Thinking about God’s goodness this week for my Living on the Rock Bible study, I felt like I need a whole list of caveats before teaching. As I worked through the study, time after time I came up against issues and misconceptions about God’s goodness – either in my own heart, or as I imagined different objections and questions I’ve heard over the years.
Practically, the biggest issue I have with this is that Christians so often respond to people’s pain by saying, “God is good.” Right, but His goodness is not very obvious when we’re in pain and trauma.
I wish we would stop doing that.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts on some issues and misconceptions in the area of God’s goodness.
1. God’s goodness isn’t negated by suffering and pain.
Biblically, pain and suffering were an accepted and expected part of life.
Our affluence presents a safety net for us, it cushions life so that we forget the harshness of life. But the majority of the peoples the Bible was written for and to were living in subsistence or even poverty. Oppression and affliction were a part of Israel’s story throughout her history.
Our main question is “how can a good God allow suffering?” We want to know WHY?
When confronted with suffering and pain, the Bible rarely asks WHY. The questions the Bible asks (particularly the Laments, which I love, and which I think we neglect to our harm) are
- What is God doing in our suffering? Through our suffering?
- How Long? How long until God’s goodness breaks through?
God’s goodness isn’t negated by suffering and pain.
2. We have in incorrect view of God’s sovereignty, which affects our view of His goodness.
We say God is in CONTROL, but we tend to have a very modern view of control, a definition that would have been unimaginable to the Biblical writers.
We think of control with an industrial, mechanistic bent. We think God causes everything to happen that happens. So when bad things happen, He must be to blame.
This view can make us judgmental when bad things happen to other people (leading Christian authors and speakers saying that certain world events are “judgment” from God for sin), or leads us to despair when those bad things happen to us.
God IS in control. But He is not controlling.
The Biblical term for this is “sovereignty.” As in Psalm 103: The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. The Hebrew word translated sovereignty means “royal power, dominion, reign.”
In 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Jesus is referred to as, “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” The Greek word used there means prince or potentate.
Sovereignty is about AUTHORITY, not control. This is why we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
God is Good, and He is Sovereign – He has the right to rule and reign in this world, and He is in the process of bringing all things back under His authority.
And we have His beautiful promise that He can work all things for good, using even the hardest things in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ – which is what we were created for, and from which we’ll get freedom and joy and union with Him.
His goodness is big enough for this fallen world. For our fallen selves. But His goodness is not the source or cause of bad things. It can’t be.
Which leads us to…
3. The fact that God is good does NOT mean that we need to call everything that happens to us good.
We live in a fallen world – in the process of redemption, and praise GOD we live this side of the Resurrection – because He IS making all things new.
But this fallen world – because of the fall – is a harsh, brutal place to live. It is dying, decaying. We are dying and decaying. The whole creation is waiting for redemption.
And this fallen world is under the rule of “the prince of the air”. He has been defeated on the cross – but still he fights against everything good, everything that reflects God.
So we can look for God’s goodness in hard things. But we don’t have to call those hard, sometimes evil things done to us and around us good.
God is good. Not everything that happens is good. But He can bring good even from the worst.
So when someone is in pain, hurting, suffering either because of their own choices or the fallen world: Might I suggest that we just sit with them in silence? Rather than trying to truth them out of their sorrow, the most encouraging thing to say is often “I’m sorry this sucks.” And “you’re not alone.” And “I love you.”
God IS good. But this might not be the very minute to say that.
My sweet friend Julie wrote a simply lovely response to our discussion of God’s goodness – you should go read them, and anything else that strikes your fancy on her blog, I LOVE her writing and heart.