Some of you know the student who always says this when you see him. Because I’ve heard him say this, I have found myself saying it to others. When I read Psalm 16, the question becomes real – what is good?
Read Psalm 16
1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
In verse two the Psalmist says “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.” Here we see a basic and profound truth of Christian theism: God is good. Or to put it mathematically: God = Good.
Perhaps you’ve been asked the old question – “Is something good because God said so, or does God say so because such a thing is already good?” If it is only good because God says so, then God’s commands are arbitrary. Hypothetically, God could have chosen to make stealing and lust “good” in this scenario. But if God commands because such a thing is already good, then this “already good” is some sort of law that God submits to. If such is true, then that higher law would be greater than God and “God” becomes just “a god.”
I’ve seen this question come up as a sort of “gotcha!” to Christians. It seems people do not realize this question has been discussed for centuries (millennia probably). The simple Christian answer is that God = Good. God is the ultimate good and thus God commands in accordance with God’s own good nature. One thing we can draw from this is that to live a life with God is to live a life according to the best good. If you want goodness (and love, joy, peace, etc.) then you want what the Creator designed you for. All lesser goods point to the greatest good, in God.
When I was growing up, there was a lot of emphasis on rewards the faithful Christian will receive in the afterlife. Jesus speaks of rewards in heaven in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). But these “rewards” are not stuff you get, as if you just baptize your greed and push it to afterlife. The “reward” is the attributes of God that you acquire – in other words, the rewards are being generous, peaceful, pure and…good. The reward is God.
Apart from God we have no good thing means all good comes from God. If God were to totally remove himself from the universe, this world would become hell.
Look for good in the world today and thank God for it.
There is one other part of Psalm 16 that sticks out to me; in verse 10 he says “you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” The Old Testament does not say much about the afterlife. There is a general idea people go to the realm of the dead, though any sort of separation between good and bad in a heaven and hell is foreign. Yet, every now and then we get the glimpse of the hope that if God is good and loving, then God’s presence will even reach into the realm of the dead. There is hope that a day will come when God’s good presence totally drives out all darkness and evil.
May we be moved by that hope today.
*As a Christian, I am of course speaking of the traditional Christian view of God. The question comes to mind of how other theists (Jews and Muslims) relate God to the Good. I am pretty sure their answer is similar that God is the Ultimate Good. But I didn’t want to get it wrong, so I focus only on my own faith. And of course, for all the similarities the Abrahamic religions have, Christians go a step further in believing the Good God demonstrates the ultimate of this goodness by becoming human in Jesus.
**I recently began sending the students in CSF a brief reflection on a Psalm each Friday. My hope is that it will provide them with some motivation to read scripture. I have enjoyed meditating on the Psalms, and I look forward to taking the next few years to get through them all! I decided it might be worthwhile to post the weekly devos here, so if you happen to read this, I pray it is helpful. Enjoy.