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Is God Really That Good?

Updated: Mar 5

The Biggest Question Facing Each of Us

Welcome to Our God Bathed Life! I want to take just a moment and recommend that you read the introductory blog if you have not done so already. It will give you a good idea of what to expect from this and future blogs.

As stated in that introductory blog, the practices suggested at the end of the blogs are for anyone. You do not need to be a Christian yet to be here

The LORD is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul;

He guides me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You have anointed my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

These words from Jesus in Matthew are difficult. Until we have settled, and I mean actually settled, that God really is that good, these words of Jesus are unlikely to be a reality in our lives. They'll remain just difficult words.

But these difficult words can become reality for us. In fact, they can be the path to true freedom. When we know that we have a Good Shepherd, in whose hands we can place our lives and the lives of those in our care, then our lives can look like that described in the 23rd Psalm. We can find rest and peace. We can begin to realize that we live in a world of the abundant goodness of God. Our souls are refreshed. Goodness and lovingkindness are companions on our journey with God.

But first we must trust that God is good.

Recapping the Last Blog

Since this is the second blog on the goodness of God, let's restate the point of the last one. In that blog we looked at how God, out of His goodness and love for us, turned an instrument of horror into an instrument of hope, the cross. He used language formed by His enemy, Satan, to speak to us: the language of sacrifice. Satan, through false gods, would ask people to sacrifice their children to him. This was done to hurt God by hurting us. When a parent offered their child in sacrifice, the sacrifice wasn't only the child; the parent would suffer greatly. Just ask any parent who has lost a child what the greatest possible hurt is. Yet the Trinity, including God the Father and God the Son, chose this very kind of thing to plea for our reconciliation with Him. God the Father offering God the Son, God the Son willingly offering Himself. What kind of God chooses to go through the pain and humiliation of the cross because nothing less than capturing our hearts will do? One that really is that good.

In this blog, we'll consider the goodness of God in the act of creation. Before the fall, things were as God designed them to be. The act of creation provides clues that allow us to glimpse God's goodness.

Proposal Plan

This may seem irrelevant, but it's going somewhere so hang in. And I thank Larry Crabb, an author I admire who has since passed through the veil of this life, for this idea.

I imagine that most of you either are, or have been, married. If you were the one making the proposal, usually the man, then you know the painstaking effort that goes into it. You sit down and consider every shred of what you know about her. You seek outside help by trying to ask her family, friends, co-workers, dog, ex-boyfriends, her third grade teacher, that person she once sat next to on the bus, well, you get the idea, for any other tidbits that may be helpful in formulating your plan. You sit down and replay in your head any conversations that you two had where she may have implied that she likes something. That Italian restaurant, right! Sunsets on the beach, beautiful! Paintball?! She's competitive and adventurous and that is something you really like about her. The Twilight movies. NO WAY! A man has to draw the line somewhere and this is a hill you will die on. Oh, right, you the one planning the date. NO TWILIGHT MOVIES!

Now that the information-gathering phase is complete, you sit down to plan out the perfect environment in which to pop the question. Your rough draft is complete and now it is time to get the help of your own friends and family to put the finishing touches on the plan, and to make sure you aren't coming up with a stupid plan. Time to begin execution of the plan. Ring? Check. Reservations? Check. Beach open for sunset? Check. Friends available for late morning paintball before your dinner and beach plans? Check. Best friend available to hide near the spot where you are going to ask her to marry you so he can take pictures or video and post to your social media account? Check.

You get the idea. You want the perfect environment. This matters. She matters. You want to share the rest of your life with this person. Taking the time and effort to make and execute the plan is just one of the ways that you are telling her "I love you."

Why Six Days?

Have you ever wondered why six days for creation? I mean, God is infinite. He could have literally spoken the whole thing into existence in a fraction of a second. But He took six whole days. It seems pretty inefficient. There are several reasons offered for why six days. The artist says that God was enjoying the process of creating his artwork so He took His time about it. That certainly could be. We see on Genesis 1:2 on the very first day of creation that He injected Himself into His creation, and we see elsewhere hints that He may actually experience time, so the artist may be right. The pragmatist will tell you that God was modeling the rhythm of work on six days and rest and delight on the seventh.

An Old Testament scholar I read, Carmen Joy Imes, in her book Being God's Image, has another suggestion to add to the list. She says that temple dedications would often last seven days. Consider this: what if the whole earth is the temple of God? Perhaps the seven days of creation is actually a temple dedication. Pagan temples would have graven idols, something to bear the image of its god. If God created the earth as His temple, He would also want something to bear His image. That may be why God refers to us as His image bearers. We are the ones who bear His image in His temple, the earth. Something to contemplate.

All of these purposes for six days of creation can be true at once. It is possible for God to wrap up several purposes into one event. Larry Crabb offers another possible purpose. Just like the man creating the perfect environment for his potential bride to say yes, so, too, was God creating the perfect environment to say "I love you." The time it took, the care He offered in planning it, the celebratory review of each day in anticipation of the big day. It was good.

The Creation Record

"And God saw that it was good" is how a few of the days of creation conclude. Some days during the day. Let's briefly take a look at the days of creation:

Day 1: Heavens and earth. Earth was formless and void and waters covered the earth. God Himself broke into His creation as if to say "I want to be here". The writers of Genesis put it this way: "and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." Genesis 1:2 (NASB) One more time, with feeling! God created light and saw that it was good. God separated light from darkness, calling light "day" and darkness "night".

Day 2: God created an expanse between waters on the earth (think seas) and waters over the earth (think clouds) and called the space in between "heaven". The very name given to His home. Again as if to say "I want to be here".

Day 3: God created dry land in the midst of the waters, creating land and seas. And He saw that it was good. One the same day He created vegetation, and saw that that was good. Two goods in one day! It is as if he is saying "I want to be here."

Day 4: God made a great light to govern the day and a lesser light to govern the night. He placed stars in "the heavens" (as opposed to "heaven") so that they may help to mark time. And He saw that it was good, as if to say "I want to be here."

Day 5: God spoke the fish and all the aquatic life into existence. He spoke the birds and all the flying life into existence. He saw that it was good, as if to say "I want to be here." He told them to "be fruitful and multiply".

Day 6: He creates the cattle and the beasts of the earth and every creeping thing. Except cats. Cats came after the fall. Cats are of the devil. How do we know no cats. Because He saw what He had made and it was "good". If there were cats it would not be "good". Anyway, it was as if to say "I want to be here."

From Good to Very Good

But then, still on day 6, God breaks with His short tradition. Up until now God speaks, and it happens. The environment is set. Everything is in place except for the person to hide and record it and put it on social media. At this point on day 6, God got His hands dirty. He reached down and formed man from the dust of the ground, held him in His arms, and "kissed" him (blew the breath of life into his nostrils). "Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Genesis 2:7 (NASB) He also gave man a purpose: all of this that I have created is yours. Rule over it, care for it, with me. Also, be fruitful and multiply.

He breaks with tradition another way: He says it is "very" good. It is as if He is saying "I want to be here... with you."

Day 7, man's first full day, God rested to delight with him. Man's first experience is a day of rest and delight with God. God wanted it no other way.

The Risk of Love

Love is what drove God to create and make man. Love is what drives a man to propose. Let's just assume, for a moment, that ideally these are both the highest form of love, that a man proposes for similar reasons as God created. For a love what CS Lewis refers to as "gift-love", and what the Bible in Greek refers to as "agape" love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, what is often read at weddings, Paul and the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit is the co-author of all of the books of the Bible) give a description of this love: "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (NASB)

This kind of love involves action, things it does and does not do. And action involves choice. For God, the choice is something like whether or not to create the duck-billed platypus. For us, it can be whether or not to love. God cannot not love. Love is what He is. Good is what He is. He also cannot not do good. But for us, this is not so. We can love or not love, do good or not do good. God needed to create us that way so that we can freely love Him back. For people, no choice equals no love. However, inherent in the creation of a creature that can choose whether or not to love, is the possibility that God's love for the creature will go unrequited.

The capacity for choice, whether or not to love, is what makes a proposal of marriage a risk. She could say no. She has that freedom. Similarly God's creation of man was a risk. Man could choose not to love Him back. Man could choose not to trust You. Man could rebel. And rebel he did.

God's Painful Choice To Give "Birth" to Us

When I said that God's choice was what to create, that may not be perfectly accurate. While having that much perfect love and goodness dancing around within and between the persons of the Trinity made creation nearly compulsory, it is likely that God actually had a choice whether to create the angels (who had the same capacity to choose) and whether to create mankind, His image bearers, His "kids".

All analogies are imperfect, and so is this one, but image this scenario:

God comes to you in a vision and tells you that you and your spouse have a choice to make. If you choose to get pregnant, you will have triplets. These triplets will be your only children. Either have triplets or have no children. You will love these children and they will fill spaces in your heart you didn't even know you had. You will love your children in ways you didn't even know that you had the capacity for. You will change your entire lives to provide the best possible environment for their flourishing. However, when they turn 14, two of them will rebel. They will make self-destructive choices in their lives. Their addictions and behavior will drain the life from their eyes and bodies until their bodies are too far gone to recover. They will die four excruciating years later. You will experience pain of soul over those years, and even thereafter, the likes of which you didn't even know was possible. The other child, though, will see what you have done for all three of them: the sacrifices you made, the hard work you did to create a loving environment, the depths of care and concern that you have for all of them. This child will respond in love. This child will thrive and grow up to be a beautiful image bearer of God. This child will marry a wonderful spouse and have two wonderful kids who will also thrive.

What do you do? Do you choose to get pregnant with triplets?

We know what choice God made. His joy is not unmixed with pain. As I mentioned, man rebelled. But man's rebellion was spurred by another of God's creations that also rebelled: Satan. And when he rebelled, he took one third of the angels with him. He hates God. But he can't hurt God. So he tries to hurt God by hurting us instead. He tries to turn us against God. Enter the serpent into the Garden of Eden.

What is at the Heart of the Serpent's Temptation?

God actually had three rules to man, not two. In addition to be fruitful and multiply, and rule over and care for creation with Me, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 3 we find:

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’ ? ' "

We're one verse in and already the lie via distortion. God did not say that you may not eat from any tree. God is good and generous. He said to eat from any tree that your heart desires, except one. Eve corrects the serpent:

"The woman said to the serpent, 'From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ ' "

Unfortunately she, too, gets it a little wrong. Touching the fruit wasn't prohibited. The serpent counters:

"The serpent said to the woman, 'You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'"

He lies. But he includes enough truth so as to sound plausible. What happens?

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."

Notice what happened. The heart of what the serpent was telling Eve is "God isn't really that good. He is holding out on you. You should take things into your own hands. You'll have a better experience that way and can secure your own outcome." This is what we all still struggle with today. We feel like God may be holding out on us. We need to take things into our own hands so that we can secure our own outcomes. We struggle with "is God really that good?" But He is. That is what Psalm 23 is telling us. God really is that good.

Our Reaction When We Sin

Notice also the reaction of Adam and Eve. They hid. We hide, too. When we sin we hide from those we sinned against, unless we're sociopathic or something. If we gossip about someone at work, we'll usually try to avoid that person or avoid eye contact. If we cheat someone on a business deal it is hard to look at the one we cheated.

Notice also the response from God, who is perfectly aware of what just happened:

"Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'"

God didn't hide. He went out searching for them. Jesus tells the parable about the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep who are safe, in order to go and search for the one who is lost. The point of that parable is that this is what God does. He goes out searching for the lost sheep to bring it into the fold and to care for it. He does that with us, provided we're willing.

Anyway, God asks them if they ate the fruit that He told them not to eat. Adam says Eve did it and Eve says that the serpent did it. God then explains to all three of them the consequences of their actions. Notice what happens next.

"The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them."

This is the first mention of actual death in the Bible, and not just death as a potential consequence, but in actuality. But that is to care for Adam and Eve's need. Fig leaves make insufficient garments.

Our Good Shepherd Responds to Us

By the way, God meeting expressed and unexpressed felt needs is all over the Bible. It is as if He is shouting it from the rooftops so that we do not miss it, "I am good! I love you! Please let me take care of you!" Just a few examples:

1) Genesis 4: Cain kills Abel. God banishes Cain from the area. Cain complains to God that the punishment is too severe because someone will kill him. God doesn't say "Well, Cain, a life for a life and all that." No, God appoints a sign for Cain so that no one will kill him.

2) Genesis 4:25: God blesses Eve with another son to replace Abel.

3) Genesis 18 & 19: God tells Abraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of their great wickedness. Abraham begs God to spare it if a few righteous people are found there. He was trying to ask God to save Lot but he couldn't get the right words out. Nevertheless, God hears his heart and saves Lot and Lot's 2 daughters.

4) Genesis 21: Sarah asks Abraham to kick out Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham's other wife and son. He prays to God on their behalf and God tells him that He will take care of them and Ismael will also be the father of a nation. This comes to pass.

5) Also Genesis 21: Hagar and Ishmael are in the desert after Abraham kicks them out. They are out of water and Hagar thinks they're going to die. She cries out and God shows her a well of water. They live.

6) Genesis 24: Abraham's servant prays to God for a wife for Isaac and the woman who becomes Isaac's wife appears to him even before he is done praying.

And there is still the second half of the first book of the Bible to go, plus the other 65 books of the Bible. There are still to come things like God providing Moses Aaron to speak on his behalf, miraculous manna and quail in the wilderness, Gideon's testing God with the fleece and God answering, David defeating Goliath, God sending fire from heaven to consume Elijah's offering in front of the prophets of Baal, God ordering the cleansing of Isaiah's lips in the vision of the throne room of God, countless healings and exorcisms Jesus performed when asked, Peter's supernatural jailbreak in Acts 12 in response to prayers from the church on Peter's behalf, etc, etc, etc. Unless you close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears it is impossible not to see it once it has been pointed out. The Bible is overflowing with God answering our needs. God the Trinity is truly that good.

One Final Example

To conclude the teaching portion, let's look at one last example back in Genesis 3.

Remember from the previous blog when Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane asking God the Father if there was another way to accomplish their plan, one that didn't involve His humiliation, torture, and death? It turns out that wasn't the first time they could have abandoned their plan.

(This observation I also owe to Larry Crabb. Again I highly recommend checking out his books that we have recommended on the recommended books page.) For decades I thought that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden because God was very displeased with them. Or possibly it was a natural consequence of the fall. Turns out it was really neither, and the answer was right in the text all along. Let's take a look: "Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life."

They were exiled before they would eat from the tree of life and live forever. Why does it matter if humans live forever? One of the primary reasons that Jesus became human was so that He could suffer and die for us. As God, he cannot die. As human, He can. We already discussed in the last episode that there very well may have been other ways that God could offer reconciliation to us, but none that would capture our hearts while respecting our agency like this would. God exiled Adam and Eve to preserve the painful sacrifice He would offer so we may be reconciled to Him.

What kind of God takes steps to ensure that He can suffer and die for us? One that is truly that good.

As we said at the beginning of this post, the only way that we will deny ourselves and follow Him is once we have settled in our hearts that God is indeed that good. Hopefully this has helped to bring you a little further along that journey.

What God Might Say

In this section, we imagine what God might say if He were to speak for Himself to us on the subject. Here is what that might sound like:

I'm not trying to control you. I designed you to rule over creation with Me. It was meant to be a co-reign where we work together on behalf of creation. It was meant to be, and it shall be in the future.

I understand the heart behind it when you question whether it was a good idea to give mankind agency. I hear your pleas: "God, cause my son to stop his self-destructive ways and bring him to You." or "My wife's unfaithfulness is breaking my soul. It not only hurts me but we have children! God, make her stop!" or any number of countless prayers where you ask Me to remove another person's ability to choose. You don't want that.

Think about it. Let's take our relationship for example. It is important that you love Me. It is good for you. I am good for you. That's why I call it the greatest commandment. But if I created you as a robot programmed to love Me, how would you know that you love Me and that it isn't just programmed into you? How would you know that you love anyone else?

Wouldn't it be awesome if your spouse had no choice but to love you? Every conversation, every time you disappointed, every act of rebellion, only love. Every kind word, every act of love, every hope shared, every dream spoken, only love. Wouldn't that be awesome? That feeling of "ick" within you, there is a reason for that. Without choice, without agency, whatever it may be, it isn't love. I am the only One capable of that. That is also one major reason why connection with other people is so important. When I created you with the ability to choose to love or not to love, inherent in that is the need to be loved by someone who has the choice not to. That is one thing I am incapable of providing you directly.

Do you see why choice, human agency, is so important? When you ask me to take it away from someone who is making poor choices, choices that also hurt others, it goes against the very heart of why you were created.

While I don't want to control you, I do want to care for you. I explained that to David and I asked him to let you know, too. That is how Psalm 23 came about. His life was neither easy nor perfect, but I made it real for him. I want to make it real for you, too. I know what is good for you, the paths of life that lead to flourishing and joy, what David called paths of righteousness. We live in a broken world, and parts of you are broken too, so some of those paths are going to hurt. They require surrendering to Me. But those paths lead somewhere good. I wish I could answer all of your prayers with a resounding "yes!", I truly wish I could. But so many of them aren't on the paths that lead to good, and I want good for all people, especially you.

I want the very best for you. And the very best for you is more of Me. So My Spirit is working with you to make of you the kind of person whom I can give more of Myself to. As your heart aligns with mine ever more, you will find that more of your prayers are for the things that are on the paths of righteousness, the good paths, the paths of flourishing and joy. Those prayers I can answer. So spend time with Me. Get to know Me. I'll work on you as you do. Let's do this together. Let's work together for the good of you, for the good of others, and for the good of creation. What do you say?

Practicing With

In this section we engage in a practice that we do with God, and hopefully with God together with those He loves. As mentioned on the intro blog, hopefully you get to invite others to experience Our God Bathed Life with you. It might look different for you, but one way you might do that is to get together with a couple of people each week for a meal. Over that meal you get to know each other better and discuss what stood out to you in the episode, what questions you might have, and especially what your experience of the practice has been. Let's look at this practice:

God is active in our lives, as much or as little as we'll allow Him to be. Sometimes He works undercover for our good, though. This exercise is a twist on the "count your blessings" exercise. Inanimate objects aren't allowed. So your house, your car, your Keurig, not allowed. However, being thankful that your family can be together in one place, being thankful that you can travel from one place to another, and being thankful for the wonderful tastes that God has provided is allowed. Also allowed are things like skills you have that you are good at. Mine would be things like I listen well and I enjoy people, and I communicate well. Don't forget the animate "objects" like pets and those you have relationships with. And don't forget God. He doesn't want to be left off the list :-)

See if you can come up with 25-50 of those or more. Maybe keep a running list on your phone. Then have a conversation or three with God about your list, and don't forget to include others.

See you next time!

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