The Pleasurable and Unpleasurable Goodness of God

Friday, September 09, 2005


This first week at work has been one of experiencing what I've come to call God's pleasurable goodnesses. These are experienced in terms of those things like closing my first sale on the fourth day with a company, ministering to a couple of folks in a deeply effective way during the first week, encountering an old mentor/friend I haven't seen in years and catching up with him, etc. These are all things that bring pleasure to me and remind me of God's goodness.

But in saying that God has been good to me this week, am I saying God has not been good to me on previous weeks when, perhaps, things were not going as well as I would like, or when things are going horrible? Not at all. I have come to define these times as experiencing the displeasurable goodness of God. God is good in those times as well. What is needed is a proper perspective on God's goodness. And the cross is what gives it to us.

The cross teaches us that God's goodness was displayed in the greatest way possible. Yet it was an instrument of torture and execution. Is this how goodness is displayed? Absolutely. The weakness of Jesus on the cross is what defined God's power and greatness, and therefore His goodness. The pain brings the gain, and both the pain and the gain are good. They are good because they are from the hand of God.

In the cross the displeasurable goodness of God is seen, for on it Jesus was tortured and killed. Yet that act, as alluded to before, represents the greatest act of God's goodness we will ever experience.

Consider first that God the Father surely felt no pleasure in it either, whatever pleasure may feel like for divinity. After reading Isaiah 53:10, can we say that God had pleasure, as we think of it, in crushing His own son, and making him die? By pleasure then I refer to primarily to sadness, and since we are created in God's image, our sadness reflected His sadness, surely He was sad and grieved when He did what He did to His own Son.

But this displeasurable act was an act of goodness. As the next verse in Isaiah 53 says, "He will be satisfied" (v. 11). The displeasurable act of goodness led to a pleasurable act of goodness.

Consider second, that Jesus the Son of God, experienced both the displeasurable and pleasurable goodness of God. He experienced the pleasurable goodness of God time and again before the cross, the greatest moment perhaps being the transfiguration in Matthew 17. He prophesied about it in His High Priestly Prayer of John 17. He knew He would have the glory with the Father once more that He had before He came to earth. That is clearly pleasurable goodness.

But Jesus also clearly felt the displeasurable goodness of God on the cross. It is certain that He felt no pleasure at all while He was hanging on it. And since He was a human being, it is safe to assume that there was no pleasure in it as there was none for the other two human beings hanging on either side of Him. There was no pleasure in driving nails in both his hands and feet. There was no pleasure in being beaten to a bloody pulp. Yet this displeasurable event was the goodness of God, the Father bruising and punishing His Son for us, putting His Son in our place.

So then, comparing the pleasures and displeasures which the Father and Son experienced, and concluding that both the pleasures and displeasures are part of God's goodness, our perspective can be reshaped to the point where we know that even on the 'bad' days God's goodness is not absent. And neither is He. He is the same good God when we are having bad days, bad weeks, bad months, bad years, or bad decades. When hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist threats, wars, and economic crashes are at work, God is at work also. And where God is at work, His goodness is at work. The external circumstances of events, situations, and incidents is no criterion at all for determining whether or not God is good. The cross destroys such a paradigm.

The gospel teaches us then that inside the most wretched of experiences, God is good. When a wife is dying of cancer, God is good. When a wife is giving normal and healthy birth to a normal and healthy child, God is good. When a husband is falling into pornography or adultery, God is good. And when a husband is excelling in his employment and making a lot of money, God is good. When our children continue in persistent disobedience, God is good. When our children are obedient, God is good. God is good.....all the time.

Let the gospel reorient our thinking on God's goodness then. And let us put forth a hand of mighty diligence in meditating and experiencing that goodness especially when things are displeasurable for us! For those are the toughest times to see that light, aren't they? Oh, it's so easy to rejoice in God's goodness when we feel the pleasure of that goodness. But oh, how easy it becomes to complain against God's goodness, questioning Him, putting Him on the witness stand, when we feel the displeasure of that same goodness we once rejoiced in.

God hasn't changed. He's still a good God. We change. But what must happen in our hearts is that His immutability, that is, His inability to change at all, must become our anchor of hope amid the worst times in our lives, no matter what happens or how 'bad' things get, from a human perspective. He cannot change. He is still God. He is still good. No matter what.

Thank God today for the pleasurable and displeasurable goodness taught to us in the cross.

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