Sherrel and I had a homeless man and his girlfriend in one of our classes some time ago. He was excited when he was hired (yes, some are paid) by the Salvation Army to ring a bell during the Christmas season. John happened to be ringing the bell at our local Sam's Club, at the same time we were doing some shopping. As we visited with him briefly, he pointed us out to the folks making donations by saying, “These people are good to me. They are good to me.”
I suppose John thought we were good to him because we had respected what he said during class and had prayed for him several times; I can't think of any other reason. A good story so far… right? But there's more to the story. John treated his girlfriend every way but good. At that time (we were having a cold winter) they both were sleeping in the front seat of his truck. Every time I walked by his truck I noticed John always had most of the blankets covering him. After observing both of them over a period of time, it was obvious John took care of himself first and his girlfriend had whatever was left.
Our definition of goodness is apparently: “Whatever is good for me.” It is good when the insurance company has to pay me for a questionable claim. It is not good when I get caught trying to make the insurance company pay a questionable claim. It is good when I can unload on someone for offending me. It is not good when someone unloads on me for offending him or her.
Our human understanding of goodness is full of double standards. For example, I am (or maybe I should say “can be”) a tough negotiator, when it comes to making deals. But if I make a really good deal for me, how can it be a really good deal for the other party? What if a carpenter is desperate for income and I hire him to build a deck for an amount far below market value? It may be good for me, but how is that good for him?
Imagine this kind of conversation instead: “You're not wanting enough money for your car. I've done a lot of looking around. It's worth more than what you are asking. I can pay you ten percent more and I'll still be getting a good deal.” We might work a deal like this with a child or a parent. But sadly, many of us wouldn't even treat a loved one so fairly, let alone anybody else.
We simply cannot shape our understanding of God's goodness from our relationships with other people, because we're not that good. And because we are not that good, we have a very selfish understanding of goodness. So we have great difficulty in understanding the goodness of God.
The fool has said in his heart, “[There is] no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. (Psalm 14:1a NKJV)
Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. [O my soul], you have said to the LORD, “You [are] my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You.” (Psalms 16:1a–2 NKJV)
I realize this is a blow to the human ego. But we simply cannot be good without God.
It is good to help someone in emotional pain… right? But if we try to do it without God it won't come out so good. The current welfare system in the U.S. is a monument to the goodness of man without God. What happens, for example, when a government tries to help a person suffering from mental distress? Well, here's the drill from people who have witnessed it first‐hand:
I go in for help at my local social services office. I am asked, “Have you ever had emotional trauma?” Of course, I can truthfully answer, “Yes,” as can any person on the face of the earth. Good so far… concern for my welfare and all that. Because I have suffered from emotional trauma I am eligible for an evaluation with a mental health professional, who then prescribes medication for my mental distress. Because I am now on medication I am also on a path to apply for disability income. Or as they say in Oklahoma, I'm on the way to getting a “crazy check” from the government.
Man's goodness will leave me with a permanent dependence on public funds, and all the associated mental health conditions that accompany government dependence. Whereas, if I'd used God's goodness to treat my emotional pain, I would be getting free to be the man God created me to be, rather than to be bound to a system that suffocates my true identity.
It would be good to just step back from our preconceived ideas of goodness and take a look at God's goodness from His perspective. God gives us His perspective of goodness in Exodus chapter 34.
Moses was headed back up Mount Sinai for the second set of stone tablets. He'd already broken one set because of the antics of the Israelites (see Exodus 32:15–20). As Moses stood before the Lord with two brand new stone tablets, God spoke to him:
And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, (Exodus 34:6 NKJV)
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7 NLT)
God is basically saying in this chapter, “If I am first in your life, you will experience My goodness. If I am not first in your life, you will not experience My goodness. My goodness will follow your children and your children's children as long as I am first in their lives. But your children and your children's children will live under the curse as long as they worship anything other than Me.”
Here's the really hard part to wrap my mind around: Only in God's presence can His goodness be fully experienced. Or said another way, if I step outside His presence I step outside His goodness. He hasn't removed His goodness from me; I have removed myself from His goodness. God is not withholding His goodness from me. I am refusing to put myself in a position to receive His goodness.
Before we continue tomorrow, I ask you to step back from your own self‐interest, and take a look at some of the recent dealings you've had with God. Can you see any situations where you've been out there on your own and the results were anything but good?
Have a good day,