Is God good?

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I know I’m supposed to think so. After all, the Bible says he is, preachers  preach it, Sunday School teachers declare it. Guilt threatens me when I doubt it.

But is God good? Look at this picture.

My grandmother was as godly a woman as I ever knew. Right before going into brain surgery she took my hand and said, ‘God is good.’ When she woke up from surgery she spent nine years in a state of borderline incoherence and anxiety…a state of confused present tense from which there was no relief but sleep. When she finally died, the preacher said that ‘God had given her a season of rest after serving others for all those years.’

Sorry, Reverend…but nice try.

My grandfather was a Bible church pastor for decades. Before he died, I visited him in the nursing home where he was tied to his chair that sat beneath a plaque of Romans 8:28: ‘All things work together for good.’

Really? I had a lot of trouble with that.

I’m sure you have more terrible stories, and the history of mankind is certainly replete with human suffering. This fact is the greatest obstacle to faith. If you doubt that, walk through a children’s cancer ward and then be honest with yourself.

So now what? Well, I’m just an ordinary man who thinks too much. I’m not a grand theologian, an expert philosopher or sage. So I’ve struggled like most of you, and without benefit of all the resources that don’t seem to help anyway. So here’s a few of my ‘notes to self’ on this whopper of a problem:

First…I expect to learn someday that God was very pleased with those of us who were angry at him for all the misery in this world. Our anger reflects spirits of love and compassion for those whom I do actually very much believe God loves.

Second…the issue is not as simple as it seems. We could just conclude that if evil is, then God isn’t. Or we could believe that evil proves that God is weak, or that he doesn’t really care. It’s actually pretty easy and very tempting to just take that and be done.

But if I’m willing to look more deeply at the world around me, another mystery emerges. I see love. I see people everywhere outraged at suffering and doing all sorts of good things about it. Why outrage? Why not indifference? Why is there love in the universe? Where did it come from? Why is it here? So now I have two mysteries to wrestle with: the presence of evil and the presence of love.

So where does THAT leave me?

Well, what if God is love…just like the Bible says…but that on account of his love he chooses to limit his presence so as to not overwhelm his creation? Overwhelming us would mean turning us and the natural course of his Creation into a robotic playground. Further, what if, for our freedom’s sake, he allows evil to exist? That’s a deep one, but simply said, freedom requires choice, and choice would therefore require the existence of opposing options. Still, the child in this picture does not appear to be the victim of her own choices, and I would like to think that God wouldn’t mess up his universe by intervening more often. Like so many other attempts to explain this mystery, this particular scheme helps a little but is not entirely satisfactory. So, I’m stuck back on mystery.

In fact, the real issue is what do I do with mystery?

I understand that my mind and my spirit are finite. Like an angry child, I don’t have the full picture of all things, I just stomp my feet. Am I willing to recognize this at a meaningful level? If I CAN’T actually figure this problem out…or others…on what basis do I believe things? After all, we all actually do believe SOMETHING.

I thought about this for a very long time. And I still do wrestle. But here’s where I’ve landed, at least for now: I’m left depending on the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Book of Hebrews) who have gone before, who suffered worse, and who still believed in the goodness of God. Facing the mysteries of evil and goodness, I’ve CHOSEN to believe the witnesses of a good God. Further, I find the presence of Love to be more convincing than the presence of Evil. Love wins.

But barely.

I’m still angry when I see pictures like this, and when I remember my grandparents. If that’s weak faith, poor faith, terrible testimony…well so be it. I’ve decided that I’d just rather tell tell the truth than pretend. So here’s my prayer: ‘Lord I believe that you’re good, but help my unbelief.’

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16 Comments

Filed under Random thoughts

16 responses to “Is God good?

  1. Gary W

    Since he seems to be sensitive, please let me first say that I intend no insult to P. Bell. I am sure that he wrote his 8/10 @ 8:57 pm comment in all sincerity and, and that the Scriptures he shared minister to his heart. However, as I was reading his comment, I kept repeating words to myself that Steve Meidahl actually wrote. I was thinking “blah, blah, blah.” Imagine my surprise when I saw that Mr. Meidahl had pre-echoed my very thoughts! Charge me, not P. Bell, with any fault, but sometimes Scripture can be applied in a manner that just does not speak to the at-hand burden of the heart.

    Personally, I have less trouble with God’s passive allowing of all the unjust evil in the world, as awful as it is, than with the idea of what God is said to actively inflict in eternity. There were people in my life who loved me like a second set of parents. They are dead now. According to what I know (and I can only hope my knowledge is incomplete), and according to the evangelical idea of how we are justified, redeemed, saved, etc., it would appear that these people, who I loved and love, are destined to eternal conscious torment. Their good works, the love they lived towards me and many others, will count for nothing so far as eternity is concerned. I am sorry. While I must be careful lest I be justly accused of blasphemy, I cannot see how any of this is compatible with the notion of a just god, with the notion that God is Love.

    I have great difficulty loving such a god. I cannot help but to continue asking the questions.

    • Hi Gary, and thanks so much for writing.
      I’m with you…I see no consistency in a God of love who sends unbelievers into eternal conscious torment. Admittedly, my sentiments are not the arbiter of Truth, yet I am relieved to say that I also don’t see it in Scripture.

  2. Nancy

    thank you for your thoughts – this has been a topic of much interest/ questioning to me as well, since losing my 8 yr old brother to leukemia when I was a young child. I love how Dostoevsky explores this question in The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan’s tirade against a God who allows the suffering of the innocent, and then Dmitri’s dream of the baby, are both provocative. Then, there is the Book of Job. Also, there is a memoir called A Grief Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser, a man who lost his wife, a daughter and his mother in a fatal car accident.

    And, I, for one, appreciate that you have decided to tell the truth. Important.

    • Nancy: nice to hear from you! Yes, Dostoevsky knows how to dig deeply! These questions are important and not easily handled. And, as you can see from some responses, they elicit discomfort. Please keep in touch.

  3. I don’t think questions, doubt, etc is an example of poor faith, terrible testimony and the rest of the labels humans use.

    I think its normal, and since we don’t truly known all there is not know about God? Since chances are we won’t either until its our time to met him? There will be seasons of life that you speak of. He made us, and he knows this. We are all custom made, and each of us will struggle in different ways.

    I had to place my mother in a home this year, because she has dementia. She is young, and was highly intelligent, hard working, and had a strong faith once upon a time. She had many tragic circumstances in her life, and just as many blessings. Those molded her, and I don’t know could be what God wanted her to turn out to be.

    Its heart breaking for us now knowing she no longer knows who we are. That we can’t have a conversation, and hear some of her wisdom anymore. I cry each time I drive home after meeting with hospice, or to help her eat or encourage her to drink just one more Ensure to keep her weight up.

    I guess the brightside to all that is she isn’t suffering, and for some strange reason seems content. She lives in her own little world now, and the everyday bothers or worries are not her’s anymore. The days of her fighting it are over. She seems at peace.

    To me its a cruel way to end, but for some reason God granted her peace at this time. I guess he has his reasons.

    I think at times he realizes that ‘righteous’ anger in humans tends to start to change our worlds, hearts, and minds. That love motivates us to move on things. I see how much our world as evolved. I don’t think its our job to stamp out evil, because we aren’t capable of that. We can try to transform other’s lifes, but there is always another person to take their place. It most certainly is a head scratcher isn’t it?

    I found in my life at times those mysteries had a purpose later on, but some I still have no clue. Doubt the answer will come either. lol I have to wonder at times if it isn’t test of endurance or something! I do believe all of us have customize reasons, journeys and answers. As much as human’s would love to put all of them in a box, and answer all the questions? Its just not possible. I guess it makes them feel better to do so.

    My faith does give me some relief knowing that my father – who passed away – and all those other’s in my life that are gone – are at peace now and forever. I picture all their wounds healed, and their hearts filled with love. Its not a pipe dream for me, and most days it helps me deal with the uglies. I do pray each day that God takes mother, but that is more due to my suffering than her’s. I guess in a way I use the visual of my ‘sane’ mother once upon a time that can’t be happy the way she is. How I want her to have her wounds healed, and her life filled with God’s love instead of the world of dementia.

    They call this disease, “The Long Goodbye”. I wish I didn’t get it so much. I wonder at times if its my own selfishness of wanting that type of pain to end for myself – and my brother. I’m sure on some level it is, but mostly I want my mother to have TRUE kind of peace. I think I will always struggle with WHY God allows this, but I don’t think its due to lack of faith, testimony, etc. I think its part of life’s journey he has in mind for us.

    • Dear Hannah,
      I’m so sorry to hear of your mother’s situation. Your tender and authentic story is such an inspiration to me, and I’m sure to others who will read it. Indeed, understanding our journey as including struggle is an important reminder that we share in the sufferings of Jesus in many different ways. In the end, we look to peace in his promises. I wish that for your mother, for you, and all those who love her in the here and now, as well as forever.

      Thanks for writing.

  4. Cheryle

    Everything has a season, unfortunately we think the seasons should operate on our desires…where were we when everything about life was being formed…yet we live like our creations are being altered…respect for a higher being is humbling. We wonder why the world is the way it is…it starts with our attitude. There is not respect anymore for anyone…and we treat the lack of respect like it’s normal. Whether there is a God or not…the guidance given in the Bible for a good life is truth…but there are those who act like Satan and want to challenge the goodness and mightiness of God. Everyone suffers with that attitude. Freedom of speech is not free. We influence a lot people with our words…and when those words are negative they produce negative fruit. If more of us put into practice the virtues of God, our lives and our world would different.

    • Cheryle,

      Thank you for writing. The more voices in the conversation the better!
      I would prefer to assume that you don’t think asking questions is somehow an alliance with Satan. In my humble opinion, asking questions is the way we engage a God who is not easy to understand; it is a way to give voice and expression to very real tensions between the reality of our lives and the hope found in the Scriptures.

  5. Valerie Parent

    I respect your line of questioning, I did that before too. I learned that the Rain falls on the Just and Unjust alike, and that’s all there is to it. There’s natural laws that God put into effect and that’s all. Faith doesn’t determine the outcome unless there is a supernatural miracle, which doesn’t always happen. Life is what you choose it to be, God doesn’t make puppets. Love is what we give, and we are God’s hands here on earth.

    • Hi Valerie,
      And welcome! I accept your defense of natural laws in the universe. And I accept that God neither makes puppets, nor intervenes on a regular basis to upset the natural order. It is surely easier to simply accept the way the rain falls, as you say. Sometimes childlike faith is, indeed, a relief. However, for many it is only a comfort when they are not personally facing death, unemployment, injustice, and so forth. I think for them, the question deserves deep reflection. However, what do we discover when we probe a mystery? More mystery! Since faith is a gift, perhaps the ultimate resolution is to simply ask for more and more faith.

  6. P. Bell

    Well, figure this… What were you doing in all the time your granny wasnt sick or your grandpa wasnt sick. Did you think of God then? Were you seeking his face/presence? Or even, did you know him/ in fellowship with? What and how did you take part in the restoration of your grandparents? The bible says we are to pray for one another, if one in the body of Christ hurts, the whole body hurts with them, if the body of Christ rejoice, the whole body rejoices- were you interceding with your whole body?

    So many times we question God’s goodness/ his presence Instead of questioning ourselves, even when we have experienced it. The bible covers every aspect of the human frailities, needs, and wants. The problem is, as the bible tells us, the flesh is weak, but the spirit is willing. It is a daily dieing to self, killing the flesh and lifting up the holyspirit, reading Gods word, prayer, and fasting that brings us in his presence and prepares us for intercessory breakthrough. It is the power of God that works in us to see, feel, and understand what we cannot in ourselves. We think someone is good because they are of some close kinship to us- looking through an bias eye. The Jesus said to the deciple that called him good, that he was not good but that GOD is good- no man is good. Man was born in sin and until JESUS comes to get his own, this flesh is sinful without the salvation of JESUS Christ.

    No, life in its present state is not easy but Jesus comforts his people. The bible says that his burdens are light and his yolk is easy. The devil pursues God’s people. That is why he tells us as brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for one another; to be ready in season and out of season because you do not know what may come your way. The bible says time and chance happeneth to us all but if you are full of the word of God the storms of this life will not destroy you. The bible says after some trials in life he will establish you. We are to not be wowed and taken by the misfortunate things in this life but to hope in God and be willing and ready to stand with one that might need someone to hold their hand.

    Thessolonians tells us, christian, that we are not to live as if we have no hope like the world does but that we are to hope knowing that we will see our loved ones again- that when Jesus comes in the clouds he will call the dead in christ and we will see them rise. The devil uses any and everything he can to DEFAME the name of JESUS Christ. Dont be his puppet proposing ideas of the possibilities of God’s unjustness or putting questions in the minds to doubt him. It is all the enemy needs to turn a would be believer away.

    IN Christ, a friend

    • P. Bell….blah, blah, blah, blah…preachy bullshit at best….meaningless drivel at worse….serial quoting of atomized disconnected verses solves nothing on the global level of the actual question…the issue is what do those verses actually mean in light of the undeniable reality of unspeakable human suffering…spend more time at your local children’s hospital or burn center…then grow up

      • P. Bell

        You witness by your response to me why so much suffering occurs. What difference does it make to you anyway? You seem to have a very rude and bad attitude. You need not address me in the manner you did. So, tell me, how do I grow up? Accept what you accept and refuse to pray and find my hope in scripture. Suffering… what does it mean to you? If you believed scripture, you would be doing the things it tells us, that good might present itself in hard situations. Is this your reason to be angry with God? IF not this then maybe something else?

        Sir, in your ignorance of me, you put limits on me. I voluteer at M. D. Anderson Hospital in the Children’s Cancer Center, reaching out by whatever means I can. Also, recently, I just finished working at an Alternative school with very difficult children with all kinds of issues- reaching out to them in a most heartfelt way possible. These kids were taking their fist punching themselves in the nose at 6 years old, making themselves bleed etc. all kinds of calamities. Anyway, I dont need to explain my life to you. You are just one of those people, that are angry and dont want a solution at this time.

        Frankly, you should not have addressed me at all, especially using the language you did. At best it would of been proper to only comment and maybe addressed some of the things I said without my name.

        There is no magic wond! Also, I thought this was a Christian blog. I will remove myself if possible. I do not want anyone addressing me in the manner you did. Yeah, I know grow up, but part of growing up is knowing how to deal with difficult situations and people.

        I hope you have a better time to come.

        • Hi P. Bell.
          I’m sorry to read that you’ll be leaving us. I do appreciate people willing to voice their thoughts, and who serve others as you say you do.
          As you have seen, my site is open to a variety of perspectives, attitude and tone. I would not say this is a ‘Christian blog’ per se, though I am a Christian. Indeed, I hope to hear from non-Christians and Christians alike, even Christians with your point of view. My purpose is to invite a conversation about themes of life, all of which have some relationship to faith. But I don’t censor comments with extreme caution. I can only guess that Steve M who wrote to you felt that his response could be rather direct, considering you had chosen to imply that my question had somehow made me a ‘puppet of the Devil.’ I have found that once the name-calling starts, things get dicey.
          I wish you well and thank you for your passion for God’s Kingdom.

          • P. Bell

            Sorry about the misunderstanding, but I was not calling you anything. I was trying propose a view from another christian. I would never call names. Is that how it comes across. Eventhough, I dont think my comment warrants rudeness. I just simply proposed a view that one might consider in order to help see the order in some koss. I went through a loss of a very dear and near loved one that nearly caused me and my siblings a fracture. Anyway, if a blog is open then we should speak to each other considerately and if we are not clear we should ask what they mean before jumping to conclusions and that goes for me too. I dont like heated stuff. We have enough troubles in life.

            I wonder why people can question one negative aspect of life but turn around and dish a negative one. Bad is bad! The forms it comes in does not make it ok.

            Seriously, I was not calling or say you were a puppet. You guys misunderstood it or I wrote it wrong. I was only trying to get you to see that we as Christians have to take things a little deeper in our walk and check ourselves.

            When I read you were a christian I didnt consider that christians can be in different growth points in their lives. We are adults and dont have to like what the other says, but as christian we are suppose to have some common ground. Ok, take care and thanks for writing back.

  7. Great thoughts Let’s discuss You’re right on target

    Sent from my iPad

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