Thursday, October 07, 2010

Good God?

Last week my favorite college football team (The Johnnies from St. John’s in Collegeville, MN) lost to their arch rival St. Thomas in overtime. It was in front of a record crowd for Division III football (16,421). The loss probably knocked them out of the playoffs.

Sometime during the game I remember asking God for a victory. And when they didn’t get it ….I wondered about the goodness of God. Why would he give victory to the Tommies when we all know my alma mater probably is filled with more righteous people than our big city opponents?

OK. Maybe I didn’t wonder about the goodness of God when victory was snatched away from us. I was disappointed. And I bet there were some rabid fans who looked to the heavens, shook their fist, and wondered ‘why’.

I know that happened. Because that’s what we do. We wonder much about the wisdom, the integrity, and the goodness of God.

One of God's faithful missionaries, Allen Gardiner, experienced many physical difficulties and hardships throughout his service to Jesus. Despite his troubles, he said, "While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me." In 1851, at the age of 57, he died of disease and starvation while serving on Picton Island at the southern tip of South America. When his body was found, his diary lay nearby. It bore the record of hunger, thirst, wounds, and loneliness. The last entry in his little book showed the struggle of his shaking hand as he tried to write legibly. It read, "I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God." (from

“I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.” Whew. That’s a mouthful. Considering his circumstances that’s a big mouthful.

Is God good? We ask the question all the time. I wondered about it when St. John’s missed the extra point. 9/11 got us thinking about it. So did Katrina.

We hear it phrased in this way “If God is good why …”

If God is good ….?

I know a fair amount of people whose faith is weak, easily shaken. Their faith is strong on picnic days when the sun is out and the breeze is gentle. Their faith weakens when their plans are thwarted. when the promise of a good day morphs into heavy rains and high winds. And the praise of a good God becomes a whiny complaint. We wonder aloud and mutter “what good is God? Why is there rain on my parade? “

So Is he? Is God good? And the truth is many people aren’t sure that He is. And so they play the blame game, accusing God of being not good, malicious in intent, a manipulative force in our lives bent on blocking our goals and ruining our fun. Helpless, God seems, in the face of racisim, poverty, illness, despotic political systems, rising taxes, and the plaintive pleas of football fans.

If God is not good then the world we live in becomes a paralyzing, terrifying place filled with dread of unfair treatment and capricious divine judgment. It is a world lacking hope.

I believe in a good God. I see that goodness permeating the Scriptures and I’m reminded of God’s goodness everyday through the lives of good people, living out their faith in both simple and heroic ways.

And today I want to state unequivocably …God is good. He is always good.

When we look through the Scriptures we get a lot of mixed messages, at first blush, about God. The God of the Old Testament appears to have a habit of smiting, drowning, challenging, inconveniencing and attacking people. I’ve had people say that the Old Testament God has ‘ issues’ and that thankfully he took advantage of some ‘anger management’ seminars. Thus, the New Testament is a little easier read.

But the truth of the matter is that throughout the Scripture we see a good God in search of his wayward children. He deals with those children in historical and culturally appropriate ways. He speaks their language. People in a primitive culture understood the power of nature, the uncertainty of day by day living, and the power struggles that resulted in invasions and occupations by enemies. It is, in and through, their cultural understandings that God tends to get His people’s attention.

Francis Chan says that "The whole message of the Bible is not about this God in Heaven who wants to take from you. It's about this God who wants to give to you. And if you miss out on that, you're gonna miss the whole point of your life.”

It doesn’t take long to see the goodness of God in virtually every part of Scripture. He walks alongside, he cajoles, he gives second and third and fourth chances, he sends messengers and signs. He writes his signature on the canvas of creation.

Is God good? Scripture screams of his goodness page after page after page. And that’s why when we come to the end of our rope, when we’ve exhausted our own resources …we seek comfort in the goodness of God as revealed in the word of God.

Is God good?

Look no further than the closest example of the people of God at work. A hundred of my churchmates are running for World Vision in the Chicago Marathon this weekend. They’ve raised in excess of $60,000 to be used in a village in Africa. The goodness of God is flowing through this effort. And these good people are a force for good.

Phil Yancey writes that “if someone in Africa is asked what a Christian is they might say "Well, I'm not sure, but there's this hospital van that comes here once a month and has a cross on it and they treat our wounds."

Another might say, "Well, I'm not sure but these folks came and they dug a well for my village and now we have something to drink.”

My friend Lori in Reno is quitting her job that gives her a stable income to dive into the poorest neighborhood in the city. Why? A good God is nudging her to use her gifts in behalf of the most marginalized.

The people of God, filled with the goodness of God, do good things in every nook and cranny of our world. We are the only ‘text of God’ people often see.

Is God good? Yep. Do things happen that make us scratch our head and wonder why? All the time. But I'm learning that what I don't understand isn't going to kill me. Living with a world view that views God as 'not good' might be hazardous to my health.


Anonymous said...

I believe that your beloved Johnnies also lost to Bethel, right? Just want to make sure my facts are right :)

Anyway, great post and great thoughts.

I think that some of our problem lies in our understanding of what "good" or"goodness" are and what a "good" action from God might look like. Like a child who thinks that their parents is mean and cruel for taking something away from them without realizing that that thing (be it a toy or a right to go somewhere) is dangerous or wrong for them. God's goodness towards us does not always equal our happiness. Our ability to be content in all circumstances may though.

There's always the interesting dilemn of the farmer who is praying for rain and the the family going for a day outing praying for sunshine. I think we need to re-examine that which is truly good and noble and true.

I also think some of the problem lies in how we understand God's working in the world. Do we view him as the one who ordains all events, even tragedies or do we view him as one who allows all events. Where do we see spiritual forces at work in these events? I think that when we examine these (most often) confusing questions, we start to see that God is indeed Good.

I have certainly had times of proclaiming his Goodness in faith through clenched teeth holding in pain or confusion or frustration, but have had to realize that my lack of understanding of what's going on doesn't negate his goodness.

I appreciate your thoughts here; thanks for sharing!

Mike said...

A good God could not have led you to stick the football dagger any further into my heart with the heartless reminder that Bethel did, indeed, lay one on my beloved Johnnies. :)

Good insights. Loved "I have certainly had times of proclaiming his Goodness in faith through clenched teeth holding in pain or confusion or frustration, but have had to realize that my lack of understanding of what's going on doesn't negate his goodness."