“God is Great, God is Good”
“God is great, God is good.” That was probably the first prayer I ever learned. I know it was the first prayer I ever taught my children. And it is a prayer that seems to stick with children. While I was in college at USC I attended Washington St. UMC in Columbia. I remember one Sunday C.J. Lupo was doing a children’s sermon. The children were all sitting on the floor around him and, he gave them a little lesson. I forget the lesson but when he finished he said, “Now let’s say a prayer.” And before he could get another word out a little girl blurted out: “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread.”
We find that story amusing. It seems so out of place to say grace or return thanks during a worship service. That poor little silly girl didn’t know it was neither the time nor the place for a blessing. Or was it? That little girl had been taught well to give thanks to God. She had learned that God is great and God is good and we should give thanks for the gifts God gives us like our daily bread. By spontaneously giving thanks she was expressing her love and gratitude and heartfelt faith in God.
That little girl had already learned a lesson that many adults have yet to learn. We talk about God giving his only begotten son Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. That’s a great gift of a good God. And how do we thank God for it? Many times we thank God by forgetting to make Jesus a part of our lives beyond worship and Sunday School. Sometimes we, all of us, return thanks by being disobedient to the will of God.
People in Bible times were no different than us. They know that God is great and God is good. They may not have been taught that prayer but like us they had experienced the amazing Grace of God. Like us they had heard the testimony of God’s greatness. They had even seen God’s mighty works. The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 78 know of God’s greatness and God’s goodness. The Psalmist wrote about how the children of Israel had seen the miracles of God wrought in Egypt. How God had brought the plagues upon the Egyptians. And how God had preserved the Israelites from those plagues. The Psalmist also tells how God delivered them through the Red Sea from the hands of the Egyptians. They had seen the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. They knew God was great because of those miracles.
They also knew that God was good. God had been good enough to hear their cry in slavery and deliver them from bondage in Egypt. God could have left them there in slavery. But instead God chose to agree them. And God had given them good gifts. He gave them bread from heaven to nourish their bodies. And water form a rack to refresh them.
But they didn’t give thanks for their food! Instead they grumbled. They complained that they would thirst to death in the wilderness. They persisted and said that they wanted some meat to eat. Instead of giving thanks they rebelled against their savior. In the words of the psalmist: “They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what He had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.”
So what did God do? Well, God is great! What would any great self-respecting deity do in such a circumstance? Such a deity would rain down fire and brimstone on the children of Israel until every one of them was destroyed. Such a god would cause the earth to open up and swallow them whole. Such a great deity would erase the name of Israel from the pages of history. Their fate would be worse than that of Sodom and their destruction greater than that of Gomorrah.
But God is also good. God could have destroyed them. God could have left them in the desert to die of hunger and thirst. Instead God continued to feed them and save them. Instead of destroying them God made them prosper and grow. Instead of wiping their name from the pages of history, God made them a great people who still exist and are spoken of long after the Amorites and Pezzorites have ceased to exist.
This is the mercy of God. Despite the untruthfulness of the people of Israel and their rebellion, God continued to bless them. This is an example and proof of the kind of God we worship and serve. We serve a God who gives us all that we need. And even when we fail to give God the glory for those gifts God is still merciful and giving. God’s goodness was greater than their badness.
People haven’t changed much since then. God has given us such great gifts. We live in a country of riches. Even the poor in our country have it better then some people in other countries. America throws away more food each day that is needed to feed the hungry in our country. We are also blessed with freedoms that people in other parts of the world have to risk their lives to win.
And as Christians we have been blessed with gifts that are even greater than that. The greatest of these gifts is Jesus Christ our Lord, who came and died for our sins. We have also been granted forgiveness, which is a gift we could never have bought on our own. As the church we have been given the holy presence of God’s spirit to sustain and guide us. And we have been given the testimony of the Bible and the witness of church tradition to reveal God’s will to us.
But like the Israelites we have forgotten what God has done for us. Like them we fail to acknowledge God as Lord over everything God has given us. I knew a woman who inherited a house from her husband. She used to say the house was Jesus’ house and that he just let her live there. People thought she was crazy, but she was right. All we have, even our breath, is a gift from God and we should thank God that he lets us use it. We know the saving power of Jesus in our lives but like Peter we act like we do not even know who Jesus is. We have been given a land flowing with milk and honey and yet we don’t show any appreciation for its wealth or beauty. All we care about is what minerals we can extract from it and what waste we can dump in it.
So what does God do? What would you do if you were in God’s shoes and you were faced with an unthankful people like the Israelites? Does God just give up and say, “forget you, you unthankful people.” Does God choose to destroy us and leave us to our own sin?
No, excuse my English, but God is “gooder” than that. And thank God! We don’t deserve the gifts we unthankfully receive. But that is the nature of God’s mercy.
That little girl was right! God is great! God is good! Let us thank God for our food. By his hands we shall be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen