God has not left himself without witness to his goodness and mercy. His goodness to all people is evident in all creation, even though we might not recognise it or give him credit. Since creation, and despite the fall, God hasn’t withdrawn his mercy from the things he made. Theologians call this God’s common grace. In this article I will be reflecting on God’s goodness, which is shown to all people. As we do this God’s generous character will come into clearer view.

God’s Unmerited Goodness Towards Creation

As I’ve said, regardless of their relationship to God, all humans enjoy God’s goodness. His common grace. Paul refers to it in Lystra, when he addressed people that didn’t know God. He says, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Paul argues that it is God who met the day to day needs of the people at Lystra. Yet they possessed no knowledge of God.

All humans enjoy God’s goodness. His common grace.

Jesus also referred to God’s common grace, in the sermon on the mount. He teaches that God is merciful to all people regardless of their moral status. By this point he encourages his disciples to do the same. Jesus says, “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). To this day, God continues to show us this mercy and grace. This is both for our joy and to glorify his name.

Our Response to Common Grace

However, similarly to God’s glory in creation, we turn this common grace into idolatry (Romans 1:18-23). The Bible teaches throughout that even though we enjoy God’s common grace in rain, fruitful seasons, various pleasures, and the very gift of life itself, our praise and thanksgiving is usually directed to whatever idol within our differing worldviews has taken the place of God.

We see an example of this in Acts 14, in how the people of Lystra respond to a miracle. In an act of unmerited mercy, God uses Paul to heal a man born crippled. But instead of giving God the glory, they ascribe it to their gods. They say, “‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ Barnabas, they called Zeus, and Paul, they called Hermas, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:11-12). Paul and Barnabas tried to reason with them, using God’s common grace as evidence to their message and the miracle (Acts 14:15-17). However, “they scarcely restrained the crowd from offering sacrifice to them” (Acts 14:18).

Similarly to God’s glory in creation, we turn common grace into idolatry.

This response should not shock us. For it reflects their worldview, what they believed about God. They gave the glory to their gods, in light of their traditional and cultural beliefs. Before Christ, we did the same.

We All Worship Something

As I write this article, the mountains of Khatebe look splendidly green. The Lord blessed Lesotho with a good rainy season. In March, fields of crops had grown. In fact, many people had already started harvesting and selling their maize. One could say that this year is going to be very fruitful, that the people are going to be satisfied and glad, and God will receive the glory for his goodness. Though this will be true for many Christians in Lesotho, for most it will not be the case. Where traditional African beliefs are held, the ancestors will be honoured. Communities will believe the harvest is a result of a blessing spoken by a sangoma.

This response is not unique to the people of Lesotho, or even African Traditional Religions (ATR). Because God’s common grace is experienced apart from any special knowledge or relationship with God, people respond similarly throughout the world. We attribute glory to whatever entity within our worldview has taken the place of God.

We attribute glory to whatever entity within our worldview has taken the place of God.

Whatever we believe has authority over the world receives our honour, praise, and faith. The same can be said about atheists. Even though they might not acknowledge it. In their worldview, the big bang gets the glory for creation. Time, through evolution, gets the glory for human life. Therefore, every worldview that does not acknowledge God as the source of life, rain, fruitful seasons, and good health, ascribes glory to something or someone.

Thankfully, God Is Gracious

Remarkably, God continues to demonstrate his goodness and mercy, He does this despite knowing that many will not recognise it. He does it regardless of our relationship with him. His common grace is not adjusted according to how good or evil we are. For, in the end, it is grace. As Jesus said, “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”