God is Great, God is Good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed,
Give us Lord our Daily Bread.
The first line of this children’s prayer tells us two profound things about God. He is “great”, and He is “good”. Sometimes, though, we can lose part of our faith in one or the other. We see things wrong in the world, or encounter hardship in our personal lives, and wonder: Is God not big enough to fix this? Or is He not good enough to be willing to fix it? In our lowest moments, we can even wonder: Is He there at all?
These issues are nothing new. They have been around as long as humans have been: Satan’s first temptation of Eve in the garden was to make her wonder if God was holding out on her, denying her something good (Genesis 3:1-5). When we bring these honest questions to God, He meets us…not necessarily with all of the answers we want, but with what we need in order to trust Him.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.Hebrews 11:6
The first question we must answer for ourselves is simply “Is God there?” Without that, everything else is moot. I gave my best attempt at answering “Yes” in the article “God Is“, so I won’t repeat it here. I encourage you to read that article, then decide if you are willing to proceed to the next questions.
God is Great
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.1 Chronicles 29:11-12
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’Isaiah 46:9-10
The second question is “Is God great?” Does He have the resources to do what He wants? How do we know?
In order to be great, God must have the power to take the actions needed in order to accomplish His goals. Since all of our physical reality began at His word (Genesis 1), it seems that He has that kind of power in abundance.
But, God must also have the power to manipulate events involving human choices and actions. He has proven that He does. Examples include events like the Exodus and the return from Babylonian exile. In the Exodus, He knew how the Pharaoh would act, and deliberately incorporated those actions into His plan (Exodus 3:19-20, Exodus 14:3-4). In the Exile, He named the king, Cyrus, whom He would use to facilitate return, over a hundred years before Cyrus was born (Isaiah 44:28).
Presence and Knowledge
In order to be great, God also must be in a position to enforce His will. He would not be able to effectively make anything happen in a place where He wasn’t aware of the conditions. He must know what it going on: all the details about the situation and the participants, all possible choices and their outcomes, and the pros and cons of each. Psalm 139 gives a good description of how intimately God knows His world. In Matthew 10:29-30 and Luke 12:6-7, Jesus says that God knows the position of even every little bird and every hair on every head.
God is Good
For the LORD is good;Psalm 100:5
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?Genesis 18:25
Our third question is: Is God good? Does He use His power, presence and knowledge in the best way possible?
The start of the answer is to define “good”. Does it mean safe, warm, happy, and fuzzy? Does it mean growing and living up to potential? Does it mean having exactly what I want? Since this is God’s world, He is the one who gets to define “good”. As the Isaiah 46 quote above says “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure“.
Even if God’s character was the opposite of what it really is, His purpose would still have to be considered good as long as His creation did what He wanted it to do. If He created the world just as a toy that He could break for the fun of it — like a toddler stacking up blocks only to knock them down — a broken world would be “good”: living up to its purpose.
Fortunately for us, His character is NOT to gleefully break things. His world is more than just a toy to Him; He loves it. He especially loves His humans, those He created in His own image so that they could have a real relationship with Him.
In fact, the most often noted characteristic of God is His love (1 John 4:7-8).
The type of love that God is, is best explained first by Aristotle: “Let loving, then, be defined as wishing for anyone the things which we believe to be good, for his sake but not for our own, and procuring them for him as far as lies in our power“, then by St. Thomas Aquinas 1: “To love is indeed an act of the will tending to the good, but it adds a certain union with the beloved“, summarized in the Catholic Catechism “To love is to will the good of another.” The most common Biblical word for this kind of love is “agape“, a completely selfless, self-giving love that will do anything necessary for the good of the loved one.
Another good attribute of God is His justice. Whenever something seems unfair to us, it is a reminder that we are made in His image. Our sense of justice comes from Him. He cannot let wrong continue without addressing it (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, Psalm 9:7-9).
A third attribute that I want to mention is God’s faithfulness. He has never broken even one of His promises. No matter what the cost to Himself, no matter how long it takes, He always keeps His word (Psalm 33:4-5, Psalm 119:89-90, Lamentations 3:22-23, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 2 Timothy 2:13). For any promise that has not been fulfilled yet, the key word is “yet”. Before God is finished, every promise will be kept, and every question answered.
If — no, since — God is so great and so good, why does He allow so much bad? I attempted answers to this age-old question in an earlier post, over two years ago. I still don’t have any better answers as to why He allows bad things. But I do know that He is not surprised by them. None have slipped past Him. None are beyond His power. All are included in His plan, and that plan that cannot help but be loving and faithful and just. He is bringing His creation to a climax that will explain everything.
Just ask Jesus…
Jesus: Great and Good
The ultimate expressions of God’s greatness and goodness all come together in Jesus: Faithfully fulfilling all of His promises of a Messiah, sovereignly orchestrating centuries of world events, perfectly balancing infinite love with infinite justice, and finally demonstrating power even over death. I mentioned 1 John 4:7-8 above, the verses with the famous phrase “God is love“. The following verses, 1 John 4:9-10, include that love’s expression in Jesus: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.“
Jesus showed us that even though God allows some evil — for a time, to be used ultimately for His own good purposes — He is both great enough to conquer that evil whenever He chooses, and good enough to bring His world through it to something bigger than we can imagine.
The poem below, “Life is But a Weaving”, was written by hymn writer Grant Colfax Tullar. World War II heroine Corrie ten Boom, who worked with her family to rescue Jews from the Holocaust and spent time in a concentration camp as a result, quoted it so often that it is occasionally mis-attributed to her, instead. I look forward to someday seeing the top side of the tapestry!
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.