faith, grief, Uncategorized

The “God Is Good” Dilemma

 

God is good.

 

Chris Tomlin says it: “You’re a good, good father…:”

 

My childhood church camp said it: “God is soooo good, God is soooo good, God is soooo good, he’s so gooood….toooo….me….” (four-part harmony)

 

The Bible says it:

 

“For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5

 

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7

 

God is good.

 

But suffering is bad. Well, most people consider it bad. A few might think it is good because they think suffering is always sent by God as a test or a way to refine, therefore the suffering is a good thing because it makes people how God wants them to be.

 

I don’t think I think that.

 

Maybe in God’s all-knowing realm there are times when he directly deals out a dose of suffering because it is what someone desperately needs, like a loving family holding an intervention for an addict. But, most of the time, suffering is exactly opposite of God’s loving intention. We all know a lot of suffering is caused by our own foolish choices. But some of it is just no one’s “fault.” It just is, and it is not of God. I guess that’s why Jesus’ outreach was so much about alleviating suffering.

 

The good of God comes to light when He brings good out of suffering. Not that he caused the suffering, not that he planned it, but that he will not let sin and Satan and suffering have the final word. Those things are bad, but GOD is GOOD.

 

I freely admit I don’t know how it all works. I don’t think I can know. But all this theological uncertainty is not the point.

 

The point is that there is a dilemma when Christians want to hold on to the truth of the goodness of God, and accidentally get caught up in equating God’s goodness with earthly blessings.

 

Here’s what I mean. I have a good friend who also lost a son. Her son lived for two and a half months in the NICU, then finally got to come home because the doctors believed he was stable enough to leave the hospital.

 

He died, in the middle of the night, next to my friend, in her room, a day and a half later.

 

Can you imagine that? Think of all the hope and love and worry that went in to 79 days of drives to and from the NICU. Watching her son endure serious surgeries, observing helplessly as he was resuscitated multiple times before her very eyes, wondering what a life with his disabilities would look like, but not caring because of such deep love. Think of how relieved she and her family were to finally have their little boy at home with them. Think of my friend’s other two children, proudly welcoming their baby brother home. Think of the joy and hope and anticipation and relief! Only for him to pass away in the night as they both slept. Imagine that.

 

That event is not good. Not even close! Not remotely! No matter what good ever comes from that sweet little boy’s life and death, the fact of his death sucks! It will always suck, until she gets to be reunited with him in heaven.

 

No Christian in his right mind would’ve said to her in the wake of her son’s death, “God is good.” That would’ve come across as insensitive and hyper-spiritual.

 

Now, 17 months later, my friend is pregnant with another little boy. And you know what people have said to her when they’ve found out?

 

“God is so good!”

 

I get it. They’re happy for her. They want to rejoice with her. They want to see beauty come from ashes because they probably know that she’s been through a hell they don’t even let themselves imagine.

 

And God IS good. But is he good because of the blessing of a new baby?

 

She and I have talked about how the phrase can grate, and how we wrestle with the concept of God’s goodness. When someone says, “God is good,” in response to her being pregnant with another little boy, it is hard for her (and me) not to immediately think, “So was God not good when my son died?”

 

This is the dilemma.

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God is good, yes. His blessings are good. But if he’s good in the blessings, he’s got to be good in the suffering.

 

While your new baby was born healthy, another woman in the hospital that same night might have had a baby stillborn.

 

While you and I slept warm and safe in our beds last night, hundreds of people within miles of us slept in the cold and don’t know how they will eat today.

 

While I laugh and banter with my amazing husband, women around the world live in painful silence, afraid of the abuse their husbands heap on them.

 

While my precious daughters’ most serious problems revolve around sharing toys, other little girls are right now held captive in sex trafficking, daily raped and abused.

 

But God is...good?

 

He is. He has to be. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how he can allow such evil and sadness and sorrow to exist. I don’t like it. I get frustrated at him for it.

 

I guess in light of this I don’t know why it’s common to hear Christians say, “God is good,” in response to blessings, in response to good feelings, in response to seemingly answered prayers. It’s as if we’ve associated blessings with his goodness. To an extent, that’s okay. I like my kind husband and precious daughters and cozy home. Thank you, God, for these good gifts. I DO see God’s goodness within his good gifts.

 

But God has to still be good even if all these gifts were stripped away.

 

Unfortunately, “God is good,” when said to someone like my friend after all she has been through, can feel like so many trite Christianese taglines. The gift of her new baby is good. The death of her son is not good.

 

God has to be good in both. So maybe we should be careful about associating God’s goodness only with blessings, because then when loss and suffering come it can be easy to feel like God’s goodness has vanished. Many people in this world live without the blessings you and I take for granted. Yet if he’s good, then he’s good in the midst of their pain and suffering. He must still be good if tomorrow you are in a car accident or your mom is diagnosed with cancer or your child dies unexpectedly.

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I don’t get it. It’s a dilemma for me to work out, and probably won’t be fully worked out until I see him face to face.

 

But maybe what would be helpful for my friend, for me, for others created in His image, would be to remember that God is good outside of the time and space of our circumstances. I don’t believe, as I once did, that God orchestrates every detail of our lives. He’s in ultimate control, sure, but some things just happen that are not part of his “plan.” I probably won’t use “God is good” as a response when someone is rejoicing at the blessings in her life. But maybe I will use it when someone is where I have been for the past year and a half: so deeply wondering where God is at all.

 

I kind of wonder if that’s what happened with Jeremiah in Lamentations 3. Do you ever wonder if we read the Bible confusedly sometimes because we can’t see the passage of time it took an author to pen the words? We can’t see the tears they might have shed as they scribbled on their scrolls? We can’t see them rip up a parchment in anger or despair, only to start again once they returned to their Rock? Lamentations 3 comes across as ridiculously contradictory when read in one sitting. Honestly I’ve thought if Jeremiah could really write that all down in thirty minutes, maybe he was not super stable.

 

But what if it took him days, weeks, months, years to get to his turning point in verses 22-26?

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I’ve been sitting with Jeremiah in the confusion and frustration of the first 20 verses of Lamentations 3 since my son died. Right now I feel like I am beginning to dangle my feet off the ledge of verse 21. I’m not sure when I will be able to take the leap and land in the steadfast love of the Lord, but I know it’s there. I know He’s there. Ultimately, I believe he must be good…or else what’s the point of anything?

 

So God is good. But even Jeremiah the prophet could not always see how that could be so.

 

“He has driven me and brought me into darkness without any light.” (v. 2)

 

“He has besieged me and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation.” (v. 5)

 

“He has made my chains heavy; though I cry and call for help, he shuts out my prayer.” (v. 7-8)

 

“He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate.” (v. 11)

 

“MY SOUL IS BEREFT OF PEACE. I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” (v 17-18)

 

Verse 21:

 

“BUT…

 

I call this to mind:”

 

Jeremiah, Jeremiah, Jeremiah. What can you possibly say? Where does your big BUT lead? You just said God put heavy chains on you and shuts out your prayer and has torn you to pieces? Seriously? What BUT can you muster?

 

Verses 22-25:

 

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD IS GOOD to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

 

Dude, Jeremiah, I don’t get it. But I guess that’s what I want to get, what I’m seeking. It’s this, the contradictory mess of Lamentations 3, that so well illustrates the dilemma I’m experiencing.

 

God is good. So many wonderful blessings in life are good. But there are spiritually dark seasons in which those of us who love God can’t feel him or his goodness at all.

 

So I do what I think Jeremiah had to do. He had to call to mind the goodness and love of God, because the alternative is just too depressing, too hopeless. I think he really believed it, but in light of verses 1-20, it’s clear he didn’t always feel it. 

 

God is good, not because of all the beautiful blessings I have. God is good because, in the end, all I have is HIM.

 

7 thoughts on “The “God Is Good” Dilemma”

  1. I really relate to this post. I fainted in my kitchen in 2013 and woke up paralyzed from the shoulders down. Within a few days I had lost everything – my job, my home, many of my possessions, and my active lifestyle. I was bitter for about the first year or so, but what I found when my bitterness subsided, was a deeper, more beautiful, more awe-inspiring relationship with God. I believe had I not fainted, I never would’ve gained this incredible gift. I believe God was good before and even better afterwords. Thank you for your insight.

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  2. Thank you for writing this. I am so sorry your son died. My husband died two and a half years ago in a random act of violence. I especially relate to “Ultimately, I believe he must be good…or else what’s the point of anything?” This is so well written and really encouraging for me in this season.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Camila. I am also so, so sorry your husband died and in such a sudden, horrific way. Holding on to God’s goodness is often harder than ever, but it’s also more necessary than ever. May we gain strength from each other, from the love we have for our dear ones in heaven, and from our Jesus who is Life.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This post is really deep. I don’t have personal experiences of this nature to share, but I clearly understand the God is good dilemma. It’s one of the reasons I’m in love wih the chorus of Lauren Daigle’s “Trust in You”:

    “When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing you to move
    When you don’t part the waters I wih I could walk through
    When you don’t give the answers as I cry out to you
    I will trust in you”

    Sometimes we don’t get the answers we seek, but does it diminish the goodness of God?

    I believe in our pain or gain, the sovereignty of a good God prevails. We might not understand everything all at once. But gradually we’ll see he’s good.

    Thanks for sharing, Heidi.
    And I’m really sorry about your son.

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