Is God ever unkind?
Ian Rees, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Of all the attributes that God possesses, the things that make Him who He is, which would you think was His most glorious? His omnipotence, perhaps, being able to do anything, or His omniscience, in that He knows everything? Perhaps His omnipresence, being everywhere at the same time, His timeless existence, or His awesome holiness? All these things surely impress us. Yet when Moses longed to see God’s glory, and asked God to show him His glory, God said, ‘I will make all my goodness to pass before thee’, Exod. 33. 18-19. And so God descended in a cloud, passed before Moses and proclaimed the name of the Lord as, ‘The Lord (Jehovah), the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth’, Exod. 34. 6-7. It seems as though God Himself sees His goodness as His most glorious attribute.
Our Lord was once addressed as ‘Good Master’. He replied,‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God’,Matt. 19. 16-17. But what does it mean to say that God is good? J. I. PACKER has suggested it includes ‘the quality of generosity . . . that expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy’. This ‘goodness’ involves kindness, benevolence, mercy, grace and patience.
The benevolence of God
Benevolence is God’s unselfish concern for the welfare of others. God shows benevolence to all of mankind, to those who hate Him, reject Him, rebel against Him, ignore Him, or are merely ignorant of Him, and not just to His beloved believing people. This means that He shows kindness and a willingness to meet the everyday needs of all of His creatures. ‘The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing’, Ps. 145. 15-16. ‘He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’, Matt. 5. 45. Paul, preaching to the heathen in the city of Lystra, said God ‘did good, and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness’, Acts 14. 17. We are encouraged to ‘give thanks unto the Lord for he is good’ in Psalm 136, and one of the reasons for us to do so is that He ‘giveth food to all flesh’, v 25. This includes the animal kingdom, for ‘the earth is satisfied with the fruit of (His works). He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God’, Ps. 104. 14, 22. ‘These all wait upon thee that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather; thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good’, v 27-28.Yes,‘God is good to all’,Ps. 145. 9.‘Since God controls all that happens in His world, every meal, pleasure, possession, bit of sunshine, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, everything that sustains and enriches life, is a divine gift’, (J. I. PACKER). ‘Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men!’ Ps. 107. 1. You do not see the gardens of believers having more sunshine or more rain than their unbelieving neighbours. No. God is benevolent to all.
The grace of God
God’s grace is His love and benevolence shown to those who do not deserve it. This is seen when God meets the needs of His creatures on the basis of their need, not on the basis of their merit or worthiness. There is no doubt that noone deserves God’s goodness. Ever since the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, mankind has either hidden itself from God, openly defied Him, or turned away from Him. As a result of this,God’s verdict is that all have sinned against Him and come short of His glory. Even as they rejected God, He gave them over to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to vile affections and to a reprobate mind, Rom. 1. 24, 26, 28.Yet still He is gracious to sinful mankind, showing such grace in His benevolent care of all. In general terms (common grace) as well as with regard to salvation (special grace) ‘the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy’, Ps. 103. 8. He is a God ‘ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness’, Neh. 9. 17. He is, in His own words, ‘merciful and gracious . . . keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin’, the One who is sovereign in His dealings with mankind and who ‘will be gracious to whom I will be gracious’, Exod. 34. 6-7, 33. 19.
The mercy and patience of God
If grace is giving us what we do not deserve, mercy is withholding from us what we do deserve. There is a sense in which the mercy of God is shown to men and women every day through God’s patience and longsuffering. Even today, at this very moment, the wrath of a just and holy God is upon the heads of those who do not believe and trust in Him, John 3. 36. Mankind deserves God’s righteous judge-ment and anger for its rejection of God, its disobedience and rebellion against Him. Yet God’s patient forbearance and mercy to the wicked causes many to wonder whether He is really taking account of what is done. David was troubled by this. Why, he asked, do the wicked prosper and the godly suffer? Where is God’s justice in this? Why are wicked men not judged instantly by God? Why is it possible for a man to survive when he shakes his fist towards heaven and say, ’If there is a God, I challenge him to strike me dead!‘? It is only when Asaph went into the sanctuary of God that he understood as he was reminded of their latter end, of the judgement to come, Ps. 73. 17. For God will right all wrongs. He will ultimately judge the wicked, the unrepentant, the defiant. Yet, in the meantime, He gives every opportunity for repentance to sinful mankind. Oh! the patience of God, for God is ‘slow to anger and plenteous in mercy’, Ps. 103. 8-11. ‘Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion and gracious, longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and truth’, Ps. 86. 15. He is ‘longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’, 2 Pet. 3. 9. Even in the days of Noah,God showed great mercy and patience before sending the flood to judge a wicked world, 1 Pet. 3. 20. Yet men should be careful not to despise ‘the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth [us] to repentance’, Rom. 2. 4.
God’s mercy and grace are also seen, not just in withholding judgement from men for so long a time in this life, but also in providing salvation for men in the next.Were God to consign the whole of mankind to eternal punishment and separation from Him, He would be just and right to do so. Yet in salvation He chooses to have mercy upon some, to forgive, and save them. God is too good to enjoy judging sinners. ‘As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’, Ezek. 33. 12. Yet God chooses to show grace to some and to save them. It is by grace that we are saved through faith, Eph. 2. 7-9. Believers are ‘justified freely by his grace’, Rom. 3. 24.‘God,who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved)’, Eph. 2. 4-5.
Someone will naturally say, but how can God be kind and benevolent if He sends anyone to hell? Surely His goodness and kindness means He will not do so? God’s goodness is one side of His character that must not be emphasized against another side, which is His justice and His holiness. God hates sin; He would not be holy if He did not. God cannot excuse and must punish sin; He would not be just and righteous if He did not. But He is able to show grace, mercy and patience because He is good. But His goodness is there to lead men to repentance, not to excuse them from it. Is it fair, then, for God to judge sin? Of course it is. Is it kind of Him to punish sin? It would be more unkind for Him not to. Can a God who sends men to hell be good? It is His goodness that cannot in the end excuse sin, though it may be longsuffering in enduring it. Should God eventually judge a man or woman for their sin, it is good and right that He should.
Because God is good, everything that God does is good. So why does God allow sorrow, and suffering in His world? Why is it that wickedness is permitted? And why do some of God’s children suffer? Should not a good God alleviate all that, prevent it? Evil is in the world, but God did not make evil. Sin destroys, brings sorrow, illness, suffering and death. We live in a fallen world, and though we are God’s people we may suffer some of the illnesses that others suffer, we may be burgled, we may die, we may be injured by the wrong-doing of others. But we have a double comfort. In the first place, though God may not alleviate the trouble, the illness, whatever it may be, He does give us grace to bear it. ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’, 2 Cor. 12. 9. And secondly,we can be reassured that out of evil a good God can bring good. ‘Ye meant evil against me, but God meant it for good’, is a wonderfully comforting word for God’s people who endure wrong at the hands of others, Gen. 50. 20. And behind it all, we remember and take comfort from the fact that a good God will ensure that ‘all things work together for good to them that love [Him] to them that are called according to his purpose’, Rom. 8. 28.
Is God benevolent, kind, merciful, gracious, and patient? If so, so should we. ‘If you love them that love you, what thank have ye? But love your enemies, and do good . . . and ye shall be the children of the Highest, for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father is merciful’, Luke 6. 32-37. ‘Love suffereth long and is kind’, 1 Cor. 13. 4. ‘Put on therefore . . . kindness . . . longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye’, Col. 3. 12-13.
AUTHOR PROFILE: IAN REES saw an assembly planted in Francistown, Botswana, having served the Lord there for 13 years. Now based in the UK, he was in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, one of his commending assemblies. He has now moved to establish a new assembly in Tenby, West Wales. He is married and has seven children.