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.
She 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.
As 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.
It’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.
I 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.