Book 1.2: True Good

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22)

My dear child in the Lord,

Many times during your life, your parents will have told you to be good. Do you remember when the last time was? It probably won’t be the last time. And like we talked about in the previous chapter, our Father in heaven also tells us to be good, and tells us to listen to Jesus to learn our knowledge of good.

But what does it mean to be good?

Another way to answer that question is to ask, who is good? “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10). God is good. Only God is good. That should tell us something. If we want to know what goodness looks like, we look at God.

God is the creator of everything. He created the world. He created you. He created Adam and Eve. He created the garden of Eden. He created the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He even created Lucifer. Everything God made was very good.

But Lucifer rejected God’s will, and became Satan, the devil. He chose to oppose God and try to take you from Him. Satan calls good what God calls evil, and calls evil what God calls good. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8).

So if God is good, and if the devil opposes God, the devil cannot be good. The devil might think he is right in his own eyes. He might say that actually he is good and that God is not. But that is silly, and that is also very sad, and that is wrong.

It’s not just a matter of competing opinions. You might say, “Well, God thinks one thing is good and the devil thinks another thing is good. Who’s to say one of them is more correct than the other?” It’s not just a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of definitions. It’s a matter of who has the authority to define what is good. God is the highest authority in all creation. He created everything. He knows how everything works.

Have you ever invented an imaginary world or made your own imaginary story that you told to your friends or your parents? I do this all the time. I did this while I grew up, and I still do it. Imagination and creativity are wonderful gifts of God.

Let’s say that you invented a story about a man named Terquid, who had a flying car. And this was a special car, which had all sorts of secret gadgets and gizmos and could do all sorts of things. A very cool car. And Terquid went on all sorts of adventures with this car. And then let’s say you told the story of mighty Terquid and his flying car to a friend of yours, and your friend said, “No, the car didn’t fly, and it couldn’t drive either. The car could only tumble down hills.” Or maybe your friend said, “No, the big red button didn’t shoot a missile, it made the car explode!” Your friend would have a lot of nerve to say that. It wasn’t his story. It wasn’t his world. How could he say what did or didn’t happen in the world? How could he claim to know what the big red button did or didn’t do? The only way he knew about the world in the first place was because you told it to him.

In this example, your friend was trying to take over authority over your world. You had true authority over it, but your friend wanted to usurp your authority. Your friend wanted to be a higher authority over you in this imaginary world.

This is what Satan tries to do when he says that what God says is good is actually not good. God created the universe. He knows how it works. He is the only highest authority over it. If your standard of good and evil is different from God’s, it shows that you are opposed to God. It shows that you are trying to be a higher authority over God. Satan does try to make himself a higher authority than God by telling God He’s wrong. Satan tries to make himself God and to make God his subject. He doesn’t even try to hide it. Do you remember how he tried to tell Jesus to worship him? 

“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’ Then the devil left him.” (Matthew 4)

No one can tell God what is good or what is evil. If you tried to tell God that something He did was evil or that He needs to do something differently to be good, you’d be telling Him he needs to fall down and worship you too. Peter found himself carelessly doing this once. 

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16)

So no one can tell God what is good or what is evil. God does what He pleases. Anything that opposes His will is evil and is doing what Satan does. God is good. “No one is good except God alone.”

So God not only gets to define good, He is the definition of good itself! No one else has authority over God to define anything else or to tell Him a different standard of true good. That means true good is what God wants. True good is that which aligns with His will. And so the definition of true evil is that which God opposes and that which opposes God. And God does oppose evil. “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34).

People who don’t know God will say we each get to define our own true good. They’ll say that no one has the authority to tell you whether your knowledge is good or evil or true or false (but ironically, they’ll still tell you that what they tell you is true and good). They’ll say that, for lots of things, true good is up to your own interpretation. “You can be like God, knowing good and evil. You can be like God, defining good and evil.”

Those people want to make themselves gods too. Some of them know about God and just don’t want Him to be an authority over them. Or some of those people just don’t know God is there. They think there is no one to define truth, so they have to do it themselves. These people are alone and lonely, trying to be God by themselves, even though it’s too much for them. Deep down, most of these people I’ve met tend to be pretty angry about life.

We’re not strong enough or smart enough to define truth for ourselves. The One who created the world is the One who knows what is true about it and what isn’t. He’s the one who knows what is good in it and what is not good. Because He created the world. Of course He knows! He designed it. So listen to Him, and you’ll learn what is true good too.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1)

In other words, acknowledge that God is bigger and smarter than you. Let Him teach you what is good. Be like Him by following Him, not by usurping Him.

Now, about that example earlier of Terquid and his mighty flying car: another thing to remember is that it is okay for us to share storytelling. We aren’t God, and when we tell stories, it’s often really great to share the storytelling and world-building with friends. It can be lots of fun, and the imaginary world can become much grander and more alive because you share it, and it can have things that we never could have thought of on our own. We aren’t always the best storytellers when we’re alone. But if you make the imaginary world, that’s still up to you whether you want to do that.

But God knows everything. God is infinite and all-powerful. There is no one who could make a better world than He can, and there is no one who creates a better story than He does. There’s no one who could care for us better than He can, even though we aren’t perfectly good ourselves and often mess things up. He is still good, and He still takes care of us.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8)

So be conformed to Christ, the Son of God. Listen to Him.

You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
The insolent smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

(Psalm 119, Teth)