What Does “Good” Mean?

In my last post I wrote that 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.

Today I want to generalize and discuss the full meaning of “good.”

Moses Viewing the Promised Land

Let’s start with the most simple meaning: “good” can mean “useful.” A tree can be good for food. A pen can be good for writing. Here, “good” means functional.

We see good used in the basic way in Deut 8:7.

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs…”

The people of Israel sought a land to call home, and God pointed them to the promised land. We can generalize that to call an object “good” is to say it is useful for some person, for some goal.

Notice that “goodness” has meaning only within the context of particular, individual people. “Good” always means “good for someone.”

Notice also that good is a concept, a tool used specifically by humans, but not by animals, nor plants. As humans, we may speak of what is good for an animal or a plant; but animals and plants seek their needs without using the concept “good.”

“Goodness” is a category needed by men with rational minds, men who must project plans into the future and think in generalizations. Israel needed “a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs” good for an agricultural way of life.

For man, the good must be grasped by reason. Man’s life consists of planning and producing, so in order for an object to be good, the individual man must be able to grasp its usefulness. When an object is useful to an individual, and when he grasps it, then it is “good”—good for him.

We arrive at a definition of the good.

The good for an individual is that which he correctly grasps to be factually useful to the needs of his own life.