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.
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.’