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.


“Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written?” (Grandpa from The Princess Bride)

             As a young person you have expectations. You expect the world to work in certain ways. You expect life to be fair. You expect good things will equal good things. You expect things to make sense. The world is mainly colored in black and white. Your dreams are attainable and the world is what you make of it.

            Some, the lucky few, continue on believing this because they have never been forced to acknowledge the unreality of it. The rest of us, we step from the idealism of youth into reality, and reality is not what we expected it to be.

            Life is not black and white. It is filled with shades of gray. You almost never get what you deserve and often get what you don’t deserve (often in a not so good way!). Good deeds often do not lead to good things even though they should. And bad things happen even to the best of people.

            Like so many others who have tried to do the “right” thing, I find myself in a place of disillusionment. My idealism wrestles with reality and I look for answers to life size questions but no answers seem to be found. You can hear the question echoing through the centuries from untold numbers, “Where is God in the midst of this pain (injustice or substitute whichever word fits your life)?”

            I was a good girl. Not perfect, but I always tried to do the right thing. Not only that, I went the extra mile. I went to some of the darkest places on the planet trying to do the little bit I could. Did this stop my daughter from dying? Did it stop my world from falling apart? Did it put me on a path of gumdrops and lollipops where everything is happy and the sun never stops shining? Absolutely not.

            Even after our daughter died, we were hit by more hard times. The church where we had found our life’s meaning didn’t know what to do with us. Our daughter was not a great testimony to God’s miraculous healing powers, but rather our testimony shined the light on the still unanswered question of the ages. “Why does God allow bad things to happen to his children?” The church, being uncomfortable with questions they cannot answer, became uncomfortable with us as reminders of those unanswered questions. And so, when we needed the church the most, we became invisible.

            I wish I had the answer. Sadly, even after wrestling with this question for eight years, I am no closer to coming to an adequate answer. Still, existence without God makes no logical sense to me. I have looked at it from every possible angle. God MUST exist.

             Adding to this the fact that most of us will know pain and suffering at some point in our lives, I have to come to the conclusion that this too has its purpose. Why some have so much more pain than others I cannot say, but the fact that there is something essential to human nature in suffering seems undeniable to me.

             I have to conclude that it is not profitable to avoid pain, no matter how badly we may want to do just that. Instead, I think we must accept the pain when it comes as best as we can and allow the pain to morph us into something better and more useful than untried “pie in the sky” optimism.

             I can’t help but think of the line from the Princess Bride: “Life isn’t fair highness, anyone who says anything different is selling something.” (Wesley)

             Though we know this cognitively, we still expect that life will be fair anyway. Because it should be.  And when it isn’t . . . well, it leaves us disillussioned, disappointed and filled with angst.

             I miss my idealism. Sometimes, I actually long for it. And I hate pain. Asolutely.   Hate.     It.    And yet, I will not allow its presence in my life, and all the unanswered questions that go with it, to delude me. My life has a purpose, and this pain that I feel is not anti that purpose or God would not have allowed it.

             I’ve grown up enough to know that most of us have pain we have shoved (and tried to hide) in the closet of our lives. It is not unique to you and it is not unique to me (though I sometimes have to remind myself of that!). It is part of the human experience. I wish I had the answer to why He hasn’t made the universe fair, but I don’t. What I do know is that you are not alone and it certainly does not mean that God does not see you or that He does not care. He does, even if our circumstances make it feel otherwise.

UPDATE: Ironically, I wasn’t writing this from that place of pain. I was more writing it because I know there are people out there who feel what I felt and I don’t want them to feel alone in that place. Most of us visit that place in different seasons of our lives. I guess I was hoping that maybe someone could gain from what I’ve learned. Apparently I didn’t do a good job of getting that across. Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts, but I’m okay right now. Really. 🙂