Why it’s Hard to Believe in God’s Goodness
In the fall of 2021, as our church was going through the book of Nehemiah, I was working through the prayer of confession in chapter 9. As I studied the passage, it helped me to recognize something extremely important:
It’s really hard to believe in God’s goodness.
Most Christians will say that we do believe God is good, of course. We can affirm the general truth. But when we start looking at our own lives, we struggle to see how God can be good to us because we’re not terribly faithful people.
But Nehemiah 9 has some very good news for us all, even today, which is that God’s goodness is not limited by our faithfulness, because it’s not based on our faithfulness.
Where We Start in Thinking About God’s Goodness
The prayer that comprises Nehemiah 9 starts where it should—with praise for God’s self-disclosure, His creation of the world, His covenant with Abraham, and His rescuing of the people from bondage in Egypt. But in verse 16, the prayer moves from praise to confession. It is a recognition of the people’s ongoing rebellion against Him. That rather than responding with worship, they countered with rejection.
They refused to listen—they refused to obey God. They did not remember the wonders He performed, even the ones that
And then there’s the last half of verse 17:
But you are a forgiving God,
gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in faithful love,
and you did not abandon them.
Even in the midst of this confession of the people’s sin, the Levites couldn’t not point the people back to God. In fact, the language here is a paraphrase of God’s own self-disclosure from Exodus 34:6-7:
The Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Now, stop and think about those words for a second. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He is faithful to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. And this is exactly what we see Him do throughout the passage, and throughout all of history. We see that God’s goodness is not dependent upon His people’s faithfulness. And Nehemiah 9:18-25 certainly does demonstrate the unfaithfulness of the Israelites.
God’s Goodness to the Faithless
In the wilderness, the people denied Him at every opportunity. Before the Red Sea had been parted, they were sure that God had led them into the wilderness to be killed. While Moses was on Mount Sinai alone—because they were afraid to be near God—they made an idol for themselves, out of the gold that God provided for them as they plundered Egypt on their way out into the wilderness. And they declared, this golden calf, this statue that we just made—this is the god that rescued you from Egypt!
And what did God do? God didn’t destroy them and start over again. He didn’t leave them in the desert to die. God was faithful to them, even when they were faithless. He led them on the journey. He provided for their every need. They lacked nothing—not even their clothing wore out the entire time!
He gave them water to drink from stones, and bread from the sky. He gave them kingdoms and fortified cities, vineyards, farms, and every good thing.
And they enjoyed it all, because He gave it to them, even though they didn’t deserve it. Even though they acted like they didn’t want it half the time. God showed them extravagant grace, extraordinary kindness. And the Levites were right to recognize this. They were right to remind the people of the kindness of God to them, even when they rejected Him.
The Goodness We Struggle to Believe
Some of us struggle to believe that God is this kind. That God is as good as He says He is. That He is, in fact, slow to anger and abounding in the faithful love. We struggle to believe God is willing to forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Or at least our iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
We don’t think God is really that good—or that if He is, His goodness is somehow dependent on our faithfulness. And so we, more often than not, believe that God is sitting on His throne, watching us—and waiting. Every moment, of every day, with nothing but white-hot rage in His eyes, looking for the opportunity when He can finally just obliterate us. Some of us, even when we can verbally assent to the facts of the gospel, when we can say with our mouths that Jesus Christ came into the world, to live perfectly for me, to die in my place for my sins, and rose again, and yet, we don’t believe it in our hearts.
We think that, even though God saved us, God hates us.
The Good News We Need Right Now
Friends, you need to know, especially if you’re sitting here thinking this right now, that it’s not true. God genuinely, truly, loves us, just as He truly loved these messed up, rebellious people that rejected Him in the wilderness, just as He loved the messed up, rebellious people of Nehemiah’s day, just as He loved the messed up, rebellious people that He used to spread the gospel throughout all the nations through every generation that has and that ever will be.
God’s goodness is not dependent upon our faithfulness.
If you are a follower of Jesus, if you believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for you, you need to know, right now, that God loves you. And if you’re not a follower of Jesus, if you don’t know what you believe about Jesus, you need to know, right now, that God loves you. The greatest way He has shown that to you is that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for you.
And He wants all of us to delight in His goodness—He holds nothing back. And all He asks if that you enjoy all that He has to offer. To enjoy Him, because that’s what He offers. That might be hard to read, but it’s true. God’s goodness is not dependent upon our faithfulness. God is good because He is God. And that is good news for us.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash