Communicable Attributes: God is Good
The transcendentals – goodness, beauty, and truth – they’re called the transcendentals because they are ubiquitous; they’re not merely parts and aspects of our reality, they are the moral-fabric that make up all of reality. Being as they are communicable attributes of our Creator God it stands to reason that they will be found, in greater or lesser degrees, in every part of God’s creation. Peter Kreeft makes the astute point that “everything that exists is in some way good, and in some way true, and in some way beautiful.”
When it comes to God, he is not only summum bonum, the highest good, but he is also the original good, the source of all that is good, the eternally infinite Good. God doesn’t look outside of himself for a definition of goodness; God is goodness. As such, goodness is godliness (God-like-ness) and identifying goodness – whether we see it, taste it, experience it, or long for it – is identifying some reflection and refraction of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Therefore, yes, God is summum bonum but He is also causa finalis, the ultimate end of all good things. Every good action, experience, and choice finds its telos in glorifying and reflecting the source of all goodness, God himself. As Joel Beeke writes, “knowing God’s goodness and making it known is the central purpose for which we exist.”
The Puritan Stephen Charnock, who wrote more about God’s goodness than he did any other divine attribute, drives home the point that God “is good by his own essence. God is not only good in his essence, but good by his essence… goodness is not a quality in him, but a nature, not a habit added to his essence, but his essence itself. He is not first God, and then afterwards good; but he is good as he is God, his essence being one and the same, is formally and equally God and good.” Indeed! Consider God’s response to Moses when asked if Moses could see his glory (Ex. 33:18). He replied by saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (v. 19).
What is goodness? However we define goodness, we must admit that God has perfect goodness; all his attributes are his perfections and are infinitely so. So, what is divine goodness? Classical definitions understood goodness not so much as a virtue, but as virtue itself; a power to achieve intended effects. Virtue, which comes from the Latin word virtus, meant virility and ability. So in essence virtue was understood as acting consistently with one’s own nature. God always acts according to his own nature and therefore brings about all he intends to do. He is good (and therefore, obviously, not bad or malformed). Stephen Charnock, again, says “goodness is that perfection of God whereby he delights in his own works, and is beneficial to them.” The Hebrew for good (tob) was a term that could mean moral uprightness but also meant divine kindness and benevolence. Thus, not only is God good in se, in himself, but all that he does is good.
And it’s precisely here where our good existence comes into light. The repeated drumbeat of Genesis chapter 1 is it is good, it is good, it is very good; the divine pronouncement that all of God’s creative work well reflects the Creator. And God’s earthlings, created as they are in His own image, are placed in this world to not only rule but to enjoy. We enjoy the goodness of God by enjoying the good things God gives to us. Ecclesiastes is littered with insights on enjoying the good gifts of work, bread, and wine. The Song of Solomon is an extended poem of praise calling us to enjoy the goodness of marriage. And Proverbs is written to help us live a good life by listening more closely to God’s good word. Adam and Eve were meant to see how wide God’s goodness is when they heard him say that “you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:16).
We of course see God’s supreme goodness in the redemption secured for us in Jesus Christ. There is more divine goodness revealed in Jesus’ sacrificial death than there is in all the universe and untold worlds which God created for us to enjoy. Mark Jones gives this staggering thought experiment: “Think of the truth that the Father poured out wrath on his Son in whom he has been eternally well pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). How do we understand this mystery? In one sense, we can say that God was never happier with his Son than when he was most angry with him… This understanding of our redemption leads us to say something rather provocative: that the goodness shown to us, God’s people, is ‘greater goodness to us, than was for a time manifested to Christ himself.’”
This truth alone should draw our hearts to want to know God even more and spend an eternity discovering His bottomless, infinite, and surprising goodness. How amazing that the fount of all existence is Himself so incomprehensibly good and delights to have others not only know that goodness but to deeply enjoy it as well. We should take more seriously the call of King David who invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)
Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.
 Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, vol. 1 (Crossway, 2019), 799.
 Stephen Charnock, Discourses On The Existence And Attributes Of God, found in The Works of Stephen Charnock, vol 2 (Banner of Truth, 2010), 285-286. Charnock (page 287) says, “He is only good without capacity of increase; He is all good, and unmixedly good – none good but God; A goodness like the sun, that half all light and no darkness. That is the second thing, he is the Supreme and chief goodness.”
 Or consider Psalm 119:68, “You are good and do good.” What it means to be God is to be good and thus all that God does is consistent with his nature, which is good.
 Stephen Charnock, Discourses On The Existence And Attributes Of God, found in The Works of Stephen Charnock, vol 2 (Banner of Truth, 2010), 284.
 Beeke, Reformed Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 783
 The Hebrew Adam (man, human) derives from the word adamah (soil, dirt, earth) and so we can understand Adam to mean “of the soil” or “of the ground and earth”. To be of Adam’s race is, by definition, to be an earthling.
 Mark Jones, God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God (Crossway, 2017), 137-138. Jones himself quotes Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, in Works, 2:322.