I tried to decide between Good God and Generous Giver. And what I decided was that it was silly to think I had to choose between them. Then I decided I could add in Glorious and Gracious as well, as they also highlight such significant attributes of God’s character. I did leave out Great and Grand, as they seemed somewhat reduntant after using Glorious. (Besides, there’s probably a character limitation on titles for blog posts.)
When I was little I learned the mealtime blessing that begins “God is great and God is good, let us thank Him for our food.” I don’t know what I thought those two adjectives said about God, other than that He was the ultimate source for all our food, and everything else. While there were definite differences between my father’s understanding of God and my mother’s, they both believed that God was both great and good. So I never really questioned those points either.
I did question some of the religious concepts my mother tried to teach me. On one occasion, for some reason I do not remember, I visited the Sunday School at her church (Unity School of Christianity). It wasn’t much fun – instead of making puppets or acting out Bible stories as we did at my father’s church (Congregationalist, part of the United Church of Christ), we just sat and talked about God.
And we learned a song, which was so short and simple that I still remember both words and music. “Nothing but good can happen to me, for God is all there is.” I found that song rather pointless, because it was clear that bad things sometimes happened to me, and to everyone I knew, and most likely to everyone in the world. Even if there was some deep truth in those simple words, that the things that seemed bad were really good in some mysterious way, it was still pointless, because singing it neither kept bad things from happening nor made them easier to deal with.
My mother’s idea of God as impersonal force meant that we were “co-creators” with God, and that we affected events by our thoughts. We were supposed to think of good things happening to us so that they would happen. And we weren’t supposed to worry about bad things happening, because just focusing our minds on bad things drew them to us. I think, as an adult, that there is some small grain of truth to that, and that our minds are capable of wielding powers that are generally relegated to the realm of make-believe. But ordinary experience provides little if any evidence to support my mother’s convictions on that matter.
Traditional Christian doctrine (as opposed to my mother’s beliefs, which she considered Christian, and an improvement on the traditional variety) is that God is a Person who makes choices that affect our lives. In some ways it makes it harder to explain why bad things happen to us, because we can’t blame all of them on our own negative thinking. (Certainly many of them are due to our own sinful choices, or the sinful choices of other people around us.) I’ve probably mentioned before that I don’t generally find the attempts to explain this very helpful. But I am convinced that God is good, and whatever the explanation is, it is not a defect in the character of God.
This word doesn’t inhabit our active vocabulary very much. Occasionally there’s a glorious sunrise or sunset. Music can be glorious, though I’m not sure if I can think of any examples outside of classical music that would elicit such a description. Other than that, the word seems pretty much reserved for Christmas carols, hymns, and “church-talk.”
I don’t know whether it used to be different. Back when people understood less of how the natural processes worked, didn’t people feel a greater sense of awe at thunderstorms, snow-capped mountains, rainbows, and even the sun coming up each morning? Even those of us who still see those as manifestations of the power of God, and who appreciate the natural beauty of the world, don’t think in terms of glory every time the sun rises or the rain falls. (More likely, we think, “Morning comes too early, I want to sleep some more” or “Drat! I forgot my umbrella.”)
I imagine part of it is also that there are few if any human figures in our society who are in any way “glorious.” In earlier times when most people lived under the rule of kings, the king was given great glory. He was set apart from other people by his clothing, special titles, codes of conduct for people in his presence, grand ceremonies in his honor, and a general sense that he was wiser and better and more powerful than anyone else.
We see in our hymns, as well as many passages in the Bible (especially Psalms), how God was seen as all that a human monarch was but much more so. But for those of us living in a democracy, where egalitarian ideals make it hard to give anyone special treatment without provoking outrage from someone else, it takes some exercise of the imagination to envision royal glory.
God is glorious, of course, simply because He is God, Creator and sovereign over all, whether we see Him that way or not. But our worship is aided by being able to think of Him that way. I think that for me, that is part of why I prefer the rituals and symbols of the traditional church – even though I currently attend one that has very little traditional about it except its doctrine.
I know I’ve talked about grace in previous posts. But it is so central to our Christian faith that it’s worth repeating. Philip Yancey wrote an excellent book on the subject called What’s So Amazing about Grace? Whatever you think of Yancey (Theopedia says that “in recent years, Yancey has been criticized as condoning or even promoting a number of unorthodox beliefs and practices”), the book is well worth reading.
It’s easy to talk about grace in the abstract, but of course it doesn’t exist in the abstract. Grace is the behavior of a Gracious God, and of people made in His image. Often grace is discussed in relation to the forgiveness of sins, which is wonderful enough in itself, but it goes beyond that to the many positive gifts God gives His people.
James 1:5 is speaking of wisdom when it says that God gives generously to all, but the Bible is filled with examples of God’s generous giving. And the world around us is also filled with examples of God’s generous gifts. From the beauty of creation and the rich resources it offers, to the abilities we each have and the things we can do and make for others to enjoy, to the joys of sharing life with family and friends, God showers us every day with generous gifts.
- green grass
- grapes, grapefruit, and grains
- gold and gems
- goats, giraffes, guinea pigs, and gerbils
- grins, giggles, and guffaws
- gentleness and gladness