To listen to Nancy’s answer recorded from Moody radio, click below.
I wish I had a penny for every time I strongly encouraged my children to be “good.” By that, I meant I expected them to follow instructions, be helpful, and be kind. It sounds like a normal request until I apply my definition of “good” to God’s. There has never been, nor will there ever be anyone, outside of Jesus, who is good. We, as humans, are fundamentally incapable of doing what is good. Only God can be and do good. Jesus was fully God and fully sinless man. He chose to be always obedient to His Father. He showed love and mercy through how He lived, talked, and healed many.
When God created the world and everything in it, He declared that it was good, meaning perfect. On the 6th day, God created humanity in His image and proclaimed it very good.
Jesus says, “And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17
We all seem to have a list of what would qualify as good. God is not the least bit impressed by our performance to do something good, for goodness sake. Such admirable intentions are not how God would define good. God decides what is good from His nature and vantage point. In all things, God is good, whether we understand or agree with what He is doing or not. I have learned that God does not need or want my opinion; He wants my obedience because that brings Him joy.
Perhaps “being good” is allowing the Holy Spirit to completely control our lives, which frees us up to follow Him faithfully. No doubt, God looks on our hearts. Throughout Scripture, God clearly defines what He requires of us to be good. The moment we separate ourselves from our walk with God, we can no longer do “good.”
“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:7,8).
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as l have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:7-11).
When things happen to us that bring about personal suffering, our human response is often thinking that something terrible is happening to us, and we go to God begging that he take the pain away. Again, from a human perspective, pain always seems bad. From God’s perspective, pain can increase our faith as we draw closer to Him.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4,12).
The story in Genesis of what happened when Joseph was attacked by his brothers is a picture of trusting God in the middle of personal suffering. His brothers threw him in a pit, took him out, and sold him to some Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, bought him. Joseph served Potiphar in his home until he was falsely accused of violating Potiphar’s wife, and was thrown in a dark, musty prison cell. He was not alone.
“But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:20-21). Joseph did not understand it, but he knew God did. He had suffered not only physically but emotionally as well. He was separated from his Father and family. Joseph was not good (perfect), but through suffering, he learned patience, obedience, and humility. From God’s perspective, Joseph was now prepared to rescue an entire starving nation who were about to die from famine.
Joseph forgave his brothers for betraying him. “And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:4-7). “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate example of suffering for our benefit. The disciples, distraught at the death of their Rabbi, could not understand how this gruesome and cruel mode of execution could possibly lead to good. Jesus had said He is the way, the truth, and the life, and now He was dead, hanging on a cross. The disciples didn’t know that Jesus’ life was not over, but the penalty for sin was forever put to death. On the third day, He arose!
The mystery of the goodness of God from our finite position is impossible to understand. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit in us is it possible to be “good” in the eyes of the Lord.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Might God’s most significant work to bring about greatest good in and through us is during those times of our deepest suffering?