The Takeaway Season 2: Goodness
Today we’ll be focusing on the goodness of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can participate in God’s goodness. Spoiler alert: it’s not by trying harder.
“God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.” Sound familiar to you? This was the blessing of my childhood. This prayer begins where we are beginning this season, with the truth that “God is great and God is good.” Of course God is good. Goodness is God’s middle name.
Goodness has a broad meaning in English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, goodness means virtue, or moral excellence. Goodness in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, is “tov,” meaning pleasing, good, agreeable. Goodness in Greek, the language of the New Testament, is “agathos,” meaning useful, worthy, perfect. If God weren’t good, good through and through, in every direction, then God wouldn’t be God, qualitatively, and wouldn’t be worthy of our worship.
Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, describe Aslan, the Christ-like character, in this way: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course [Aslan] isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
What do the Scriptures say about God’s goodness? The arc of God’s goodness begins in creation itself, continues in recreation (in the pattern of dying and rising), and will be fulfilled in the new creation to come.
Let’s start at the beginning, with creation. In the book of Genesis, after each day of creation, “God saw that it was good.” This is God’s stamp of approval—but it’s more than that. Part of God’s essence, God’s goodness, is passed on to creation. Art bears the fingerprints of the Artist. When God made humankind, “God saw everything that he had made, and, indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1.31)
The arc of God’s goodness continues in recreation, God’s continuation of the creative process. The cross and empty tomb of Jesus is the pattern of God’s work of dying and rising. In our lives this might look like letting go of an old habit, making room for something new and lifegiving in its place.
Finally, the arc of God’s goodness will culminate in the new creation. The Lamb upon the throne says in the book of Revelation: “I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21.5) The “new creation” is both now and not yet—and we each have a part to play.
As God’s creatures, we respond to God’s goodness by worshipping God. In the words of the Psalmist: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 107.1)
So what? Beyond worship, how can you and I participate in God’s goodness? How can we lean into it? How can we draft off of it? How can we fill up with God’s goodness in the fuel tanks of our lives?
It’s not by being a good girl or a good boy. It’s not by endeavoring to following all the rules and expectations of others. It’s not by trying harder. It’s not by trying to be better next time. The quest for perfection is how we often miss the mark in trying to tap into God’s goodness. God alone is perfect. We are, by definition, imperfect. Beautifully, delightfully imperfect.
I am well-acquainted with the quest for perfection: spotting problems (inside myself and in the world around me) and trying to improve them. Does it sound familiar to you, too? I am a one on the Enneagram, a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world and our own souls. Ones are described as Perfectionists or Reformers. The divine attribute that they most reflect is God’s goodness. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is trying to be perfect, to be good, better, best. They also get tripped up by anger in the form of resentment—that the world, others, and ourselves are not perfect—and this is outside our control.
The way ahead for all of us to grow in goodness, and not just for Enneagram ones, is to begin to flex the muscle of patience, by using light weights—the 1 pound ones, the smallest ones at the sporting goods store. The only way to grow in goodness is to invite God as your partner in the slow, deliberate, small steps of growing in patience.
There are three dimensions of growing in patience, and therefore goodness: body, heart, and mind. To become patient in your body, accept your own limits—time, energy. COVID-19 changed my personal and physical limits. If you’re anything like me, you are less productive, have more responsibilities, and need more time to recover. By accepting your own physical limits, you begin to show yourself patience. By accepting your own limits, you can begin to accept the limits of others—and the limits of our world.
To become patient in your heart, recognize your own goodness—and trust in God’s goodness. Your goodness is NOT something that you earned; it is something given to you by God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2.8-9) Grace is unmerited favor from God.
Finally, to become patient in your mind, meditate on the mantras: “I am good enough” and “God is good enough,” or “I am enough” and “God is enough.” These mantras will help you shift your attention from problems to resources—from self-sufficiency to trust in God. Brene Brown uses this mantra: “I’m here to get it right and not to be right.” She focuses on incremental growth in goodness, possible only by God’s goodness and patience.
When you accept the limits of your body, receive the goodness of your heart, and know that you are enough, you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “what good am I called to do today, with God’s help?” Part of our role as human beings is to participate in “tikkun olam,” the repair of the world. “Tikkun olam” is a Jewish concept, from the Mishnah, collection of rabbinic teachings. It’s the practice of perfecting or repairing the world through acts of kindness. If you didn’t notice before, COVID and racial injustice have shone a spotlight on the cracks, fissures, and chasms in our world. There’s all kinds of good work that needs doing. In the words of Martin Luther King: “The time is always ripe to do right.”
When we grow in patience (and therefore goodness), we participate in God’s work of recreation (dying and rising). We die to the idea that our goodness comes from us, and we rise with the knowledge that our goodness comes from God. We also participate with God in the building of this new creation—the building of the world to come—one good deed at a time.
Your answer to the question, “what good am I called to do today, with God’s help?”, is probably not as mysterious or difficult as you might guess. I bet your answer is rooted in what God has been doing in your life from the beginning until now: the wrongs that break your heart, the strengths of your personality, the weaknesses of your soul. Today’s answer is the next small step towards becoming who you are. Little steps, guided and fueled by the goodness of God, are how we grow in patience—and therefore goodness—and how we bring that goodness to the world.
As we turn to God in prayer, we’re going to use the words of a prayer from my son’s school, used every day in chapel, a prayer about goodness. Let us pray.
give me clean hands,
and clean thoughts.
Save me from habits that harm;
teach me to work as hard
and play as fair
in Thy sight alone,
as if all the world saw;
forgive me when I am unkind,
and help me to forgive those
who are unkind to me;
keep me ready to help others at some cost to myself;
send me chances to do a little good every day,
and so grow more in your image. Amen.
Until next time,
Trust that you are good; you are enough.
And trust that God is good; God is enough.
May God infuse you with goodness, so that you might help repair the world, one good deed at a time.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.