Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who Defines God's Goodness?

Jonah 3:10 - 4:1 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.

From Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, Light for the Path by Edward T. Welch (Winston-Salem: Punch Press, 2004), pp. 170-71.

God is good. The character of God has infinite facets. “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, and truth.”[i] Of these and many other attributes, Scripture often emphasizes that God is great and good, powerful and loving. In Jonah’s book, these qualities are on display. The crux of the book is Jonah’s defense. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The problem is that this knowledge didn’t make a difference. If anything, it made things worse, at least from Jonah’s perspective.

Odd, given Jonah’s confidence in God’s love, that he would avoid trusting him. Didn’t he believe that God was also merciful to Israel? But his experience matches our own. We might believe that God loves us, but we aren’t so sure he will give us what we want. We want to be loved, and we also want to dictate the way and by whom we are loved. Jonah believed that God was gracious and compassionate, but he wanted love served up as judgment and destruction against his enemies.

Confession is once again the way out. With Jonah and us, when our desires depart from God’s, they become idolatrous. We don’t want anything to get between us and our object of worship. Jonah didn’t want to submit to God; he wanted to be a god.

Confession is when we acknowledge the against-God root of our behaviors. It is the beginning of a process where we turn away from our self-focused desires and turn to the Holy God. When we turn, we realize that we had a very small view of his love. In Jonah’s case, he believed that God was good, but he didn’t really believe it. He believed that his own plans were better. His myopic vision of God’s love was such that he believed that if God was good to one nation, he couldn’t bless another. He didn’t understand that God could be good to both Nineveh and Jerusalem.

Perhaps you agree that God is good. You know what Christ has done, and you believe that the cross is evidence of God’s goodness. But his goodness doesn’t make a difference to you. It is irrelevant because good is defined on your terms rather than God’s. Like a child, the satisfaction of your plans, your wants, and your desires is the standard for God’s goodness. Jonah tells us that good must be defined by God’s terms, not our own. Otherwise, we are standing in judgment of God.

[i]Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, Question 4.

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