In the Genesis account of God’s creation of the world, there is an important, repeated refrain: “God saw that it was good.” The sunsets and sunrises were good. The separation of land and water was good. The rain, the rivers, the mountains: Good. The flowers, the wheat, the grapevines, the corn…all good. The giraffes and elk, lions, beavers and bears were good. The stars at night. And then, God made humans and he declared, “it is very good.”
The Hebrew word, translated in English, is tobh (pronounced toev). “Good” is an adequate translation for the word because we don’t have a true equivalent in English. Actually, the Hebrew carries with it multiple areas of expression. It describes the goodness of creation in practical, moral, technical, and qualitative realities. When God made the earth, he recognized its practical goodness, its moral goodness, the technical goodness of his creation, and his creation’s quality. Perhaps the best modern English translation might be: “He saw that it was valuable.”
Unfortunately, we can’t discuss God’s perfect creation without also discussing the fall. When those created in his image rebelled and sinned against God, we tumbled from “good.” The practicality of God’s creation remained intact – it remained “good.” The same held true for the technical goodness of God’s creation, though we are currently experiencing the groaning of the earth (see Rom. 8:20-22). The quality of God’s creation remains in tact, too.
The big hit came with the moral goodness of his creation. Humans began opting for immorality in their life choices.
God is not color blind. God is not tone deaf. The beauty in this world exemplifies himself, his choices, his style: This is “good!” Can we, those created in God’s image, also make similar value statements in life? What is good? What isn’t good?
Are we allowed to say that some music is good, some is forgettable, and some is, well, just plain awful? Can we make those same assessments about art or literature, theology, or politics? Are we allowed to say that some cultures, or countries, are better than others?
The Apostle Paul seems to think we are equipped to make qualitative assessments. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8).” Isn’t the implication: Ignore the ignoble, wrong, impure, ugly, less-than-admirable, worthless, impure, crass and worthless?
How do we determine what to think about and what to ignore? Some things are clearly spelled out in Scripture. Others seem a bit subjective.
The difference, perhaps, lies between goodness and value. Goodness can fade and change over time. Just compare “good” music now to a previous generation’s. This is every father and son’s debate!
But value is deeper. It is intrinsic. As Christians, we recognize value as imputed – given from above. In other words, the creation is not only good in its beauty or quality, but valuable because it belongs to God and was given to us. Humans especially, though fallen, remain valuable because we’re made in God’s image.
What happens when society loses a sense of value? What happens when we lose value for life, for human dignity, for creation? Francis Schaeffer gives two prophetic warnings. First, we slide into degeneracy. When we don’t value others or ourselves, good becomes bad and bad becomes good. We use people and debase ourselves. It’s easy to see in our world today.
But perhaps more frightening is a rise in the elite. When value is lost, there arise false prophets – professors, philosophers, self-help gurus, politicians, entertainers, media-moguls, even clergy – to offer substitute values in our now valueless world. They replace eternal values with temporal ones like prosperity and personal peace. They promote the ignoble, the wrong, the impure.
America is awash with these false prophets.
We must be on alert. In Jesus’ description of the last days in Matthew 24 he warns of “deception” four times and commands us twice “do not believe.” We cannot be shortsighted here. We can’t afford to trade real value for counterfeit. The “good” of today does not necessarily mean “value.”
The idea of good has changed over time. When evaluating things, politics, art, literature, music, theology, think in terms of value. What lasts? What’s eternal? We can make those value judgments. As the Apostle Paul says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).”