God, Both Great and Good

I am quick to recognize God’s infinite power and might. I see how he’s the God who created all the stars in the universe with his fingers (Psalm 8). I see how he holds all the waters of the earth in the palm of his hand and how he has measured out the expanse of the heavens with the breadth of his hand (Isaiah 40). In this sense I understand God’s holiness. I understand his “set-apart-ness.” I understand that he is completely other than his creation, infinitely above and beyond man and all existence. I understand that there is none like him and that nothing and no one can be compared to him. In this sense I get what it means to say that God is holy.

However, something I lack is an understanding of the moral purity of God, and specifically his goodness. I get he’s infinitely great, but my grasp of the fact that he’s also infinitely good falls short.

In The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges, speaking of God’s holiness, says that if you try to imagine “a God who is infinite in His majesty, but not absolutely perfect in moral purity—with even just a fraction of a tendency toward abuse or contempt”, that “[s]uch a thought is terrifying” (p. 68). An infinitely great God who is not also infinitely good is nothing more than “an infinite monster” (Bridges quoting Stephen Charnock). Bridges goes on to quote Charnock by saying: “It is a less injury to deny his being, than to deny the purity of it; the one makes him no god, the other a deformed, unlovely, and detestable god” (p. 68). So not only do we turn God into an infinite monster when we doubt his goodness, but Charnock says we also commit a greater sin than denying his existence, for we end up making him other than what he really is.

My question is this: Does the fact that God is infinitely great also necessitate the fact that he be infinitely good? Could God be infinitely powerful, for example, without being infinitely also being good? Probably such a question is moving away from theology into philosophy. Regardless of whether or not it could be, what I must remind myself of is what the Bible clearly says: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This is moral purity John’s talking about here. God is infinite in greatness and infinite in goodness. As infinitely great as God is, he is in the same way infinitely good. For in all his infiniteness there exists no darkness, no moral corruption.

But I still ask, “How can I be sure? What proof do I have that it’s really so? I’ve got the physical creation—the enormity of the cosmos and the grandeur of the stars as well as the intricacy of the cell and the unfathomable depths of the atom—which screams to me that God is as great and powerful as the Bible says he is, and such a scream I cannot deny or ignore. So there’s proof positive that he’s powerful. Now what proof positive do I have that he’s also good? “Long ago and at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a). Jesus is the way God declares his goodness to us. Creation is God’s way of physically demonstrating to us his greatness. His Son is his way of physically demonstrating his goodness to us. He tells us he’s great by the heavens. He tells us he’s good by the lips of a Jewish carpenter, the Word made flesh. The heavens declare his glory. Jesus declares his love. Proof positive God’s good? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus’ coming, living, and dying among us and for us is just as powerful a declaration of the character of God as is the world around us. Does not the fact that God is also Compassionate Father make God even greater than if he were “merely” Almighty Creator? I believe so.

And so as clearly as the heavens provide proof positive that I can neither deny or ignore that God is almighty, so too does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide proof positive for God’s goodness. He is both great and good. He is to be feared and loved. We should tremble and delight in his presence.

In viewing God’s holiness as both majestic and completely morally pure, we see God more clearly than viewing only one or the other.  Praise God he is both great and good.

Plastic Pleasures

So please replace
my plastic pleasures,
substituting them
for everlasting
weights of glory.
And I’ll not mourn
the loss of fading trinkets,
though I lose them all,
if in their place my God
affords to me the boundless
riches of his grace
and kindness
in his Son,
the Christ.

© 2011 Eric Evans

The Foundation Beneath Romans 8:28

One of the most often-cited verses in the Bible, and for good reason, is Romans 8:28. That incredible truth promises the Christian this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Just dwell on that a moment. Really? All things? Even car accidents and tornadoes and miscarriages? Yes. All things. It is a glorious truth. It is a truth that we as Christians must build our lives upon. But have you ever asked yourself “Why?” in regards to that question? Or, “How can that be?”

The Bible tells us in the very next verse. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The word for is a very important word. It means because. Why do all things work together for good for those who love God and for those who are called according to his purpose, Paul? And Paul answers, “Because those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” That’s why.

So what’s the connection? Verse 28 refers to a specific group of people: those who love God and those who are called according to God’s purpose (which is another way of saying that they were called according to God’s will, instead of according to man’s will, for example). These two designations refer to one group. If you love God, you’re called. If you’re called, you love God. It’s one group about which two things are true.

Verse 29 gives us another designation for this same group. There Paul calls this group “those whom God foreknew.” So you can talk about this one group in three ways.  This group is referred to as a group that loves God, as being called, and as a group that was foreknown by God. So what’s the reason that all things work together for good for those included in this group? It’s because God predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son.

How can you be sure that all things will work out for your good, you God-loving, called, foreknown one? It’s because God predestined you to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s why. The fact that God has given you a sure destiny—namely, that you will one day be fully like Jesus—is the basis for your confidence that whatever comes your way in this life, it will ultimately work together to accomplish that destiny.

Think of it this way: Your destination is 100% guaranteed. Christian, you will be like Jesus. Therefore, rest assured that every step along the path you’re travelling getting there is most assuredly helping you get closer to that end. And I mean every step. That’s the destiny God’s given you, and it will happen. That’s what predestined means!

If the truth of Romans 8:28 is incredible, the rock solid foundation beneath it is utterly breathtaking. Rest assured in the destiny God’s given you and his ability to ensure that your every step is getting you closer to that glorious end.

Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow

by John Newton (1725-1807)

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Delight in God’s Good Gifts

It’s not a sin to find delight in friends,
New clothes, or sunny skies. And jobs begun
are meant to gratify the heart when done.
With joy receive the Father’s gifts! Suspend
All guilt and let your soul’s enraptured joy extend,
As long as when it rains you’re not undone,
And when your favorite song is left unsung,
Your heart to doom’s dark pit does not descend.
Oh God, unleash your grace; help us to find
A balance by which we might both receive
Your gifts yet not by them our lives define.
We love you for your blessings yet don’t cleave
To them as gods. The lack of rain’s refined
Us—taught us you, not rain, are our relief.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

by Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path:
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.

It’ll Make a Good Scar Someday

A little boy in mud-stained jeans
Atop his small, red bike takes off
And peddles hard down a cracked sidewalk.
In tow proud dad lifts tired gaze
In time to witness his dear boy
At last achieve his longed for dream.

But then, as first times sometimes do,
Son’s takes a fateful turn as soon
As he realizes dad’s strong hand
Has left the seat of his red bike.
Now lacking confidence he jerks
The bike and meets the street beneath.

Dad, catching up to his hurt son,
Untangles him from his wrecked bike.
His muddy knees are now stained red,
And tears stream down his pain-filled face.
Son cries and asks, “What happened, Dad?”
As he holds son close dad whispers,

“One day the pain of your skinned knee
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

A teenage boy in prime of life
Drives hard down field with seconds left.
With ball clutched close and eyes closed tight,
He charges forward at full speed.
The crowd screams loud and dad looks on
As son cuts distance to the goal.

But then, as long drives sometimes go,
A misplaced step on unev’n ground
Breaks son’s steady stride. He stumbles.
With all breaths’ held, son trips and falls.
His firm grip breaks; the ball is lost.
The scout has surely taken note.

As son lies stunned, sprawled on the ground,
He lifts his eyes in time to see
His enemy fall hard atop
The ball as time is up. They’ve lost.
Son hangs his head low, asking, “Why?”
But through the din he hears dad say,

“One day the pain of shattered dreams
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

A businessman, in suit and tie,
Is sure today will be the day.
His hopes run high for one account
That’s sure to yield impressive gains
And benefit his company.
He quickly makes his way to work.

But then, as life unfolds at times,
The businessman arrives to work
And finds a notice on his desk.
In one half second all is changed
By one pink note left by his boss.
The man cannot believe his eyes.

How could it be after so long
A faithful stint as he had served,
That now, like that, his career’s through?
Still dazed, and longing just to know
“Why now?”, the man collects his things.
Then softly through the grief he hears,

“Ev’n this pain of deep betrayal
Will cease, and all you’ll see will be
A mark, a witness, of this day.
Though now the ‘why’ is so unclear,
One day the scar will bring a smile,
When then, at last, you see its end.
It will make a good scar someday.”

Though from our point of view life seems
Like random acts of careless twists,
Who else but God could design this:
Young football star turned businessman,
Who’s then let go at career’s peak,
Becomes a businessman for Christ
In foreign markets void of light.

© 2011 Eric Evans