So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
When we wonder how we, individually, might reflect God’s character, we tend to think of our kindest personality traits or our unique skills. But if we are created in the image of God, then we reflect his character before any of our actions could. Like a child who resembles her mother, the family resemblance was put in us from the beginning, and while our choices can enhance it they can’t create it.
God created things, and called them good. Before their acts of worship or sacrifices, before any of their ‘good’ works were accomplished, he called them good. That has to be our starting point for how we think of our own goodness, and how we think of others’.
If we are good, it’s because we look like him who is Goodness. There is no room to boast, for it comes from outside of ourselves.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
Goodness can also be terrifying, like a light that is too bright. When we use our limited understanding to try and see the true, unrestrained character of God, we are looking into the sun. We can’t even comprehend the fullness of it; it’s beyond us. And because we can’t fully understand it, we may not even recognize it.
Our limited definition of “good” usually includes the absence of pain, hardship, or death. It has connotations of pleasance, painlessness, enjoyment, beneficence. It is whatever gives us the most happiness with the fewest hurt. And if we were to judge God’s goodness based on our definition, most of us would say it isn’t usually there. He withholds things we want, allows us to feel pain, and doesn’t always protect us from terrible loss. Either God is not good, or we don’t understand his goodness.
Our concept of goodness is painfully temporal. We have to reframe our perspective to something more eternal.
We already do things all the time that we don’t enjoy, or even cause us pain, precisely because we think it is good. We eat healthy food because it is better to be healthy than sick. We initiate difficult conversations because it is better to be honest and helpful than to be comfortable. It’s like training for a marathon. Pain can be bad, but it can also be good when it means you’re getting stronger.
Just like the pain of physical exertion can lead to strength, God uses painful and difficult moments in our lives to lead us to a higher good. It doesn’t mean those moments were secretly good all along, or that your feelings have been invalidated. Rather, they become reframed in the story God is telling through you.
There is an appeal something higher than our immediate desires or understanding. Just because something is powerful, or maybe even dangerous, doesn’t mean it isn’t good.