Imagine little Josh at the dinner table in his Christian home. His parents have taught him a simple prayer to recite before meals:
God is great and God is good;
And we thank him for our food;
By God's hand, we must be fed,
Give us Lord, our daily bread.
Josh confesses that God is “great” and “good.” These are two of God’s principal traits or characteristics. They say what God is like. In theology we call these traits “attributes” because we attribute them to God. But it’s not as if we dream them up and then paste them onto God’s profile. No, we attribute these traits to God because Scripture reveals them to be true of God and because our creeds then repeat what Scripture reveals.
In its first article, thus, the Belgic Confession of 1561 says that God is
- completely wise, just, and good
- the overflowing source of all good.
Each of God’s attributes deserves a whole essay, and there’s not enough space here for that. So, let’s think about just two of them—that God is almighty and completely good—and then think about how they shape our worship of God.
God is Almighty
We turn on the lights in our kitchen. God lights up the universe with billions of galaxies, each galaxy a stupendous bonfire of perhaps a hundred billion stars, and many of the stars loaded with their own orbital systems. We buy an aquarium and stock it with goldfish. God digs the depths of oceans and stocks them with humpback whales that sing underwater arias and that breach a hundred times a day from sheer exuberance.
In Scripture, God’s power is celebrated as the source not only of stars and planets, but also of mighty acts of redemption. In Psalm 136, for example, God is not just a generic power; God is the Creator “who made the sun to rule over the day . . . the moon and stars to rule over the night.” God is the Exodus God who brought Israel out of Egypt “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” God is the God of the promised land who “led his people through the wilderness” to reach it (Psalm 136:8–9, 11–12, 16, 21).
The Hebrew Bible tells of God’s mighty acts in creation, Exodus, and the delivery of Israel to the promised land. In the New Testament we find a notable shift in focus. Now we hear instead of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ. The four gospels tell us that Jesus heals diseases, calms storms, casts out demons, serves miraculously multiplying food to multitudes, forgives sins committed against other people, and raises the dead.
God is Good
God is “almighty,” says the Confession, but also “completely good,” in fact “the overflowing source of all good.” In fact, all of God’s mighty acts double as demonstrations of God’s goodness. Jesus didn’t heal diseases to show off. He did it to show mercy to suffering human beings.
John Calvin has a reputation in popular culture for being severe. But few theologians have been more exultant than Calvin over God’s goodness demonstrated in the magnificence and variety of God’s blessings. God could have created the world with utilitarian aims, said Calvin, and provided humankind with mere necessities.But that’s not who God is. What’s remarkable is that the God of the universe wants not merely to support, but also to delight us.
So, God created towering trees, waving grasses, juicy fruits, and fragrant flowers (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Westminster Press, 1960, 1:720-21, 3.10.2). Juicy fruits! Calvin was impressed with their sheer variety. Likely his idea was that given apples we could have done without oranges, mangos, nectarines, peaches, and pears. But we don’t have to do without them because God is the keeper of a whole orchard of delights. So, when it comes to baseball-sized fruit, we have quite a few to choose from.
Worshiping a Good and Almighty God
God is “almighty” and “the overflowing fountain of all good.” In worship we call attention to these attributes. We acclaim them in calls to worship: “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 145:3). We sing our praise of God: “Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love” (“Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” VanDyke, LUYH 581). Not enough for us merely to say our praise of God’s excellences. No, we need to raise our voices over them, to sing our hearts out.
In the Lord’s Supper we give thanks for God’s goodness shown in the self-giving death of Jesus Christ—who is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). In infant baptism, we give thanks that God marks us as belonging to Jesus Christ even before we know what’s going on.
In preaching we celebrate and defend God’s goodness against attacks on it. In prayer we appeal to God’s goodness to keep on providing what we so urgently need to live faithfully in God’s world. We know God is almighty. But we are inspired that God is “the overflowing fountain of all good.”