Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good God…

“God is good!” I often open the service with that phrase. It’s part one of a call-and-response used in many African-American churches, and the right reply, you know, is, “All the time!”

Many folk in recent weeks, I suspect, have questioned that goodness. Maybe wondered whether God’s good some of the time, but takes days off. Life, after all, can be terribly tragic. Just ask friends in North Minneapolis or Joplin, Missouri who’ve watched homes and lives destroyed by devastating tornados. God is good? Really…

I realize it’d be foolish to assume we could, in this letter, adequately address that concern. Humans have sought to understand, from time immemorial, why bad things happen to good people, or- to put it simply- “Why me?” No final answer’s been given yet. My words won’t end debate. Our world is both fragile and wonderful, hostile and lovely. So it will ever be.

That’s not to say, however, that humans haven’t found ways to cope. For instance, I personally believe yes, God is good all the time, and no tornado can change that. And that belief resides at the core of my worldview. I accept as basic fact what 1 John 4:8 puts so elegantly, “God is love.” In my heart and soul, all things flow from that bountiful river, and when I’m feeling healthy and whole, even in the toughest of times, it delivers “peace that passes understanding.”

Wait. That idea mostly satisfies my heart and soul. There is, though, a little gnaw of doubt or incompleteness or compassion for folk in distress that causes me to sometimes double-back, to ask, “Is God’s love actually enough?” You’ll recognize my hesitation. It often accompanies a familiar question- “If God was so good, why didn’t God stop the tornado?” I’ll be honest; every answer I’ve ever explored seems not enitiiiirely like The One. Some say, “God’s got a plan. Just trust and believe.” If it were my house toppled, I’d hate that answer. Others say, “God is love. God couldn’t stop the tornado, but God won’t ever stop caring.” I like that better; it’s closest to my heart. till, it makes God seem powerless, right, like a sideline spectator who only cheers and boos our lives, and that’s weirdly dissonant with “The Creator of All.” Others say, “Accept there is no God.” Doubtful. I’ve had enough encounters with something ‘holy’ there ain’t no turning back. I have decided to follow Jesus. Come what may.

Ever read Job? Many know Job’s story- real decent guy has his world fall apart, then spends thirty-five chapters talking to his pals and complaining to God about it- but have you read those chapters? Stunning poems (some are the Bible’s oldest words, fyi), which describe the kind of courage all religious people ought to mimic. Job’s friends say, essentially, “It must be your fault things fell apart.” Job says, “No. It isn’t. And God needs to come here and account for Godself.” Calling God on the carpet…Saying, “Lord, if you’re so darn good, come tell me yourself cause all I got now is heartache, idiot friends and empty silence.” As I said, courageous!

And the good news? God shows up. Sure, the poet puts rather uncomforting words in God’s mouth. But the fact God arrives, actually gives Job an accounting, helps me, at least, abide my questions and doubts better. Like Job’s author, I think God can handle our outrage, our sense of being treated unfairly, our anger and pain. That God would attend to us, even as we suffer and storm, sounds right. That God doesn’t want us hiding our heads in the sand or turning away from God, but demanding answers to understandable, if unanswerable, questions seems appropriate. Beautiful, even. Because bottling them up, satisfying ourselves with despair or simple answers, won’t help anyone over the long run. Getting it out, though, saying, “Lord, help me believe,” is a coping strategy I’d stand behind. It won’t settle the doubts, probably. But it might help us take steps towards peace and acceptance. It helps me, at least, in light of hard events, to say God is good. And mean it.

All the time.

Grace and Peace,


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