In AD 155, the people of the city of Smyrna found their entertainment in gladiatorial fights and the martyrdom of Christians. Statius Quadratus, the Roman proconsul, was the guest of honor as eleven Christians were brought in from Philadelphia to be thrown to the lions. In the midst of the mauling, the crowd began to cry at fever pitch for the blood of the Christian leader Polycarp. Polycarp was found and brought to the stadium where the Roman proconsul tried to persuade him to deny the lordship of Jesus Christ. In the face of death, and before his Roman master, Polycarp famously replied: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did Me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” As a consequence, Polycarp was burned to death, and his remains were buried on Mount Pagus.
The thing that strikes me about this story is how the doctrine of God’s goodness fortified Polycarp’s faith. Polycarp did the right thing because Christ had done him no wrong. The goodness and mercy of God that had followed him throughout life persuaded him in troubled times to fight the good fight, finish his course and keep the faith. The lesson he teaches us is that God’s steadfast goodness toward the child of God is a means of grace in keeping us steadfast.
In Psalm 16, David expresses an unshaken trust in God. In this psalm of trust, King David has made God his refuge, David takes shelter in the Almighty (Psa. 16:1). His trust and confidence rests on a strong belief in God’s goodness. God is the source of all goodness in David’s life, God’s goodness has worked itself out in kind providences, and God’s goodness extends beyond this life to the next, where fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore are to be found (Psa. 16:2, 5-6, 9-11). For David, a sure and solid belief in God’s goodness was the foundation upon which faith constructed its confidence in the present, and for the future (Psa. 21:3; 23:6; 34:8-10; 52:1; 84:11).
Recognizing, recounting and relishing God’s goodness is a necessary discipline in the exercise of faith. It is a bulwark against fear and anxiety. I say that because fear tends to corrode our confidence in God’s goodness. Think about the frightened disciples in the boat on Galilee in the midst of the storm, and how they woke Jesus to the words, “Teacher, do You not care that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, and a storm of anxieties. Remember that the original sin in Eden was tied to the serpent raising the question as to whether God has our best interests at heart (Gen. 3:1-7).
Like Polycarp, we must stand up to life and death, girded by a strong conviction that God is undeniably good. When fear begins to erode our confidence in God’s goodness, we need to remind ourselves that God is good (Psalm 119:68); does good (Psa. 119:68); stockpiles good things for His people (Psa. 31:19); and can turn bad things to good ends (Psa. 119:71).
In bad times, and through bad things, let us remember that God is good, does good, and works all things together for good (Rom 8:28).