Understanding God's Goodness
God describes his goodness to Moses and includes compassion, mercy, patience, unfailing love, and forgiveness but also punishment (Exodus 33:17-23; 34:5-7). We warm to the initial list but freeze a little when we hear him say that not only doesn’t he excuse the guilty but that he lays the sins of the parents on future generations. A similar warning is found in Exodus 20:5: "I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me."
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that God would allow people who continue to reject his goodness to suffer the consequences. Imagine, for instance, a man with children who pays no attention to God and in whom God’s image is consequently marred. Over the course of his life, he may succumb to various temptations—becoming attached to pornography, pride, drugs, sex, alcohol, or greed. Or perhaps he’s so attached to money that he becomes a workaholic. That father’s behavior, whether it takes the form of abuse or neglect, is visited on his children. Because of his inability to reflect God’s image, his children suffer consequences which may then be passed on to future generations.
Turning your back on God’s goodness—on his kindness, his love, and his patience—is like choosing to move to the arctic circle when someone has just offered you a home in the tropics. Of course, none of us can perfectly reflect God’s goodness. But our commitment to Christ and to the work of his Spirit within us is what enables us to grow into his likeness.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the noun tob is translated “good,” “prosperity,” “good things,” and is usually linked to material goods. The adjective version of this word pertains to beauty, goodness, and moral uprightness. In the New Testament agathos is translated as “good,” “kind,” “right” while the adjective kalos can be translated as “good,” “better,” “right,” “what is good,” beautiful.”
Scripture makes clear that all goodness comes from God. Even though God’s perfect world has been marred by sin, we see evidence of his goodness everywhere—in the beauty of nature, in the kindness of others, in the gifts he bestows. More specifically, Jesus came to preach the Good News to all who will listen. God’s goodness is overflowing. As James says,
“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (1:17)