We live in a world in which people like to think that they, and most people, are basically good. Sure, there are a few bad apples that threaten to spoil the entire bunch, but we are encouraged to find the goodness in people rather than focusing on the negative.
The Bible, of course, paints a far bleaker picture. The Bible tells us that “none is righteous, no, not one” and that “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11–12). The consistent testimony of Scripture is that, due to indwelling sin, human beings are basically evil, not good. But in the midst of this darkness stands a beacon of light for, as Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Goodness can be found, if we but look in the right place.
Psalm 136 highlights the goodness of God. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (v. 1). If we want to know what goodness is, we must look to the Christian God. The Bible gives us many reasons to affirm that God is good. Psalm 136 highlights three.
First, we see God’s goodness in creation (vv. 2–9). In his goodness, God created the universe and all that is in it. In his goodness, he created earth as a habitat for humanity. In his goodness, he placed us in a beautiful world with much wonder to enjoy. This truth is highlighted in the Genesis creation story where, at the close of each day of creation, God saw that what he had made was good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Creation is good because it was made by a good God.
Second, the psalmist highlights God’s goodness in redemption (vv. 10–24). Here, the writer recalls acts of divine deliverance in Israel’s history. He reminds his readers of the exodus, the Palestinian conquest, and various military victories granted along the way. If these acts of deliverance speak to divine goodness, how much more the act of eternal deliverance through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! How much more reason do we have to praise God for what he has done for us in the gospel.
Third, the writer highlights God’s goodness in general acts of providence (v. 25). His people, recipients of his particular deliverance, have special reason to praise him for his goodness, but we dare not forget that everybody has reason to recognise his goodness. Apart from his goodness, we would lack the basic necessities of life. In fact, it is this very goodness of God that is designed to lead people to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Divine goodness is not simply a theological category that is fit for systematic theology textbooks but divorced from our daily Christian living. Recognition of divine goodness is essential to heartfelt worship. Twenty-six times, the psalmist repeats a simple refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” God’s goodness demands a response from those who worship him and the appropriate response, surely, is a grateful recognition that his goodness is seen most poignantly in his enduring covenant love.
Elsewhere, another psalmist wrote, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (107:31). Both his steadfast love and his wondrous works to mankind speak to his goodness and call forth human praise. As you reflect on Psalm 136 today, respond with grateful praise to our good God, for his steadfast love endures forever.