You’ve read Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” You’ve sung “God is good, all the time.” But what does it mean? What does the Bible mean when it says that God is good? God’s goodness means that God is the final standard of good. It also means that everything that God is and does is worthy of approval. AW Pink writes: “God…is the highest good. God is not only the Greatest of all beings, but the Best.” This means that God becomes the standard by which good is measured.
What does goodness look like? Psalm 103:8 gives us four expressions of God’s goodness – four ways in which God’s goodness is expressed towards his children: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We’ve already looked at God’s love, so let’s explore his mercy, grace and patience.
What is mercy? The great Princeton theologian, Charles Hodges, explains it this way: “Goodness … includes benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable and includes pity, compassion, forbearance, and gentleness.” Mercy is God’s goodness towards those in distress and difficulty. David often cried out to the Lord for mercy. In 2 Sam. 24:14 David told the prophet Gad: “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great”. David was not the only one to call upon the mercy of God. In Matt. 9:27 two blind men called out to Jesus: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
Mercy means that God is good to those in distress. He invites us to pray for mercy. Heb. 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” God will not forget his children in trial and difficulty. Nor should his children forget others. If we have been the recipients of mercy, we should also be givers of mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7).
Back to Psalm 103:8: “The Lord is merciful and gracious...” What is grace? Again, Charles Hodge offers a helpful definition: “Grace is love exercised towards the unworthy.” Grace is God’s goodness toward those who do not deserve it. It is unmerited favour. When God revealed himself to Moses He declared: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Ex. 33:19). The apostle Peter would later call God “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10). Salvation through Jesus Christ is all of grace – it is motivated by God’s goodness towards the unworthy. Rom. 3:23-24 explains: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”.
Grace means that God is good to repentant sinners. The irony is that we often think we can earn grace. If we earned it, it would cease to be grace (Rom. 11:6). It is not the persistence of your prayers, your commitment to Bible reading or your zeal for evangelism that saves you. These are great things and you should be doing them, but you are not saved by them. You are saved by grace, which means that you and I must admit or confess that we don’t deserve God’s goodness. Similarly, if you’ve received grace, you’ll give grace as well. Eph. 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Psalm 103:8 continues: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger...” What does “slow to anger” mean? Wayne Grudem defines God’s patience as God’s goodness in withholding punishment toward those who sin over a period of time. In Rom. 2:4 the apostle Paul calls it “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience”. God’s patience means that God gives the sinner an opportunity to repent. God displayed his longsuffering goodness towards Paul: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16).
The patience of God does not mean that God simply ignores sin or that God approves of it. Quite the opposite: God knows our sin and it offends his holiness, yet he withholds judgment for a time, giving the sinner an opportunity to repent. His patience should not be used as an excuse for sin, but as motivation to repent. Also, as God is patient with us, we are called to be patient with others. James 1:19 instructs us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
God’s goodness means that God is the very definition of good. That goodness is made visible in his mercy, grace, patience and love. God is good, all the time.
Because of Christ,