Sunday, November 16, 2008

God is Good...all the time?

In Genesis, Scripture tells us that the first thing God did after He created the universe and everything in it was to observe all He had done and conclude that it was “very good.” The goodness was not something inherent in creation nor was it some randomly acquired characteristic. That creation was “very good” was and is a by-product of the fact that God the Creator is very good. And yet this essential goodness that is a part of God’s character was questioned early on by His crowning achievement: man. Helped along by the serpent, man questioned why God would want to withhold something (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) from His creation. Though everything in the garden was perfect, the vegetation, the animals, the weather, and most notably man’s communion with God, Adam and Eve nevertheless chose to indulge in the one thing they were told to avoid. Something happened in that moment that would forever infect man with the propensity to question God’s goodness. In a sense that is what sin is: calling into question God’s utter goodness. We take things we should not take, linger on thoughts we should resist, and embrace habits we should shun all because we believe these will provide for us something that God has failed to give. Our sin, among other things, is a bold declaration of our disbelief in the goodness of God.

The serpent in the garden was not stupid. He knew if he could lead mankind to call God’s goodness into question it would place a wedge between God and man that would not easily be removed. How can we trust someone whose goodness we question? How can we honor and love someone we do not trust? When God told the Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land, we are told that they trembled at the thought because the inhabitants of the land were so powerful and fierce. They cried out, “The Lord hates us so He brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us” (Dt. 1:27). We read those words and shake our heads at the Israelite’s lack of faith. We wonder how anyone, particularly God’s people, could actually think that God hates them. And yet, what bitter waters flow through the private corners of our mind when our dreams crash, our health fails, our job disappears, or a loved one contracts cancer? Do we not sometimes find ourselves toying with the idea that God’s intentions toward us are less than good?

Our problem is that we have a fundamentally flawed definition of goodness. We call a person good if they make us feel good. We call a circumstance good if it makes us feel good. The people who make our list of closest friends are there primarily because they do things that make us happy. We apply the same standard to God. If God is good and in control then certainly He will purpose for us only those things that are pleasant. When we think like this our faith rests on very shaky ground. The crises of life, be they major or minor, begin to slowly erode our confidence in God. Oh for the faith of Job who, in the face of devastating heart break, cried out, “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him!” Eli is another example of this kind of thick confidence in God’s goodness. Angered by the wickedness of Eli’s sons, God brought judgment down upon his entire family. Upon learning of the Lord’s judgment from Samuel, Eli confessed, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes” (I Sam 3:18). Eli understood that God is a better judge of what is truly good than is sinful man.

God is good all the time. God is doing us good when He convicts us of our sin because He is committed to our sanctification. When God disciplines us He is doing us good because “the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Heb. 12:6). God is doing good to us when He humbles us.
“In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.”
Dt. 8:16
God is doing us good when he prunes us. One of the things I cannot quite get used to doing is pruning my trees. It seems so counterintuitive to cut off new and vibrant growth. That is, however, exactly what is required if greater and fuller growth is to occur. When God cuts away things in my life that seem good to me I must understand that He is making a way for greater growth and that is always for my good. God’s ancient promise to His people in Jeremiah 32:40 still stands: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them.” Whether we know it or not, whether we feel like it or not, God has not stopped doing us good.


Mainline Mom said...

I know God is good all the time, but I'm struggling with explaining this, along with my faith in God's sovereignty, to my Grandfather. I know he understands the gospel message and believes in salvation by faith, but that's about where it ends. He now believes God can't be sovereign because he wouldn't have taken his two sons away from him at such a young age (my dad and my uncle both died of heart failure at 49 and 51). I can't seem to talk about God's grace and sovereignty with him without him bursting into tears. *sigh* And yet I believe one of the major reasons God called me to Houston was to witness to my own grandparents.

Todd Pruitt said...

Wow. That's heavy stuff.

Too many of us have been raised with a concept of reality that credits God with the pleasant things but "protects" God from any involvment in the unpleasant things that happen to us. I understand that impulse.

After any tragedy there are the voices that say, "Don't blame God. He had nothing to do with this." I understand how that sounds comforting at first. But inevitably we have to ask, "Then where was He?"

If God could have stopped an aweful incident but chose not to then why did He choose to sit by and just let it happen? How can a God who is able and desires to stop tragedies but does not be considered good?

I find that the only comfort in tragedy is the God who reveals himself in Scripture as the One who is sovereign over all. He is sovereign over the weather, wild animals, blindness, seemingly random acts, the hearts of kings, etc.

Is there mystery in this? Absolutely. But we are not lost in the mystery. We see through a glass dimly but we see enough to know that God is in control.

Harley A. said...

It is interesting how we are so prone to reject the only comfort we can have - that God is sovereign. I mean, if He can't control my circumstances, He surely can't save my soul can he?

And we forget what He did to His own son for our good...

All of this is so easy for ME to say not having gone through what your grandfather has - I realize that. But it is so important for us to teach this and reflect on this NOW so that we are grounded in the truth when the trials do come and the enemy is ready to attack...

Mainline Mom said...

Yeah, God's sovereignty absolutely is my comfort in all things, even tragedy like my dad's death. But I have trouble conveying that without upsetting him. And part of it is my personality, which is slightly stoic and maybe comes off as cold to some people, although really it's just that peace I have and ability to let go of the past easily and accept change. Anyway it makes for some challenging conversations.

Todd Pruitt said...

Christians grieve. We see that all of tragedy is in one way or another a result of man's sinful rebellion against God. The tragedy is profound. That is why we weep at the death of a loved one. Not only do we miss them terribly but we also see their death as evidence of our sad expulsion from the garden.

Nevertheless we do not grieve as those without hope. We do not weep as those who cannot see the dawn.

A great book that deals with these kinds of themes is Michael Horton's "Too Good to be True." Also, for pastoral guidance from the Psalms, Sinclair Ferguson's "Deserted by God?"