A New Definition of Good

A friend of mine received bad news the other day. She has had a lot of bad, difficult, and painful things happen in her life. More than the average person for sure.

angryShe was angry. She was angry at the world, and most of all, she was angry at God. She publicly questioned the goodness of God. She pointed out the inconsistency, the unfairness, the disproportionate pain and difficulty even among Christians. Her conclusion, in that moment, was that God was not good.

Last week was my daughter Serena’s birthday. She would be fifteen years old this year. She’s been gone for fourteen years, and I still miss her every day. I too, most certainly have, at times, questioned the goodness of God.

Like my friend, I have not failed to notice the disproportionate amount of suffering some have to walk through when compared to so many others. Like my friend, it has caused me to question the goodness of God. But unlike my friend, despite the pain and suffering that I have walked through, that I am currently walking through, and that I, no doubt, will have to walk through in the future–still I say–God is good.

God is good all of the time.

It is our definition of what “good” means that has to change.

heroes_vs_villains_mediumAs human beings, we have an inbred sense of fairness, of justice. Jung liked to call them archetypes. It is the idea that if I do good things, good things will happen to me. Evil deeds on the other hand will be punished. If I treat people fairly, I will myself be treated fairly.

The problem is, despite these deep-seeded instincts, that’s not the way the world works.

And it’s not the way God works.

As I mentioned in my last blog, God is not all that concerned with our comfort. In fact, the Bible is abundantly clear that a walk with Christ is a walk of suffering. He talks of refiner’s fire, and he talks of needing our roots to go to deep to find the streams underground so that we can survive the times of drought. He talks of making a way in the wilderness–he doesn’t say he’ll remove the wilderness, but that He will make a way through it.

And yet, the Bible also says that God is good. His goodness is not altered, affected or diminished by the suffering we walk through.

How can that be?

Logically, it must mean that the suffering itself is good for us. Remember, God’s goal is not our comfort, our prosperity, or our happiness. His goal is our transformation.

Our transformation happens in the fires of suffering.

82e36afee241e4603f100c1355976f28It’s easy to say. It’s easy to preach the necessity of suffering. It’s easy to see the truth of it–but it’s mach harder to do it. To not only walk through it (often we have little choice in the matter), but to embrace it.

My personal world is in upheaval right now. The truth is, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself the other night. I don’t deserve what I’m going through. I was a good girl, who made good choices. I’ve always sought God’s will. I’ve never done drugs. I don’t get drunk. I didn’t have sex before marriage. I don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I am a basically good person who has tried to help people in need. Sure, I lose my temper sometimes, and sometimes I can be selfish, and sometimes lazy, but in the scope of things, I am a good person and I don’t deserve all this pain.

Like my friend, I was feeling full of self pity. My pain was unfair. Since I was twenty I have walked through one difficulty after another. It was unjust. Poor, picked on me.

But that same night, my daughter began to cry. She opened up about her own struggles with the goodness of God. She didn’t understand why she had to walk through this, when her friends didn’t have to walk through anything. She always tries to do what’s right, and yet, instead of being rewarded, here she is having to walk through a season of suffering and her friends don’t, even though her friends so often make wrong choices. Such hard truths to struggle with at the age of ten!

It’s hard to explain what I felt in this moment. I felt a little bit like God had called me on the carpet. The truth is, I knew exactly what God would say to this–we should not compare our lives to the lives of others, because what God has for us is not what He has for them. That God is not concerned with our comfort or our happiness, but rather our transformation. That life isn’t fair, that God never said it was, and He isn’t concerned about the “fairness” of it at all.

Shame on me for wallowing in self pity when I know the truth!

And shame on me for not living it in a way that my daughter can see the truth through my life.

I held my daughter as she cried, and I explained these hard truths to her, and I prayed with her.

I didn’t pray for her comfort or for her protection, though my mother’s heart very much wanted to do just that.

I prayed for God’s will in her life. I prayed that God would give her strength in the difficulties. Faith in the darkness. And the eyes to see the goodness of God even when all around her seemed to call that very goodness into question.

Facebook-20140427-123611I prayed that God’s will would be done. And I know what that means.

But, I want the best for my daughter, not the easiest–just like God does for me.

The easiest is very rarely the best. The best takes work. The best is hard. It is often painful. Sometimes it’s downright awful.

But, just as my prayer for Arabelle, God wants the best for me–for us.

And doing what’s right, even when it hurts, that is the definition of good.

I’m pretty sure it hurts God’s heart, just like it hurt mine, but he knows it’s best.

And yet again, I need to trust that my Father knows best.

So yes, God is good–all of the time.

God, help me to see your goodness, not as a measure of what you’ve done for me, not as a measure of what I have or do not have, but for who you are–a God who walks with me through my pain and through my suffering so that I can get to the other side and be transformed.

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24 thoughts on “A New Definition of Good

  1. Stress: the interpretation of specific events called stressors that are perceived as threatening or challenging- aka college. It’s my freshman year and let me tell you- this is not what I imagined it to be like. It’s nothing like the movies where the freshman suddenly finds a sorority, parties every weekend and still manages to make good grades. No, it’s more like me asking myself if today is going to be the day I just can’t do it anymore. I see so many of my other friends from high school at big fancy universities with a bunch of friends and always seeming to be having a good time, and I often think to myself “why couldn’t that have been me?” or “why isn’t it that easy for me?” It’s my freshman year of college, I’m supposed to be exploring a new city, a new atmosphere and going to my school’s football games on Saturdays. But instead I’m more lost than ever before, and constantly stressed about tuition, work, and grades. Some days my stress response kicks me in the butt. I too question God’s goodness in hard times- especially when I’ve pulled an all nighter studying and still don’t pass a test. I get depressed and think “why me and not them?” like Arabelle. But on those good days, when I wake up and am not very tempted to crawl in a ball under my covers and I remember all the good God has done in my life, my stressors seem to be put on the back burner and life is bearable again. Even if only for a few hours when I forget about my stress of school and my personal life I am ten times more happy. On these days I physically emotionally and mentally feel better- the positive affects of stress.
    -Jasmine Homer Gen Psych CO3

  2. This ties into the chapter of stress and healthy psychology. I myself have gone through a lot starting at a young age. Sometimes I have also questioned God and asked “why me?” I have such a great big heart and couldn’t understand why these things were happening. Even though it was obstacle after obstacle, I knew I couldn’t give up on God because one thing I knew for sure was that he works wonders and I couldn’t lose hope just yet. I’m a firm believe in the saying “everything happens for a reason”, so that made me look at the good in things and not the bad. Also when things get tough, people tend to think that they have an external locus of control when in reality, they have an internal locus of control, but just don’t know how to work with it. After all, from all the things that I went through I realised that I’m very strong and I’m amazed at how far I’ve come because I never gave up.

  3. Marisa Horne
    Gen. Psychology 2301.C05
    First off I wanted to say that this was perfect for me today because I’ve been feeling like I’ve been doing everything right, but why am I struggling. Additionally, this brought me back to when you lectured about individuals, feeling as though they are the only ones who are going through things. When really there are people out there going through the same thing, if not more. You explained that this could lead to depression, which eventually affects your health. Also, how I’d you think positive you’ll feel better, even it means forcing a smile on your face.

  4. cc; professor Graham Psyc C04
    I personally think that a definition of “good” mainly depends on an individuals belief, that is to say if they either have an internal or external locus of control. individuals with external locus of control will always try to find a “good” in every situation they go through regardless the difficulties associated with them. And on the other hand individuals with internal locus of control only define good when everything works their way. Though in most cases individuals tend to have both beliefs.

    • Not necessarily. Also, believing in the ultimate authority of God does not exempt one from having an internal locus of control. Also, an internal locus of control does not mean that things have to go well all the time. It is more the idea that when things don’t go well, you can find ways to grow from them.

  5. Hello Professor Graham. This is Kieron Fassitt from your 10 am Gen. Psych C04 class. I think this topic relates to an internal or external locus of control. I personally am more of an internal locus type of person so whenever I encounter difficult times, I look inward for solutions. However, for me this hasn’t always been the case. I grew up in a very religious family and household, and I was raised to believe in God and look to him for all the answers. As I have grown older, through my own experiences, I have grown away from that way of thinking. I still believe in a higher power, but I no longer look solely to that for answers or solutions. Now, I ask my ancestors to guide my steps and I firmly believe that everything that i need is within me. Now when I encounter difficult times, I actively try to figure out a solution myself while also looking for the lesson in the situation.

    • I would argue that I do have an internal locus of control–I don’t think being a Christian and recognizing God’s hand in your life means that you believe that you are at the mercy of fate. There are certain things that God dictates, but He gives us a whole lot of free will too. Pre-destined, yes, but also free will. Life is so often not as easy as either or. Again, it is a case of both/and! 🙂

  6. As a christian woman, God is good ALL the time is something I can agree on and completely understand that his goal is our transformation. We all at times tend to fall short and lose sight of what is true and that is the word of God and his love for us. He will carry us through all, though he may test our waters he will never let us drown and fail. He gives us opportunity for the things we desire, he will never directly give you the things you want/need. My mom tells me all the time, whenever I am going through a hard time, “He only gives his strongest soldiers the hardest battles, but will never put things on your plate that he knows you couldn’t handle.” This gets me through it all. Perception, is key. When it comes to hardships and that is what I can relate to from our Gen Psych class.

    -Niyanta Marfatia Gen. Psych 2301 C04

  7. I agree that the conclusion that God is not good is wrong. In your class, I’ve learned that failures are what often lead to success. If God has failed you on one thing, he is sure to bring you success at some point in your lifetime. Whether something is just not meant to be, or it’s beyond your capabilities, God will help guide you in the right direction. You are right in saying that God is not concerned with our comfort, and I believe that he is concerned for our well-beings. Whether you feel that he has failed you or not, God has a path for you that you should trust.

  8. Having faith in our father is also having faith in his timing.He knew I needed to read this today. We all need reminders at times that we are not alone in our suffering. I grew up learning from my parents as your daughter is learning from you. I learned that our father is good all the time and that despite the pain we experience he knows what is best for us. I truly enjoyed reading this and it helped me. I can’t thank you enough.

    Sharon Coronado
    Gen Psych C05

  9. Dulcie Church Gen Psych C05.

    This article relates back to stress and health psychology. I think it is important to look at how we handle our stress. When I was in Jr. High my family had some major health issues. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and at the same time my dad had a heart attack. SO while I was in school for a while both of my parents were in the hospital. During this time I was staying with a family friend with my brother. I was still going to school, but wasn’t really doing well because of everything going on. I would often question “Why me?” Although because of this I have learned how to deal with my stress better. The way that we deal with our stress can help our health in a lot of ways. When looking back at the whole situation, I think it has helped me deal with the smaller stressors in my life.

  10. When I read this blog, I connected with myself in so many ways. Just the other day, I was talking to a good friend of mine about how I’ve had my fair share of hardships with the lord. I questioned him so many times in my life, about why my dad had to send my mom away, and why he had to divorce her. I too questioned why bad things happen to good people. But it’s like she said, “God is not all that concerned with our comfort. In fact, the Bible is abundantly clear that a walk with Christ is a walk of suffering.” I agree that suffering is good for us because life is not supposed to be easy. Reading this was a wake up call for me, especially when I read that “what God has for us is not what He has for them.” Life is not fair, and God never said that it was. – Alyssa Valdez Gen. Psych 2301 C04

  11. Brittanie Price
    Professor Graham
    Gen psych 2301 12:00-12:50

    I agree with what you are saying 100%. It is easy to let a hard situation challenge your emotions. When being a Christian I full heartedly believe that one needs to grasp the concept of God is good, however, he cannot be rewarding you everyday all day. You are challenged with pain to learn how to endure and get through it. Not to simply bring you down to depression, it’s to build you up; pain is to make you stronger. Faith is tested by weakness and the hard times. Remaining to still trust in God even though you are faced with challenges tests your faith.

  12. Hello Professor Graham. This is Brittany Blakemore who is in your PSYC 2301.CO3 course at 10am. I can definitely relate to this article as I feel many others can as well. I remember reading a quote once saying God gives the hardest battles to His strongest soldiers. I feel He gives us struggles to teach us how to decipher between right and wrong and wants us to do what is right regardless of what option may seem more fun. These obstacles can add a lot of stress. Stress, as we learned in class, the interpretation of specific events called stressors that are perceived as threatening or challenging. We often respond to stress in anger or depression, but we cannot let challenges change who we are or what we believe in. God is good even when we do not believe it. God does everything for a reason, even if the reason is unknown. We just need to trust in Him, especially when times are tough. Stress is only an obstacle, but how we deal with stress can lead to irreversible outcomes; therefore, doing what is right is the best thing to do even if it does not seem like it at the time. God has a plan and everything will work out how it is suppose to.

  13. This completely hit me on a personal level, and latley ive been thinking ” is he really up there?” I know thats not the way i should look at things but it was truly hard, im struggling in school, work and home life and sometime i just feel like throwing in the towel, so this ties into stress, and stress is good even though you might not see it yet its just preparing you for things to come. I know it’s hard sometime but i just have to push through it and get over the stress and try to rewire my brain to see stress as a good thing and not that God is just out to get me.
    Heaven Harris Psyc 2301.c03

  14. Hello professor Graham, this is Jennifer Loya from General Psychology 2301 C03. I agreed that God is good all the time. As a christian I do believe that god is way bigger than anything. Last week in my church I learned that when the enemy comes, praise god to get lifted up. “Nothing defeats depression and discouragement better than praise.” In the book of Acts its amazing how after all the tragedies, individuals still had the ability to praise God. Like you said tragedy is not how God works. God is good all the time. There is evil in this world, but god always has a plan. This relates to psychology by the way that many individuals might feels anxious causing the pain to get worst. If a person is anxious it keep a person mad or upset until looking at the situation in another way. If someone holds so much pain it can cause a individual to die. Yes, you might be mad at the Devil, but there are things that we can’t understand why it happen. God always has an answer for everything. I was in a similar situation about 3 weeks ago. My friends dad was on a coma, and some friend and I from church went to pray for him. After taking his breathing tube off doctors had said he will only live for minutes, but he lasted over 10 hours and we had hope for a miracle. At this point we were all thankful to god, but after 3 more hours he had died. I was super mad at the Devil and didn’t understand why it happened. This are exactly what my pastor said, “God is way grater and powerful than the Devil, God has a plan for everything. We might not understand why?, but his reason is way grater then us to understand. So yes, God is good all the time. All the time God is GOOD.

  15. I find it very interesting that I chose this one to comment on. I say this because I was questioning the exact same things that your daughter was. I’ve never understood how my friends, who do so much more than I do, seem to be rewarded for what I am punished for. This post really opened my eyes, so I would like to say thank you for that. I understand, at the very least, how and why we aren’t receiving the same responses. We’re on different journeys, and like two people don’t like the same foods, two people won’t end up the same lessons, in a sense.

    We often base our vision of God off of what HE has done FOR others and has done FOR us, a sort of extrinsic motivation, if you will. If we don’t sin and we stay on track, God will reward US with something we’ve been asking for; the same applies for punishment. We don’t pay attention to His will and try to take it on ourselves. Our sights for His will are out of order and we do everything for the wrong reason. I, myself, am learning that, just as you said in the blog, God has a plan and he knows what’s best, even if it isn’t fair. I’ve been through a lot and knowing that He is a forgiving and fierce protector comforts me more than anything because I know that in the end, I’ll be okay.

  16. God has an unconditional positive regard – Rodger’s term for love and acceptance with no contingencies attached. We use classical conditioned learning during our Christian journey. We learn to keep the faith no matter what we’ve been through which is confirms in us that God is good all the time. We learn to pray for strength and understanding in others as well as ourselves. The extrinsic motivation we gain is from knowing that one day after a job well done we will make it to heaven.

  17. Professor Graham, this is Elizabeth Smith from general psych-2301.C05.

    I think this blog post can relate to stress and positive affect. Though God allows difficult times, he wants us to become resilient while leaning on him every step of the way. When we let the stress of a situation take over us, we aren’t fully leaning on God because if we were, we would have minimal worries if any. I believe God gave us a smile for a reason. Just like we learned about in class, it heals us from the outside in. I think this part of positive affect is easy to see in children. Kids could be crying and screaming their butts off one minute, and then smiling and perfectly fine the next minute. The slightest thing that distracts them and sparks a smile makes them forget about the afflictions from only a moment ago.

    Also this post relates to internal and external locus of control. I often have to explain to non believers that though I believe in an all powerful God, I have an internal locus of control. He gave us the free will and the right to make our own choices and control our own destiny, while offering guidance. If we were without free will, then we would all have an external locus of control. (But I thank God that isn’t reality) 😀

  18. Hi professor, this is Madisen Lorenzo.

    I really enjoyed reading this blog because I think every God follower could agree that they have this struggle. I think this goes along with stress and coping mechanisms in Psychology. Stress can cause many individuals to loose track of their true selves and turn into something else temporarily. Each person handles stress a bit differently, and uniquely. Many people, like myself, try and blame other outside forces for misbehavior. Every person has different coping mechanisms and of course different challenges in their everyday life. How people cope with any day-to-day struggles varies. However, all similar in the fact that they can re-shape the persons way of thinking about something they may have known their entire life, such as God in this case.

  19. Psychology 2301 c05 Thomas Ely

    This work made me think back to when you lectured about stress. You told us only when people are told stress causes health problems do they have health problems when stressed. This shows exactly how powerful the human mind is. Everything is about perspective and attitude. If times are hard you have to get hard, dont look at the challenge as a time to complain and blame God for your struggles. Instead look at these struggles as an opportunity to grow and become better than somebody who isnt given these opportunities to learn and change for the better. Diamonds are only made under pressure.

  20. Hello professor Graham, this is Job Kazenga from General Psychology 2301 C05. I would like to start by saying that I believe that god is good always and always has a plan for everything. I am a christian and I do believe that god’s will makes everything happen for a reason. I think that this post relates to internal and external locus of control in psychology.I have an internal locus of control because I believe that there is much more to life than just birth and death. I believe that the lord and savior Jesus Christ died for our sins which allows to not perish but have everlasting life. I’m not saying if you don’t believe in a higher power that you cant have an internal locus of control, I believe you can have both external and internal in certain situations.

  21. Hello Professor, this is Humza Qureshi from general psychology 2301.C03. I was intending to not necessarily talk about religion however I believe it is a big part in coping with a life changing event in which we have no control over. I recently had an uncle pass away that I was very close with and I looked to a greater power for guidance. I believe that we will always be put in situations that we can handle and that everyone has a destiny. It sounds extremely cliche. But even if that statement is overused its a coping mechanism that has helped me get through hard times. Of course we tell ourselves we can handle anything, because that’s way better than being lost and not being able to stand up after we get knocked down. I enjoy this article a lot because it reinforces beliefs that are currently instilled in me. As far as psychology goes I believe that mechanisms for coping with stress can be applied to the article not only on a social level of seeing friends and simply smiling more but more so on a spiritual level. Religion is used to answer unanswered questions and we often turn to God when things happen that are far out of our control.

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