“O Lord . . . Thou art good, and doest good.” Ps. 119:65, 68)
Our Reformed Confession states that “God . . . is . . . good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” We must first see goodness as what God is, then as what God gives. God is good in His being and nature, so that He is essentially, naturally, originally, independently and only good. God is good of himself, in himself, goodness itself. Goodness is God’s attribute; He is that attribute, so that it is His essence (being, existence). According to the above text, and according to Ps. 86:5, “Thou, Lord art good,” the Lord’s name is Good. The Lord in revealing certain divine attributes to Moses mentioned among them God’s goodness (Ex. 34:6), but we see there, too, that God’s goodness is so rich that it comprehends all His attributes, including grace, long-suffering, truth, faithfulness, justice and holiness. (Ex. 33:19; 34:7).
Since God is independently good (His goodness is not from outside himself), it follows that He is exclusively good. “There is none good but one, God.” (Mt. 19:17). This means that the three persons of the trinity, equally God, are equally good. Good in the creature is derived, bestowed, put into them by God. God’s goodness is necessary, necessary to His divine nature, for He is good by nature, and in His nature, whereas we are good only by eternal adoption and regeneration. There is nothing in God, or about Him, that is contrary to His goodness. That is impossible: God cannot make Himself not-God. Therefore, God loves the image of His own goodness embedded in His own being. God Himself in His own goodness is the primary object of His self-esteem.
The word God is said to be in Greek, Agathos, Good, contracted to gath; Gothic goth (god); German gott; Saxon god and good. In Webster’s dictionary, (1828 First Ed.), a full page is devoted to defining the word good along with listing 52 shades of meaning. The primary meaning is given as extending, advancing strength; that which is strong, firm, valid. In the Hebrew Bible the word is tobh (pronounced tove, rhyming with rove), meaning good, well, beautiful, pleasing, pleasant, sweet, kind, benevolent, prosperous.
Now this gets us off to a good start, especially in view of the question, What (exactly) is goodness? We answer from Scripture, God’s Word, that we know what goodness is. Philosophers, ancient or modern, will not accept this, for they have discovered (!) that nobody knows what goodness is. In Plato’s The Republic there is Socrates, the narrator, and a half dozen or so forming a discussion panel, with spectators and auditors witnessing the dialogue. The discussion begins with expressing opinions as to what is meant by “wealth,” “blessing,” “justice,” “Good” and “evil.” This first section of the book goes on for 45 paqes attempting to define these concepts; but the conclusion of the matter, after all these pages, is that no one knows what these things, specifically, are. No one has been able to say what is justice, or truth or goodness. Plato refers to God as To Agathon, the Good. But he really does not know what is meant either by “God” or by “the good.” I suppose this is one reason why they wanted to get rid of Socrates (via the bowl of hemlock), because he was, in teaching the youth, insisting that we really don’t know anything. This was subverting the youth, to press the point that, for example, no one knows what justice is, and that it takes a really smart person to see this and admit it. Hence, no one knows what truth is, or what goodness is. For example, discuss with someone not a Christian the subject of “goodness,” and you will find that that person may neatly express a lot of platitudes or relativities, but will be unable to state particularly and define good absolutely and antithetically to evil. Good and evil in his mind will be blurred, being practically two forms of the same vague thing. For, if the Bible is not accepted as the Word of God, then there is no way anyone can know what any of these virtues are. Then we fall into Agnosticism. So with the Bible in mind, we must still press for an answer to the question, What is goodness? Based on the Bible we answer, Goodness is that virtue in God according to which He loves Himself as the superabounding source of all beauty and excellence. Goodness in relation to His creatures is that perfection of God according to which He delights in His creatures, “is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). Goodness is embraced in all God’s attributes. When His goodness bestows favor, it is grace; when it brings deliverance to the miserable, it is mercy; when God fulfils His promise, it is truth; when it makes a man (Abraham) rich, it is bounty; when it defends the innocent, it is righteousness; when it pardons the penitent, it is forgiveness. These are all the manifold colors in the spectrum of spiritual light.
In God there is nothing but goodness, and from Him comes nothing but goodness. As with all His attributes, so His goodness is infinite. The psalmist in awe cried, “How great is Thy goodness!” (Ps. 31:19) But he could not say how great, and, indeed, that is impossible to say. God is immutably and eternally good. As to these essential attributes of His goodness, it is incommunicable. So that as to the essential attribute itself, God alone is good. What God is, as to His indivisible essence, cannot be communicated to the creature. But though in one sense goodness is what God is, in another sense it is what God gives. God displays His goodness to both good and bad men, but He bestows His goodness on His elect people only. This is the burden of an excellent old book of Rev. H. Hoeksema’s, “God’s Goodness Always Particular.” But where today will one find a copy of this? To good and bad men God gives good gifts, such as sunlight, rain, the fruits of the earth, food, strength, health. But God’s particular goodness, being spiritual, and, as God taught Moses, “all My goodness” consists in mercy, grace, faithfulness and forgiveness. Mercy is particular goodness, for He shows mercy on whom He will, and will be gracious to whom He will (Ex. 33:19). “Truly, God is good to Israel” (Ps. 73:1), that is, the Israel of God. “For they are not all (the) Israel (of God) who are of (nominal) Israel.” (Rom. 9:6). So God’s mercy (goodness) is always particular since He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. (9:18). “The election hath obtained” the blessings of His goodness; “the rest were blinded.” (11:7).
Some of the heathen philosophers called God Optimus, Maximus, the Best, the Greatest. But greatness without sweetness and beauty would not be the best, but rather some sort of monster. Many of the gods of the heathen have nothing of goodness in them; they are beastly, horrible, revolting, evil. So that not being good, they are no gods; they are nothings. Some of the philosophers said, “that is good which all seek to obtain.” That would eliminate from the good God Himself, for there is none that seeketh after God (Rom. 3:11). That would eliminate the highest aim, which is the glory of God; for all seek their own, not the things of others (Phil. 2:20, 21, 4). The philosophers made the chief end of man man himself. Man is the measure of all things. That eliminates loving God with all our strength, soul and mind, for man by nature is prone to hate God and his neighbor. Nor do all seek the way of peace, for the way of peace have they not known. (Rom. 3:17). That which “all strive to obtain” is gratification of self, self-indulgence, with a vengeance, without hindrance of law or authority above man. (II Tim. 3:2; 2:10). That is not “good”, but sin and conceptional annihilation of God. Modern men say good is that which is usable, useful as means that work now. There is no absolute, moral goodness, only that which is of practical value and worth today, whatever gets desired results. So a “good friend” is not one in whom the image of God is restored and reflected, but one who is agreeable, compatible.
The Psalter is a book full of God’s goodness:
How great the goodness kept in store
For those who fear Thee and adore
In meek humility. — 81
O taste and see that God is good
To all that seek His face;
Yea, blest the man that trusts in Him,
Confiding in His grace. — 88
Communing in Thy holy house,
With good we shall be satisfied. — 166
The goodness of Thy house, O Lord,
The joys Thy holy courts afford,
Our souls shall satisfy. — 168
The year with goodness Thou dost crown,
Rich gifts in mercy sending down
To cheer the wilderness. — 169
God loveth the righteousness,
His goodness is sure,
He never forsaketh
the good and the pure. — 201
Because the Lord our God is good,
His mercy is forever sure. — 268
Praise ye the Lord, for He is good;
Give thanks and bless His name;
His lovingkindness changes not,
From age to age the same. — 290
The goodness of God is seen in our redemption, in that our Lord Jesus
Christ “was bound that we might be freed from our sins; He suffered innumerable reproaches, that we might never be confounded; He was innocently condemned to death, that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of God; He suffered His blessed body to be nailed to the cross, that He might fix thereon the handwriting of our sins; He hath taken upon himself the curse due to us, that He might fill us with His blessings; and hath cried, My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me? that we might be accepted of God, and never be forsaken of Him.” (Form for Administration of the Lord’s Supper). How good! How beautiful! How sweet! Not a hanging, pending goodness, but an actually saving goodness!