’t eat of the apple, or pomegranate, whatever the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. And we can’t lay it all on Eve here, guys, because Adam was right there and it says that he ate with her. The fact of the matter is, we chose to sin, and we set ourselves apart from God. We placed our own desires first. Temptation came from within. It was a simple rule. They had every other tree in the garden to eat.

The same thing happens today. You know, the Scripture also says, “Resist the devil and he shall flee,” but it tells us to flee temptation. Because temptation comes from within, and most of the time what happens is, you set yourself up. You go into a situation where your weakness is going to come into play.

So you flee that situation. It may be that you can’t escape that for one reason or another, and at that point in time, that’s when you’re turning to God and asking for help and strength and prayer to resist the temptation – to endure, not resist so much as endure the temptation. And so you can get out of it. Because God is good. All the time. And He will not, cannot let evil rule our lives. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

You know, I’m fond of saying, in Psalm 23, it doesn’t say, “Yea, though I fly over the valley of the shadow of death because I’m a believer and God has promised that nothing bad is ever going to happen to me.” At least, my version doesn’t say that. Though sometimes it seems like we believe it says that.

It says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me. Thy rod” — which was used for discipline — “and thy staff” — which was used for protection – “comfort me.” God promised to be with us, to help us through those times. But the evil comes from within. People do evil. God is good. All the time. And He works good. He blesses us.

When we look at the world, sometimes we say, “Well, yes, but if God was good and there was no evil, hurricanes and tornadoes and things like that wouldn’t happen.” And yet, it’s a natural disaster. It’s a fallen world, and weather is weather. Weather patterns and weather. You know, in 2008, we were over a mile away from the Mississippi River and our basement still flooded. I never would have thought it. Because we’re uphill from it, not just a mile flat, it’s a mile going uphill. Yet our basement flooded.

And I have to say that I have very little sympathy, unfortunately, with those who, for instance, are in Florida, and on the East Coast, but particularly in Florida, I like to talk about, because that’s where a lot of hurricanes hit. They have their houses on the beach. They build them there on purpose, because it has a great view. But then it’s a tragedy when their house is totaled? I’m sorry, but I think it’s stupidity, made manifest.

In California, they love to build houses – I’ve never understood this – they build houses off the side of a mountain, I mean, half the house is hanging over midair, and they have these strut things underneath them. Then there’s a mudslide, the struts get knocked out and bam! The house goes down, and it’s “Oh, it’s a tragedy.” No, it’s stupidity. Call me judgmental if you will.

But the fact is, it was the people’s choice. God was not evil. The fact of the mudslide wasn’t evil. The only reason it was a tragedy is that somebody decided to build there that way. And they lost. Basically, they gambled. They said, I’m going to gamble that my view is going to stay here longer, and no hurricane is going to get in the way, or no mudslide is going to take out my house. And they lost.

In those moments of natural disaster, where we look for God and His goodness is in the response of the people. How many people remember Joplin, Missouri and the tornadoes that hit there? You should – this church sent a lot of money to help in response, to help in recovery. They got no help from FEMA, from the government.

But after the tornadoes hit, people were going from all over the country. They were taking vacation. They were bringing their own supplies. They were sending money. The Salvation Army was bringing water and sandwiches, and people responded, to lift people up. God was in the response of those people. He was moving them in their spirits to do this. Because God is good, all the time. He is not the founder of evil, and He doesn’t permit it, per se. He may use it, to show His glory. But God is good.

So we struggle with this concept of God is good. When you get somebody who is going through that time, when you’re going through a tough time in your life, let me give you a challenge today. Let me give you a challenge for the week to come. I always tell you to look for God’s blessings everywhere you go. But let me give you a slightly different challenge.

When things are tough, when things seem to be pounding in on you in a situation, or when you’re being tempted to do something you know is going to be harmful – it may feel good right now but it’s going to harm somebody else or yourself in the end, look for God. See where God is doing good. Look for the people around you.

You know, if there was ever anywhere where God’s goodness should be manifest, it is in the treatment of us for one another, as believers of Jesus Christ. Because if God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us and cleanse us of that sin that we do – we do, and He gave us new natures through the resurrection, so that we have a chance to live a life that honors Him and praises Him, and we’re supposed to reflect that love to each other, where, more than anywhere, should the goodness of God show itself.

And if you’re going through that time of trouble, you’re going through that struggle in your life, I spoke last week about how some people are just so ornery, so – my mom would have said pigheaded – but they want to be independent. They don’t want to be a bother. That’s the word I hear the most often. Or they don’t need help.

Well, maybe you do. It takes grace to ask for help. I mentioned last week on God’s provision. God’s provision is good. Maybe it’s the people around you. So you ask for help. You ask for that relationship with somebody else, and they respond with God’s love. And that’s good. Because God is good. All the time.

Like a parent, He has the long view on life, and some things may happen to test you and try you, and it’s to build you up. Or maybe it’s to humble you and teach you that you need others around you, loving you. But it’s never for evil, because God is good.

So I would challenge you again, as you go through this time of trouble, look for a way that you might see God in His goodness, that, like the psalmist, you might be able to give praise, and tell the people of the wondrous things that God has done.

When you meet a fellow believer, or a member of this church and family of Christ, maybe, just out of fun, you might say, “God is good.” [Congregation responds] “All the time.” And all the time, [congregation responds] “God is good.”

And may your life give praise and reflect His love and give Him glory in everything that you do and that we do for Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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