What Is the Highest Good?
“God, and God alone, is man’s highest good.” – Herman Bavinck
Nearly every Christian has uttered, “God is good.” When we experience a job promotion at work, witness the physical healing in the life of a loved one, the marriage of a godly couple, or receive new possessions, we appropriately praise God for his goodness. To experience goodness and not give thanks to the divine source is the epitome of ingratitude and a step toward apostasy.
But while all Christians have said that God is good, often we miss the fact that God is himself our highest good. And even if we acknowledge this to be true, we seldom pursue God like it is.
This has a profound effect on how we live. The things we pursue are indicative of what we cherish as ultimately good for us. If we don’t grasp that God — and God alone — is supremely good, we abandon the happiness we were meant to know.
The Highest Good
Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, appropriately opens his handbook of theology, Our Reasonable Faith, with these words, “God, and God alone, is man’s highest good.”
What is meant by the expression “highest good”? Originally coined in the Latin, summum bonum, it literally means “the supreme good from which all others are derived.” In other words, God is the source and sustainer of all good. He and he alone, as Bavinck notes, is “the abundant fountain of all goods.” Nothing in this universe is able to produce true goodness, unless the Good Creator is its wellspring.
Furthermore, humanity enjoys this good that God gives and produces. God doesn’t produce a type of good that man is unable to recognize. God’s good is universally good and he shares the knowledge of his goodness with his creatures.
Originally, since humans were created in God’s image and likeness, we had the untarnished resources to not only recognize the goodness of God, but to thank him and honor him for it. However, sin entered into the picture and blinded us. That is what Paul explains in Romans 1. Although man can clearly perceive the goodness of God around him, he doesn’t connect the dots to praise (Romans 1:21). Worse still, the taint of sin mutes our ability to see God as our highest good.
What the Bible Says
The Bible shows us that Bavinck was right. God, indeed, is good:
“Oh give thanks to the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34)
“You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” (Psalm 119:68)
From the very start, Scripture begins attaching the word “good” to God’s work in creation. The word “good” appears seven times in the first chapter of Genesis alone.
In the New Testament, Jesus goes as far to say that only God is good, ultimately communicating that God is our highest and perfect good (Mark 10:18). Throughout Scripture we read of God’s good acts, gifts, works, promises, commands, and even his providence, promising all will work out for the good of those who love him (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).
Likewise, God demands that those called out of the world by him do good works. Not only does he demand this of his children, but equips us with the ability by giving us the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:10).
Throughout the whole storyline of Scripture, God is clearly and repeatedly knitted with those that do good and divorced from those that do evil (1 John 1:6–8). He is so good that he refuses to fellowship with those who are evil. The Bible, on every page, resounds one way or another that God is infinitely and ultimately good.
The True Rest
As a child, my birthday was my favorite time of the year. All children love their birthday. Sometimes a party was thrown in my honor or I was simply showered with gifts by my family. Imagine, though, a child receiving good gifts from his family. Instead of recognizing the love and goodness of his family, imagine the child becomes so consumed by the gift that he locks himself in his room, never to speak to his family again. He has the gift he wanted, and that is all that matters now.
Of course, this would be silly. The gift is completely lifeless and unable to give the child the necessities to live a happy and healthy life. Without his family’s continued sustenance and care, the child wouldn’t know how to live. So not only is the scene ludicrous, it is functionally impossible. Whether the child knows it or not, his parents provide for him things that he’s never stopped to think about.
This is what happens when we see gifts, and not God, as our highest good. Seeing God as our highest good is fundamental to living a life full of joy. The pursuit of fame, pleasure, riches, romance, and status will always leave us lacking and never really satisfied. Are you feeling empty? Hopeless? Dissatisfied? It’s because your heart was wired for more than you can find in this world.
God wired you for so much more. God created you for himself and you will not “find rest until [you] rest in the Father’s heart” (Bavinck).
In a world full of counterfeit gods, only God has proven himself supremely good. God displays the pinnacle of his goodness when Jesus died for a people like us. There at the cross, out of sheer grace, Jesus absorbed the wrath we deserved and defeated death once and for all. Never before has such goodness, love, mercy, and grace been displayed to the world.
While other counterfeit gods confess ultimate goodness, in the end, they will be exposed for the rubbish that they are. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord — Lord over all, and the Highest Good.