Promise: God Will Not Withhold Any Good Thing
A man loses his fortune in a fire. Shortly after, all four of his young children die in a tragic shipwreck. A young woman’s husband is brutally murdered. Her second husband dies of cancer, and she herself passes away after a decade-long battle with dementia. A promising teenager becomes a quadriplegic in a diving accident. For the rest of her life she is confined to a wheelchair; from the neck down unable to move her once active body.
And yet, Joni Eareckson Tada, after learning to write with a pen in her mouth, reflected: “It is a glorious thing to know that your Father God makes no mistakes in directing or permitting that which crosses the path of your life.”
And when it seemed providence had dealt her a cruel hand in the death of her two husbands, Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “God never witholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good.”
And even as his ship slowly passed by the place where his children drowned, Horatio Spafford penned the beloved lines, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say it is well with my soul.”
There seems to be a shocking dissonance between the words and the lives of these individuals. Were they deluded into thinking that God has been good to them? Or, had they taken hold of the promise many of us have a difficult time grasping— that God withholds nothing good from the upright, for God Himself is our greatest gift and gives Himself freely to us.
When the psalmist writes, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly,” our first instinct is to make a mental list of all the good things that we do not have. Like our first parents, we are tempted to believe that God is keeping something from us. But the problem here is not that God is stingy, or that the Word of God cannot be trusted, but that we often misunderstand what our “good” is.
As a child might struggle to understand why oatmeal is a better breakfast than candy, so we have disordered the good things God gives to us, hinging our happiness upon things that will ultimately pass away and seeing God as a conduit to our good rather than good Himself. In fact, if heaven were made up of things we would consider our greatest goods, most people would not see God there.
This view of God leads to a storybook theology that places ourselves as the main character of our life, and sees God as the fairy godmother or genie who grants our wishes and helps us ride into the sunset with our happy ending. Yes, God has given us many good blessings to enjoy here on earth, but that is not what the psalmist is referring to when he talks of the good that God generously bestows to the upright. The good the psalmist speaks of, longs for, and journey’s towards, is the ultimate goodness of God Himself.
The psalmist is embarrassingly desperate for God. He longs and faints for God’s presence. There is no place he would rather be, no time he would rather spend, than in God’s presence. He would rather take the lowliest job in the house of God than the place of honor where God is not worshiped. He believes in his heart, like David, that he has no good apart from God (Psalm 16:1).
Far above the riches and honor the world offers, it is the goodness of God that gives us the eyes to see things as He does. It is the sweetness of God’s presence that allows us to move through the Valley of Baca, the difficult places in life—the days filled with weeping, and mourning—and not dwell there, but pass through them from strength to strength. The upright know there is no darkness like the darkness we would face without Him as our sun. There is no danger that would leave us more vulnerable than if we were without Him as our shield.
It might seem strange, but those who have experienced great loss and difficulty in life often treasure this truth more than those whose bellies and bank accounts are full. For those desperately seeking Him can be assured that God will work all things they have been given— gifts and trials alike— together for good. He has given us the greatest good of His Son, which can not be taken from us, and has given us more than we could ask for or desire in the unsearchable greatness and inexhaustible fountain of riches in Christ.
Megan K. Taylor earned her MA in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Joel, live in Sanford, Fl where she works for Ligonier Ministries and is a member of Saint Paul’s PCA.