What did God mean when he looked at his creation and “saw that it was good”? If you asked ten Christians you might get ten answers!
As Christians, we need to take a deeper look at the important concept of “goodness.” Genesis 1-2 is a logical starting point. In these chapters we find the word “good” twelve times!
Genesis treats “good” as a key concept, again and again telling the reader, “God saw that it was good.” Here, God is not giving a divine command, but merely a description. By God’s standard, the world is actually good.
So, what is God’s standard? What fact was God observing when he saw that it was good? And what would it have meant if God said, “It is not good”? Genesis 2 answers both of these questions.
Let’s take an inductive approach to understanding goodness. We’ll start at Gen 2:9a.
“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
In order to mean anything, the concept “good” must be attached to a person and a purpose. Notice, the trees were good for food, for Adam to eat.
The person: Adam
The purpose: To eat, to sustain his own life
God observed a fact relative to man’s survival needs, and he used the word “good.” The Bible’s first “not good” also relates to man’s survival needs:
Gen 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
What standard is God using to judge “goodness”? On the face of it, at least, this goodness is an aspect of reality in relation to man. It means “helpful for man’s life.”
The word can also mean more than “helpful for man’s life.” But let us look deeply at the particular meaning found in the chapter. In this case at least, we may conclude that when God saw that it was good, he was seeing the relationship of the world to man.
The light was good for man. The earth and seas, the plants, the celestial bodies, the living creatures, they were good. The gold of the land was good, as was the food. All these created things were good for man.
But in Gen 1:31 we see God’s evaluation of everything that he had made: “And behold, it was very good.” Now God’s evaluation includes mankind.
Since God has said mankind itself is good, here, “good” means more than “helpful for man.” If, before, the term meant “useful to some person,” then what person is mankind useful for? God evaluates mankind as useful to his own purposes.
Since man serves a purpose for God, all that which is useful to mankind is also ultimately useful to God. I could speculate as to whether God would have had a use for a world without mankind in it. But, clearly, God’s immediate purpose in creating the world was to give mankind a home.
When we say “the world is good,” we have two specific, distinct meanings: 1) the world is useful for man’s life, and 2) the world and man are useful for God’s purposes.