Many people have heard of the “problem of evil” or the “problem of suffering” – but the problem of God’s goodness? For many people that’s a new one.
As I’ve shared the gospel over the years I have heard people bring up the problem of suffering many times. The basic version asserts that any god who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing would eliminate suffering and ensure that bad things don’t happen to good people. Yet, clearly the world contains much suffering.
Many people who are seemingly decent have terrible things happen to them. Human action can’t account for all of the suffering either. Natural disasters bring suffering to both kind and unkind people equally.
Of course, this philosophical objection is merely a straw man. It may be a strong argument against the god of the philosophers. This god exists only in theory. It is a non-argument against the living God revealed in the Bible. The reason is not because the logic fails. The reason is because the argument fails to account for God’s goodness.
The problem of God’s goodness is the one we need to worry about.
It may seem strange to think God’s goodness is a problem. Many people believe that the goodness of God is what will set them free on the Day of Judgment. However, it is the goodness of God that ought to cause us to tremble in fear.
God is good.
In His goodness, God has revealed what it means to be “good.” He gave us His moral law which reflects His good character. Consider God’s counsel:
Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7)
The God of the Bible does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not stop being good, just, or kind. Ever. Therefore, this Proverb is always true:
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15)
This presents quite the dilemma. The Bible declares that God is a God who is just, good, and righteous. It declares that He is a God who will by no means clear the guilty. He is a God who detests justice being neglected.
On the other hand, the God of the Bible is a God that forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin. God described Himself to Moses using both sides of the dilemma together.
The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6b-7a)
A God who forgives. A God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
The reason this is a problem is two-fold. First, there is the theological problem of how this can be resolved without contradiction. The second problem is much more personal. How do the guilty receive forgiveness?
The reason the second question is so personal is because we are all guilty.
Many object to the standards expressed in the Scriptures. However, people are guilty by their own standards, too.
Do you think it is right for people to talk about you behind your back? Do you think it is right when people fail to give you the benefit of the doubt? Do you want people to think abusive or shameful thoughts about you?
Do you ever talk about people behind their back? Do you always give others the benefit of the doubt? Do you ever think thoughts about others that they may find abusive or shameful?
Therefore, you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)
Guilty. We’re all guilty.
The problem for each of us is that we will all stand before a God who is genuinely good. In His goodness, He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. That’s us.
The fact that all are guilty and the reality of the goodness of God explains why this world is so broken. It’s why the “problem of suffering” doesn’t apply to the God of the Bible. In His goodness, God has cursed us in our rebellion. Death, destruction, disease, natural disasters, and all the brokenness of this world are a fruit of the condemnation upon this world. All of creation groans under the curse.
This personal reality ought to make the theological question much more relevant. How can we be forgiven of our iniquity, transgression, and sin? How can God maintain His justice and also exercise His mercy?
The answer is in Jesus Christ alone.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
Religion can’t save us. Good works can’t save us. Money can’t save us.
God’s goodness requires perfect righteousness. Only righteousness can deliver us from death.
It is God’s goodness that condemns us. It is likewise God’s goodness that offers to redeem us. This offer is exclusively through Jesus.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Outside of Christ, God’s goodness is terrifying. If we have received the gift of Christ’s righteousness then God’s goodness is our great comfort and joy. God hasn’t changed but our status before Him can be altered through Jesus.
The problem of God’s goodness ought to cause each of us to respond the way Peter’s audience did on the day of Pentecost. In light of God’s goodness we should all rightly ask, what shall we do?
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40)
Receive Christ. Receive peace with God and forgiveness for your sins. Rest in the goodness of God. Praise Him for His unchanging love. Proclaim His excellencies because He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.