The Bible consistently describes God as good. But some say He isn’t good or that some things He’s done aren’t good. Are there different definitions of good?
When God revealed Himself to Moses and the nation of Israel, it was in these terms: “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, emphasis added throughout).
The Bible says this about the eternal, Creator God: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). If a gift is “good,” it ultimately comes from God—the unchanging God.
“You are good, and do good” (Psalm 119:68).
“Good” is the consistent scriptural description of the nature and actions of God. In the Bible’s earliest revelation about God and His creative acts, the word “good” is used repeatedly. God described as “good” the things He made on the various days of creation, and the overall work of creation was summarized as “very good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
According to the Bible, God is good.
What is the definition, and the standard, of “good”?
But what does that mean exactly? In a world of evil, pain and suffering, some question whether God really is all good.
Who defines “good”? Not everyone agrees.
In fact, some claim that the God described in the Bible is cruel and definitely not good. One writer, Christopher Hitchens, has gone so far as to write a book titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
According to Christopher Hitchens, God is not great or good.
Why do people differ in how they define “good”? It can have to do with perspective. If self is the perspective, then a person can define “good” in terms of how someone or something impacts the self. You are “good” to the degree that I am made happier and more content by you. “I” become the point of reference to define “goodness.” The happiness or contentment of others is unimportant.
How people define “good” can also have to do with the matter of time. Some people tend to evaluate life merely in reference to the short term. If you please me now—today—then you are “good.”
This, of course, leaves tomorrow or next year completely out of the picture. It ignores the possibility that something that brings short-term pleasure can produce pain, suffering or loss in the long term. It also fails to see how good in the long term might result from struggles or suffering in the short term.
Others equate “goodness” with “niceness” or good manners—never hurting anyone’s feelings—always saying positive and complimentary things about others. In modern times, the term “politically correct” has come into usage, describing institutionalized “niceness”—though sometimes at the expense of truthfulness or constructive criticism. In its advanced form, it can result in nonjudgmental “tolerance” of behavior, even behavior that results in hurt and damage to others.
The list could go on. Other opinions as to the essence of “goodness” center on attributes such as generosity or humility or loyalty or “spirituality.” There is considerable variation in how people view the concept of “good.”
But how does the Bible define goodness? In what sense of the word “good” is God “good”—according to the testimony of the Bible?
If we are to understand God and the goodness of God, it is important that we study what the Bible teaches about this question. When we do that, we find that the varying human opinions and perspectives about “goodness” mentioned above fall short of a complete understanding.
(To understand the related issue of why there is evil and suffering in the world, see the section on “Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?”)
The “goodness” of God in the working out of God’s plan of salvation
According to the Scriptures, we understand the “goodness” of God in the working out of His great master plan of salvation. God has a wonderful plan for His human creation—a very good plan! According to God’s purpose, that plan takes time, patience and endurance. For this wonderful plan to be accomplished, there are struggles along the way for us human beings (Matthew 7:13-14).
It isn’t easy, but it is good—all good. God is good, and that goodness is seen as He accomplishes His purpose to expand His family. Let’s understand.
God the Father and Jesus Christ are engaged in “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). They are expanding the God family. Their purpose is to bring human beings to eternal life in a loving family relationship with Them—to make many more in their “image” (Genesis 1:26; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Colossians 3:10).
In the working out of that purpose, God reveals His character—His nature—to mankind. He shows us that we are to become like Him. His character is pure, holy and loving. In this revealing of His holy nature to His human creation, God is good. “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way” (Psalm 25:8).
God reveals His righteous law to mankind. His law serves as a guide to living in a way that pleases God, and it leads to the accomplishment of His plan. In making this guide and spiritual “light” available to man, God is good. “You are good, and do good; teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:68).
In working out His glorious purpose, God has first made mankind mortal and given him physical life. In that life, all men and women have sinned—violating God’s righteous laws, falling short of the holiness and spiritual purity of God (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).
God’s goodness leads men to repentance
When God works directly in the life of a sinning human being, He convicts him of his sins and grants him the gift of repentance—a willingness and commitment to change, to become like God and to seek His forgiveness. In doing this, God is good. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
When people desire to come into conformity with God’s ways and live by His righteous laws and turn from the way of sin, God is gracious, and merciful, and willing to forgive their sins. In this merciful response to repentance, God is good. “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5).
Christ’s sacrifice shows God’s goodness
When God calls and chooses a person to know Him and brings that person to repentance and forgiveness, that forgiveness is through faith in the death—the sacrifice—of Jesus Christ. Christ, the Son of God, died for sinners, so that they might live. In God the Father’s merciful acceptance of Christ’s death in the place of the eternal death of a repentant sinner, God is good.
When a person has repented of sin and asked for God’s mercy and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, God lives and works in that person, through the power of that Spirit. If a person then uses that spiritual power given by God to change, that person can be transformed from within. In doing this, God is good. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
In every aspect of the working out of His plan of salvation, through Jesus Christ, in the lives of human beings, God is good.
Ultimately, all will understand God’s goodness and His plan!
As we saw earlier, not everyone today understands what “good” is in the same way. Many do not understand it in light of the Bible or of the nature and workings of God. Many do not know and understand the incredible “goodness” of God. But, even in that regard, there is good news!
The good news is that this will change! The Bible reveals that the time is coming when the knowledge of God—of how He is and what He does, of God’s goodness—will be far more widespread than it is today. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
In that wonderful time, when the Kingdom of God rules the earth, the goodness of God will be known and understood and praised throughout the earth!
“Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:6-9).
What should you do?
To know God is the most important and meaningful relationship you can have. To know His goodness is inspiring—it fills us with hope, and it motivates us to live a life of meaning, confidence and purpose. You can get to know God better. Read and study the material on this site to learn more of God, His plan for mankind and His purpose for your life. Read it with your Bible in hand.
And for personal help and counsel, feel free to write us using the “Ask Us” link below. If you would like, we can put you in contact with a minister near you.
Another resource that can be helpful is “Knowing God,” our free seven-day Journey. Let us be your guide as you spend a week discovering who God is and what He has in store for you—in this life and the next.