Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


Defining ‘Good’

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

What is good?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How do I know if something that happens to me (or around me) is good or bad? Is it even possible to know the difference this side of heaven?

Maybe this seems a pedantic question. Or even a semantic one. But I think there may be real spiritual implications in how we define this one little word.

As with many words, we can be a little loose with our language sometimes. How often have you said something was amazing or awesome–even though you know that these words can truly, deeply, only apply to God? And what do you love? Do you love your spouse? Your shoes? That great movie? Clearly we don’t mean the same love for all things.

So, I’ll start by refining what I’m talking about when I ask this question. I’m not talking about what tastes good, what looks good, what feels good–these are clearly things open to interpretation and different for each person. I can no more determine what tastes good for you than you can for me. It is a matter of personal preference.

I’m also not talking about clear, defined standards set forth in scripture. I don’t need to debate whether God is good–in the most complete and intrinsic sense of the word. And I don’t need to debate whether no one else is good. Jesus said as much. (See Luke 18:19, “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone.'”) Similarly, I’m not asking if creation was good or bad–as God declared all things good when he made them. That was before the fall.

I’m talking about how we evaluate the things around us. How do we view our life circumstances? Do we view them all on the basis of personal preference–if it feels good (or bad), it must be good (or bad)? Or do we view life circumstances and the trials and challenges and sufferings in light of scripture?

In Romans 8:28, we see that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

Maybe infertility isn’t intrinsically good. But maybe it’s been good for me.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

If I am living in light of eternity, and living as a sojourner and alien in this world, then what is good and what is bad is going to take on a new meaning. What causes pain or suffering or temporary discontent in this life may be bringing me closer to God. What I see as “bad” and what causes suffering may be integral to developing my relationship with God. And does that not make such events–or at least the repercussions of such events–good?

The world is full of evil, don’t misunderstand me. And the devil will play his games and work his tricks to try to pull us down. But I would submit that if we are living life in view of eternity, we won’t be fooled by the devil’s schemes. We can’t be brought down into the pit of despair when we know that God is truly for us (Romans 8:31).

Bad things happen. I’m not saying that bad things are good. But if we believe, if we trust God in everything, if we do not fear the world because we aren’t of this world–even the worst things can be used for good in our lives.

And so I ask again–can we define what is good? Because I don’t think I can trust my instincts. I think knowing what is good for us and what is bad for us is impossible this side of heaven.

And what are the spiritual implications of not being confident in our definitions here?

There is one who knows. One who knows that the difficult childhood you went through directly relates to your acceptance of the Son. One who knows that the wealth and prosperity you received in this earth did nothing but distance you from himself. One who knows how to bless us–even when that blessing includes a baptism by fire and trial and pain–so that we will truly know him. And since he knows and I don’t, I must choose to trust him and trust his direction for my life–even when it goes against my hopes or plans or sense of what is good.

All the “good” things this world can offer us are really bad if they pull us away from God. All the “bad” things in the world that push us on our knees and draw us to God and Christ are a gift to us. When I’m with God, if I have any care whatsoever about this life I’m living now, I’ll not be surprised to hear him say, “That trial of infertility? I allowed that in your life. I did it because I love you, and because I knew it would draw your heart closer to mine.” And what response can there be to that but a heartfelt thank you?

So I give up on trying to value my circumstances. And I say, why not thank him now?

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)