suffering

Is God really good all the time?

Where the phrase came from, I don’t know, nor do I much care, since I don’t follow popular culture much, but it’s a true statement that “God is good, all the time.” This affirmation, however, lies at the center of much discussion about Deity today.

Is God really good all the time? With the suffering and evil that exist in the world, can we affirm his intrinsic goodness? Is God playing (with) us? Especially when Scripture itself affirms that God tests us? How are we to understand this concept of God’s testing?

First, God’s testing or proving always seeks a positive outcome. God put Abraham to the test, Genesis 22.1, ordering him to sacrifice the son of promise. This did not cause Abraham to doubt God’s goodness. Instead, he imagined that the Lord might raise Isaac from the dead.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there, Hebrews 11.17-19 NET.

Abraham continued to trust God. He kept on believing the promise. Even though he didn’t understand, at the time, the reason behind the command to sacrifice Isaac, he did not doubt that God intended good for him.

Second, the ambiguity of language sometimes masks the difference between testing and temptation. Temptation seeks to draw someone away from God. It seeks to make us fall. So in this sense, “God tempts no one” James 1.13.

Jesus himself tested Phillip, John 6.5-6, evidently, with a view to stretching his faith in the Lord’s ability to provide. It was Andrew who passed that test, by bringing loaves and fish to Jesus.

Just as a coach will push his athletes past limits they think they cannot endure, so God leads us into places where we must turn to him, cast ourselves upon his strength, and believe that he does all for the greater good.

Third, suffering can actually be considered as a demonstration of God’s goodness.

What suffering could be worse than that of Job? Even here, James reminds us that this experience taught Job the goodness of God.

“Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and you have seen the Lord’s purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy” James 5.11.

Compassion and mercy are not terms we would associate, at first glance, with Job’s experience. James affirms it, however, in a phrase often used in the Old Testament. The Lord wants to fulfill his purpose in us, and his ways and means are far beyond our small minds to comprehend, Isaiah 55.8ff.

God did not cause Job’s suffering, but he did use it to show his sovereignty over the world and his intention to bless mankind.

Paul has this conviction. “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” Romans 8.28. This conviction is more than a mere wish that everything will work out in the end. It is faith that God will cause all things to contribute to our good.

In the first temptation, Satan sought to put doubts in man’s mind about God’s benevolent purpose toward man. He continues to use the same tactic today. God evidently allows Satan to do this so that our faith in divine goodness may be tested and, hopefully, found strengthened.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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