Not everything that we know is true feels like it is true.
We know that there is always hope for someone’s salvation (Heb. 3:12-13), but when that person has rejected Christ repeatedly and vehemently, we might not feel hopeful.
We understand the power of Christ to reconcile believers to one another (Eph. 2:13-18), but when we are in deep and ongoing conflict, it might not feel likely or possible that reconciliation might take place.
We have been taught a variety of truths of God, including that He is good at all times, but when we are in a season of suffering like Job (Job 1-2), we are tempted to feel that God isn’t as good as our doctrine says He is.
And it is that final situation that the psalmist addresses in Psalm 119:65-72. Is God really good and is His Word really good and sufficient to care for us when we suffer?
And just so that we don’t misunderstand it, he formulates a theology of God that is stated as plainly as possible:
“You are good and do good” (119:68).
That is, in His nature God is inherently good. It is His eternal character to be good, and only good. There is nothing “bad” within Him. Because He is faithful to Himself He can never be or do anything corrupt, inappropriate, or wrong. All that God is, is always morally right and true. He can never be anything but good.
And because He can only be good, He can only do good. He can only do good things because He cannot do anything contrary to His nature. He is bound to do good things. It is impossible for God to be evil or bad or unrighteous in any of His actions. He must do good.
One might assume that the psalmist says that only because he lives a special life that is free from suffering. He doesn’t. He is afflicted repeatedly, severely, and in many ways (see 119:50, 67, 92, 107, 153). He is persecuted by his opponents (vv. 69-70). And despite the oppression, he asserts the goodness of God.
Here is one reminder of what we must do when we are suffering and tempted to question the goodness of God — we must rehearse and remind ourselves of the truth that we know about God: He is good. When you are suffering and hurting, you might be tempted to think “God isn’t good right now,” or “God doesn’t care” (remember the disciples in Mark 4:38?). You and I might not say it with quite so much brashness, but our complaints and murmuring and despondency really do reflect disbelief in God’s goodness.
And at that moment of disbelief we must remind ourselves of the truth. God is good. God does do good (and only good). Our sufferings then, are not evil or inappropriate or wrong, but they are God’s best for us so that we might be conformed to the image of Christ.
I think often of the final words spoken by James Montgomery Boice in his church. For many years Boice was the pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. At the end of April of 2000, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He would die within six weeks. One week after his diagnosis, he spoke for the last time in his church, offering a call to worship, in which he said this:
If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That’s not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It’s not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to his will. We’ve always said that.
But what I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12, verses 1 and 2, says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, “His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do?
Boice was right. And he was not only echoing Paul’s words in Romans 12, but he was also affirming the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119 — God is good and does good. He is good and He must do good.
Our ungodly responses to suffering and affliction in life exposes to us our need for change — we need more of the transformative work of the Spirit and His Word. And that makes our suffering good — it moves us towards greater Christlikeness (see Rom. 8:28-29).
Suffering and affliction also helps us realize that this world is not our home and we are living and looking for a new and different home (Phil. 3:17-20; 1 Pt. 5:10). When this world becomes bitter and harsh, we can and must remind ourselves of our future heavenly home where we will only know all the sweetness of life in Christ (2 Cor. 4:16-18). So when God uses suffering to loosen our grip and this world and tighten our grip on Him and His Word, it’s an expression of His goodness.
God is good. And God does good. God is always good. And God can always and only do good. When you experience affliction in the coming year, remember that. Correct your temptation to grumble and be despondent by affirming that He is good. And begin acting as if you really do believe that He is good.