He is good all the time and can never stop being good. It is in his very being. No matter your circumstances, he is still good. In Scripture, goodness is both moral and material—good things.
This attribute or perfection of God is communicable or “shareable” or “transferrable” to us humans. We can be good on a certain level—even those outside the church without salvation and the Spirit can be and do good. But it is cleaner and less selfish when we do and be good in Christ.
This attribute is placed under the larger division or classification of God’s moral attributes.
Let’s begin with some definitions.
What do theologians say?
Mounce’s Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us first the Hebrew and then the Greek words for good.
The Hebrew noun is toba or tova. “Goodness in the OT is generally linked with material things” (Deut. 26:11; Jer. 29:32). The adjective tov or tob “means good or well; it describes goodness, beauty, and moral uprightness … ‘God himself is good.’” David said so in Psalm 23:5: “Goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” (p. 300) In creation God said the heavens and earth were good.
For the NT, goodness (agathos) is God-centered. Only God is good (Matt. 19:17). Jesus is the high priest of good things (Heb. 9:11). Good gifts come from God (Matt. 7:11). (In the parallel passage in Luke 11:13, good means the Holy Spirit). As for humanity, goodness does not determine God’s choice of people (Rom. 9:11). Wisdom brings about goodness or good deeds (Matt. 3:10, 7:17). The adjective kalos is related to goodness. It means the “quality of an object or action that is beautiful, ordered, or virtuous and may be translated as ‘beautiful, good.’ It denotes something as being good in terms of its outward appearance or in the sense of useful or excellent.” (p. 301)
Renewal theologians J. Rodman Williams places goodness under the larger category of love. “That God is good is the ringing affirmation of the biblical witness throughout (Ps. 118:1). … The Lord is good in himself. Moreover, His goodness is constantly manifested in his creatures (Ps. 145:9)” (vol. 1, p. 87).
Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof says that goodness of God is extended to his creatures. “This may be defined as that perfection [attribute] of God which prompts Him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creatures. It is the affection which the Creator feels towards His sentient creatures as such” (p. 70, emphasis original). Then he goes on to place God’s love, grace, mercy and longsuffering under the bigger category of goodness.
In classifying the attributes, I agree with Williams. Goodness comes under love.
This attribute or perfection of God means that he is morally upright, and kind and generous and bountiful with his people.
What do the Scriptures say?
The word good, not counting its other forms (goodness, goods) is used 601 times in Scripture—too many to list even a small fraction. So let’s divide the concept by prosperity and moral uprightness.
I use the NIV here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
God’s goodness flows out to the things he made, his creation:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)
God rescues the Israelites for a purpose and goal:
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land [Egypt] into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex. 3:8)
In that verse, “milk and honey” is a metaphor for prosperity and an abundance of material things.
In the next verse, the Levites and foreigners receive baskets full of good things:
Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household (Deut. 26:11).
David sent men to wish this on a bad household, which he intended to come true:
Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! (1 Sam. 25:6)
Jeremiah denounces a false prophet who will not see:
… The good things I [God] will do for my people (Jer. 29:32)
Now let’s shift over to the moral side of goodness.
When God passed before Moses, who was hiding in a rock with God’s palm covering him, God’s goodness was revealed:
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.” (Ex. 33:19)
Some therefore teach that the core or essence of God is goodness. However, this neglects the other attributes of God that he has equally. All of the attributes—even love—make up God’s nature, who he is, without favoring one over the other. But as he relates to humans, he does shine an attribute on them, when they need it; in this case it was goodness. In another instance it is love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
This verse connects goodness and uprightness:
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his way (Ps. 25:8)
God is the subject of this sentence:
You are good and do what is good (Ps. 119:68)
These verses are about human character:
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear good fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18)
It is a sobering truth that the next verse (7:19) says the bad tree, after God works with it, is thrown into the fire.
Luke expands the same idea in his Gospel:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (6:45)
Yes, God calls us to have hatred, but it must be only directed against evil, and then he redirects us to the good:
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9)
This verse comes in the context of not taking revenge, and goodness not only means a moral state but doing good things:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21)
After we receive salvation by grace and not our good works, we are then called to do good works:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)
That verse can include good material things, and not just a moral definition.
So how can I know God better?
Let’s eliminate three bad ideas, so we can at the same have clarity about right ones.
First, certain people say that prosperity is unbiblical. Then they denounce TV preachers who seek materialism for its own purpose and promise Cadillacs to those who give to their ministries. The critics call it the “prosperity gospel,” a label these preachers never used or have stopped using. Nowadays very few preachers promise big houses if people give to them, so let’s leave them aside and just look at the Bible.
Goodness is tied to material prosperity. We see it in our current context with these expressions: “Goods and services,” meaning physical objects and those who serve us. A “bill of goods” means paperwork that has a list of material objects on it without real items behind, paperwork!
God promises us good things, material objects, so we can get out of poverty and live prosperously. Those who denounce prosperity often live in a nice American home with two cars, while nine-tenths of the world don’t have even a shack. So why don’t the critics give away their prosperity—their house and cars and everything else? Poverty does not come from God. It is a sign of brokenness. Jesus and his earthly father worked at general carpentry, and it is difficult to believe they were poor, when Joseph had so many mouths to feed (Mark 3:32, 6:5). Prosperity—good things—comes from God, so we can be a blessing to the impoverished.
The second deficient idea that circulates around the web is summed like this: The gospel does not make bad people good, but dead people alive! Yes, it makes dead people alive, but it also makes bad people better. It can do both.
Third, it is possible for people outside of the church and salvation to do good things, like give a billion to charity, but this does not save them before the thrice-holy God. So our theology must not be confused or deny reality—what we see with our own eyes. Salvation by good works is different from doing good works with or without salvation. Don’t merge the two categories.
To conclude, God is good no matter which trial you may be going through. He is good in his very essence. He can never stop being good. He created humans and loves them. Therefore the goodness in his being means that he expresses his goodness towards humans. He does so by giving them good things, particularly the knowledge and practical know-how to survive and thrive—to prosper.
Even though we humans share imperfectly and weakly in goodness, he still requires us to be good and do good, as he gives us the power and grace. When we get closer to God, we become better—gooder! He gives us the power to let the fruit of the Spirit grow in us: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness …. (Gal. 5:22).
Let the Spirit flow through you so you can exhibit goodness to people by being good and doing good.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES “DO I REALLY KNOW GOD?”
Do I Really Know God? He Is Good