GOD IS GREAT, GOD IS GOOD
Written by Doug Ponder on June 19, 2013
As a small child I was taught to pray, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. By his hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”
That prayer is deceptively simple because it is so easy to say, and because we usually say it only before mealtimes. We shouldn’t be so hasty, though. This simple child’s prayer actually summarizes the Christian view of the world.
God Is Great
To say, “God is great” is not the same as saying, “God is awesome!” or “God rocks!” Rather, to speak of God’s greatness is to talk about God’s authority and power. His greatness is his right to rule and his power over all things. He reigns. He conquers. He commands. And God does all of that because he is great.
As the prophet Daniel records, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)
Paul the apostle says the same, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom. 11:33-36)
God’s greatness is opposed on two sides. The wicked say that God is not great, that he is weak or unable to help us. Some Christians oppose the greatness of God when they talk as if he were a needy old man who can’t do anything without our help. This is totally backwards and wrong. Both types of people have forgotten that God made the universe and needs nothing from us. “He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” Paul reminds us (Acts 17:25). He gives us life and breath and all things. God doesn’t depend on us. We depend upon him. We exist because he wanted us to exist so that he could share himself with us. We need God. He doesn’t need us. (But he does want us.) God is very, very great.
God Is Good
The greatness of God without the goodness of God isn’t Christianity. It is fatalism. Lots of religions have taught that some god or deity is supremely powerful. That is not what makes Christianity unique. What makes our faith unique is the message that the supremely powerful God acts on our behalf and for our good. He loves us and cares about us. He even sent his Son to die for us so that we might live in him. That is what we mean when we say, “God is good.”
Jesus also reminds us that “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). This was Jesus’ way of saying that none of us are good like God is. He isn’t “good” because he conforms to some standard; he himself is the standard. His character—his love, his grace, his mercy, his affections, his tenderness, his patience, his longsuffering, his forbearing, his kindness—all these things flow from the heart of God because they are who he is the very core of his being. No one has to tell God to “act nice” or “be good,” because that’s who he is. God is good, and everything else we call “good” is only truly good inasmuch as it lines up with who God is and the way he wants things to be.
Why does God’s goodness matter? Because God hates sin not simply because he dislikes the challenge to his greatness, but because God is good and he is for our good, too. God knows that sin makes a mess of things, to put it very lightly. Sin wrecks our lives. It breaks the peace between us and God and between us and each other. God is good and therefore against sin.
Let Us Thank Him
It’s no accident that the next line in the children’s prayer is a response of gratitude. In many ways, gratitude is one of the main fruits of faith, for all those who trust that God is great and God is good can’t help but thank him—yes, for food—but for so much else as well. That is why Paul writes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). “Devote yourselves to prayer,” Paul adds, “Being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).
You see, being thankful isn’t just a duty to be done. It is actually a sign that we understand who we are in the presence of God. We are sinful beggars in the presence of a holy king. We don’t deserve anything, yet he gives us “every good gift” (Jas. 1:17). This means that people who truly believe that God is great and God is good can’t help being thankful. In fact, it may be a sign that we don’t really understand the gospel if we aren’t thankful people. After all, the attitude of entitlement is the opposite disposition of a heart that has received the undeserved grace of God.
For Our Food?
The simple children’s prayer connects God’s greatness and his goodness to food, of all things. Why food? Because food is something that we need in order to survive. It is essential to life. God did not have to make us this way, but he did. (He could have created us to receive energy directly from the sun, like plants.) Perhaps God made food required for life so that we would remember how frail, fragile, and fleeting our existence is. We are feeble and weak. We need things like food in order to survive. We cannot sustain our own existence. All of this is a picture of how we relate to God. We need him to survive, whether we realize it or not. That is why those who realize their need for God are said to have found “life” in the biblical sense of the term, while those who don’t realize their need for God are said to be dead.
Food also reminds us of how dependent and not-in-control we are of what happens in the world. The food that you eat on a daily basis was rung up by a cash register that you didn’t tend. It was purchased in a store with shelves that you didn’t stock. It was delivered by a truck that you didn’t drive. It was harvested by farmers in fields that you didn’t cultivate. It was grown by rains that the farmer did not send. Can you see why the children’s prayer includes the line, “By his hands we all are fed”? It’s thoroughly true.
So, God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food, and let us also thank him for all of life. Every good gift is meant us to remind us of his greatness, his goodness, and our desperate need for him. That is why the most joyful people are those who learn that God is great and God is good. Such people thank God, trust God, and listen to what God says, for they know that his greatness and goodness seen so clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus will one day put an end to all the self-caused misery of sin. Every tear will be dried. Every broken thing will be mended. Every heartache will be swallowed up. God is great. God is good. Let us thank him.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.