What Is Goodness?
Goodness in the Bible
God's goodness is described as abundant, enduring, and universal. God shows this by blessing people with their material needs and in spiritual ways such as forgiving sin.
- The apostle Paul prays that God will fulfil "every desire for goodness".
- God loves to take what was meant for evil and create a way for goodness to result from it.
- The psalmist praises God's goodness
You see goodness when someone is consistently seeking your good or those of another ahead of their own. It's is not just a matter of being or doing or learning what it means to be good -- the teaching feeds the doing, the doing feeds the being, the being enables us to grasp the teaching, which feeds into more doing and being. Jump in at any point to start the cycle.
Jesus spoke a lot about false goodness, about how many leaders of the faith are putting on Oscar-worthy performances of their own goodness in front of an audience of God or their community. (This is true for both 'moral' goodness and good-naturedness or helpfulness.) God's not impressed. And "fake it 'til you make it" doesn't make it before God. Mark Twain once wrote that it is "very wearying to be good". It takes work to be consistently good, because it's so thoroughly against our natural inclinations.
The Root of What Is Good
The root of all goodness is our good God. Sounds simple, right? But there is a problem with what we think of as 'good'. We think, "if God is good, He'll do good things for us!" And what do we think of as good? Getting material wealth. Having things go our own way. Instant healing of our ills. Removal of suffering. Getting someone you loathe out of your life. But goodness may be humility, may be suffering or loss, may be having fun and being happy. It may be to rest or to enjoy the beauty around you, may be to serve others, and may even be boredom. Goodness may be that which is good for all, or which is good for just one other person. It's about good deeds, but it's more about what is good inside that causes the deeds. And the things we think of as the gifts of a good God may well be the most important things for us not to have. God's goodness is defined by God's love. God's goodness is goodness, and in its light it is our expectations that must change.
Setting This World Straight
Goodness has a way of setting things straight. When we see other people being or doing good, it often reminds us of how not-good we are. Which brings out a suitcase full of excuses. The exposé can be quite a shock, puncturing one's self-image. Even when we do good, goodness may have nothing to do with it. (Think here of someone taking a selfie while doing good.) While nothing entirely gets rid of this tendency in this life, God has given us a way to face up to it: confession. It not only opens us to God's response to our un-goodness, it also brings about a more truthful self-image. The only way to become more good is to know what ways we're bad so we can replace that with goodness.
Overcoming Evil With Good
The apostle Paul also wrote about overcoming evil with good. It sounds like a pipe dream, doesnt it? You don't see a lot of that, do you? Actually, you do. If you didn't, no dictator would fall (except to another dictator). The creepy would get ever creepier, the crooked would rule freely forever. But they don't. They usually get chipped away by people doing what is right and good, little act by little act, until a tipping point is reached, and something that would once have been a trifle somehow makes the whole house of cards fall. And then, every once in awhile, you see big good. You see value reassert itself in the marketplace. You see people freed. You see the blinders taken off, the clouds cleared out. You feel another person's compassion for you, or vice-versa. And it actually feels like a new day. God is at work all around you, redeeming the divine creation we live in, pushing back at evil one deed at a time. God's being good has to do with being good for everyone else, too, and not just you. That's why you are called to do likewise.
Well, what are you waiting for! Do something for goodness' sake!