The Goodness of God
Topic: Grace Passage: Exodus 33:12–33:23
The Goodness of God
Grace Community Church
Last June Nik Wallenda walked across the Grand Canyon on a 2” steel cable, 1500 feet above a dry riverbed and certain death if he fell. Twice during the walk he had to stop and crouch down as powerful gusts of wind caused the rope to sway unpredictably. When Walenda was finally able to stand back up and continue his crossing he thanked Jesus for calming the winds.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Nik Walenda saw the Grand Canyon in a uniquely thrilling way, but if he offered to take someone with him on his next crossing, I think most of us would pass. As far as I’m concerned, standing near the ledge (and not too near) and taking in the Grand Canyon’s magnificent view would be more than thrilling enough – I don’t need to be part of that view for it to take my breath away. And that’s how it is when we come face to face with something that is truly magnificent in size and scope - we don’t need to inject ourselves into the center of it to appreciate its beauty. In fact, it’s good for our souls to occasionally get lost in something bigger and more awesome than we are, to forget about ourselves in the presence of something that is greater than we are. There’s something about sitting on an ocean beach and watching the waves roll in or lying in a field at night looking up at the stars, that helps put our lives and our problems and our concerns, and our dreams into perspective.
That’s what we want to do for the next three weeks: we want to stand on the edge of God’s word and take in the glorious view of the goodness of God. And while there isn’t a truth in all of scripture that affects our lives more than the Biblical revelation that God is good and we do want to make the important connections between God’s goodness and our lives, let’s not rush to make those connections. I hope we can slow down and enjoy the view of God’s infinite goodness without immediately injecting ourselves into that view – maybe even lose sight of ourselves for a little while.
The blazing purity of God’s goodness (Ex. 33)
The mercy and severity of God’s goodness (Ex. 34)
An invitation to taste God’s goodness (Ps. 34)
To begin our journey, let’s turn together to Exodus 33:12.
The blazing purity of God’s goodness (Ex. 33)
This is a pivotal moment in redemptive history. God has revealed Himself to Moses by His name, Yahweh, and called him to deliver the Israelites from bondage to Egypt and in chapter 32 the Lord called Moses to ascend Mt. Sinai where He gave Moses the law. But while Moses was meeting God on the mountain, the Israelites forged a golden calf as an idol and began to worship it. Moses became so furious he threw down the stone tablets. Chapter 32 opens with God telling Moses He will not go with the Israelites into the Promised Land, for they are a sinful people and He would consume them if He went with them. Moses refuses to go if God doesn’t go with them. How can they be called God’s people, how can they be distinct, if God isn’t with them? Moses says, if You don’t go with us, I won’t go either. Leave us right here to perish. God honors Moses request and promises that His presence will go with them.
Then, in verse 18 Moses (emboldened by God’s response to his first request) asks God, “Please, show me your glory.” And God answers, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and I will proclaim before you my name “The Lord”. God’s glory and His goodness are the same thing. When Moses saw God’s goodness, he saw God’s glory. So what does God’s goodness mean?
What does it mean that God is good?
God is good
The word “good” means to be excellent in quality, worthy of approval. Although every aspect of God is good, primarily when the Bible says that God is good, it is speaking of His moral goodness. God’s character is good, and that goodness is pure through and through. There is, as James says, no variation or shadow due to change. God’s being is infinite, God’s character is infinite, God’s heart is infinite. And yet in all the infinite heart of God there is not the smallest molecule of evil, or of anything that is not blazingly good.
So when this good God created the world He saw that it was good. And when God created mankind in His own image, He saw that it was very good. But when Satan came to tempt Eve, he moved Adam and Eve away from God, the source of good, through disobedience. Satan is called the prince of darkness, and Jesus called him a murderer and the father of lies. Just as there is no evil or darkness in God, there is no goodness or light in Satan. His being is pure evil. No act could be so evil that it awakened a guilty conscience in Satan, there is no conscience to awaken. Because he has disconnected so completely from God who is the source of good, there is no good in him.
We live in a state in between the two. There are still distinct echoes of God’s goodness in the world (so we have the beauty of sunsets and warm spring days and the Grand Canyon), and echoes of goodness in mankind because we are still God’s image bearers (so there are people who display compassion, self-sacrifice, generosity, love, etc). Those are ripples from the original creation that was all good.
But we don’t have to look very hard to see the “ungood-ness” that surrounds us either. We see it in the darkness of the evening news – there are atrocities taking place everywhere all the time. Murder, injustice, abuse, oppression, exploitation, greed, cruelty, tyranny, starvation, are just some of the evil that permeates our world. And if we’re honest we see that ungoodness in our own hearts in a thousand ways that may not make the evening news but affect our lives and the lives around us.
So when the Bible tells us that God is good, it is calling us to the One who created us with a deep longing for our Creator, to worship His worthship, to stand in awe of His infinite glory instead of following Satan in the dark self-worship of ourselves. But that brings us to a dilemma: God’s goodness is what we need most, and at the same time, what we most need to avoid. God’s goodness isn’t a warm, fuzzy light of niceness, it is a blazing sun of goodness that even Moses couldn’t stand to look directly or it would kill him. As we stand on the edge of God’s word and gaze at God’s goodness, the second thing that comes into view is…
The mercy and severity of God’s goodness (Ex. 34:5-7)
In C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Susan hears about the great lion Aslan from Mr. Beaver. Fearfully she asks, “I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe?’Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
God being good isn’t the same thing as God being safe. The truth is there is no more dangerous being in the universe than God. Jesus says don’t fear cruel people who can only kill you. Fear God who has the power, after killing you, to throw your soul into hell. In Rom. 11:22 Paul describes this strange combination in God’s character:
Behold then the kindness (goodness) and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Rom 11:22
Because God is good through and through His infinite being, there can be no tolerance in His infinitely good soul for sin or evil even to the smallest degree or He would no longer be good because a characteristic of being good is hating evil and sin, which corrupt and destroy what is good. God isn’t like us – He doesn’t try to be good, or try to act good. He doesn’t put on goodness at the beginning of each day. He is good, and so hating evil is intrinsic to God’s being – and it’s a good thing it is, or the all powerful Creator would be corruptible and capable of doing evil to His creation for His own selfish interests.
Think of it this way: what if the universe were run by a Chicago politician. Too horrible to contemplate! We live in a state of in-between – there is an echo of good but our fallen natures are corrupted through and through so we are not able to measure sin or goodness accurately. We hate some sin and some evil and some injustice, but find it possible to tolerate or even embrace other violations that don’t seem so bad to us, or that we are personally guilty of. Often we expect God to overlook in us what we condemn in others. We are not good. That’s why Jesus said to the rich young man, why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
So that’s the severity of God’s goodness, but when God describes His goodness, mercy and compassion is at the core of His definition. Turn one chapter over to Exodus 34. This is when Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock and God passes by.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
All God’s goodness passed by Moses, and the Lord proclaims His name as a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…God is compassionate, merciful, loving. That is at the core of God’s goodness. He forgives iniquity and sin. And yet, he by no means clears the guilty and visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. How can God forgive and not clear the guilty?
The answer is in Jonah 4, where Jonah tells God why he flees from the word of the Lord that called him to Ninevah because he knew if he brought the message of judgment to Ninevah and they repented that God would relent on His judgment because (and he quotes Ex. 34), I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. The grace and mercy are freely extended to those who turn from their sin and repent. God’s goodness loves to reach down to the outcast, the downtrodden, the brokenhearted, the weak. But His goodness will be a terror to those who harden their hearts and keep embracing their evil.
Just as Moses needed to be hidden in the cleft of the rock, God has provided a cleft of the rock for us to hide in, a place where we can see the goodness of God and live. That cleft is Jesus and we hide in him when we repent of our sin and put our trust in his saving work on the cross. God poured out His judgment for our sin on His Son so that those who by faith hide in Jesus will never need to experience God’s judgment because His justice has already been satisfied. God loves to show mercy. Forgiveness. Compassion. But we need to come to God in repentance for our sin to receive that mercy. Behold the mercy and severity of our God! Turn to God and repent and experience His good mercy.
An invitation to taste God’s goodness
Next week Matt will take us to Jesus’ description of himself as the Good Shepherd and then we will look at God’s promise to work all things together in our lives for good. I want to close with an invitation from
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
David is calling us to do more than take in the view of God’s goodness from the sideline. He is calling us to taste, to experience, to inject ourselves into the center of God’s goodness, just as he (David) has done. He opens this psalm with a declaration that he will praise the Lord at all times, and in verse 3 he invites anyone who will to join him in praising God. But verse 4 then reveals that this isn’t just the overflow of a guy having a great day. It’s the overflow of a man who has walked through hard times and troubles and fears and found the Lord faithful in the midst of those times. David was on a high wire, with his life dangling between two enemies. On one side, King Saul was relentlessly pursuing him to kill him. Forced to flee Saul, David enters the Philistine nation, but they know David as a mighty warrior of Israel, and his life is in danger, so to keep from being killed as an enemy he had to feign madness, scratching on doors with his fingernails with spittle running down his beard. He is on a high wire, and there must have been times when he couldn’t see how he was going to make it to the other side. But he called out to the Lord, he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord heard his cry, and he learned – tasted – of God’s goodness.
When David invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good, he isn’t just talking to those who have everything going great in their lives. He’s talking to those who are struggling with troubles that weigh down on your shoulders. He’s talking to those who tremble with fear. He’s talking to those who are sad or confused. He’s talking to those who are struggling just to hold onto hope.
What David is talking about is tasting the Lord’s goodness when nothing else seems good – and finding that His goodness is even sweeter because of the hardship we’re walking through. That sometimes it’s when our hearts are raw that our hearts are most sensitive to God’s goodness.
There is a banquet that God puts before us when we are hurting or desperate, a table set for us in the wilderness and Jesus becomes more precious to us than life.
David is talking to those who are raising serious prayer requests to God. Crying out to God. It may be out of fear or desperation, or it may be out of a need just to see God come through in some area we are trusting Him in. The guy who lost his job and needs to find another one soon. The woman who stands in front of an open door of opportunity but is afraid to walk through it. The young person who wonders what they’re going to do with their life after high school, and if they’re honest, sometimes lies awake at night afraid of what the future might hold. The guy who is launching out on a new church plant, very aware that he needs God to meet him and his family.
Anyone who needs God to come through for them (and that’s all of us). Cause as believers, God always calls us off the sidelines and onto the high wire of faith – holding onto Jesus and calling on him to steady the winds and keep us on the narrow path of His promises.
The more we know God is good, the more we trust that His heart is good towards us, and seeks our good, the more our confidence in our God will grow. And as we step out with nothing but God’s promises to hold us up, when we really believe that He is good, then we believe that there is nothing in the universe more solid than His promises because God never lies, and He is able to do anything He wants, and what He wants is our good. Because He is good. We taste that the Lord is good, and tasting, we see that the Lord is good. Nothing better than that.