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God is Good

Usually I write because otherwise I continually inflict everyone around me to endless prattling about my latest ideas, theories and spiritual experiences. So it’s like a courtesy to my loved ones and people I meet in the grocery store. It probably sounds awful, but the fact that what I’m sharing may be helpful or enlightening to other people is often just a pleasant by-product of dumping what’s in my head onto the page so I can be rid of it.

But every once in a blue moon, I do stop to ask God, “is there something you want me to say?” Usually there’s not. In my experience, God is far less opinionated about our lives than you’d think from listening to many Christians talk. But several times recently I’ve asked God, “is there something you want me to say?” And each time, I’ve gotten the same answer: “Tell them that I’m good.” Just that – “Tell them that I’m good” over and over. Which is fine and true and all, but doesn’t make for much of an essay. So finally I asked, “anything else?” And there was. “The only way out is through.” Ahh, now I’m beginning to see.

Here’s the deal; we’re all waiting to be rescued – aren’t we? I know I am – or was. I’ve pretty much accepted that there’s not a miracle or even necessarily a break just waiting around the bend. It’s a hard thing to make peace with. It’s probably a particularly hard thing for Christians to accept. From the time we are small we are raised on stories of the God who rescued the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt. The God of the Psalms who is our deliverer and will not let us fall. Who brings victory to us by his mighty right hand. A Savior with such healing power that simply touching the hem of his garment healed the woman with the issue of the blood. God is our savior, our deliverer, our ever present help in times of sorrow. The God who rescues is mother’s milk to us. And it’s all true. Every last bit of it.

But mother’s milk has to give way to meat. And it’s not a parent’s job to provide meat to a child for their entire life. At some point, we have to learn to go hunting for ourselves. And I believe firmly that we – Christians and humanity as a whole – have arrived at a time of having to grow up. God is with us. God will redeem whatever we go through, but it’s time for us to go through. Whatever it is that I’m facing or you’re facing, the only way out is through. God is good. He wouldn’t be pushing us to walk through whatever is in front of us if we weren’t ready and able.

And yeah, it’s going to hurt. I don’t know anyone who’s not embroiled in a struggle right now. If you don’t have money problems, you have family problems and if you don’t have family problems, you have other relationship problems or career problems and maybe you or someone you love has health problems, and if it’s not problems with physical health, it’s problems with mental health and if it’s not problems with mental health, it’s spiritual health and odds are you’re dealing with many or all of them at the same time. It’s probably always been so, but I wasn’t always here, so I can only speak to what I see going on today. It’s hard. But God is good. We can trust in that. He’s not going anywhere. He’s not going to leave you. But he’s probably not going to come to your rescue either. Whatever you’re going through, it’s time to go through it.

It’s hard for us to understand how if God is so good, life is so hard. But look at reality. This world we have is the world that God made. It’s the world he made us from. It’s the world he made us for. It’s the world he made for us. And it’s good. It’s really good. Better than anything we could have done. But it’s also a world of predator and prey. It’s a world of lightening strikes and volcano’s and droughts. And here’s the thing; as much as those things may destroy, life couldn’t exist without them. Bacteria and viruses may be able to kill us and our children and elderly, but without them, there couldn’t be us to begin with. Good and hard aren’t opposed – they go hand in hand. Two sides of the same coin. That’s the reality our good and loving God made.

Just before Jesus died on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” And still, God let him hang there. Still God did not show up to rescue him. Not even to comfort him. Because the only way out is through. Jesus had to walk through the torment and through the betrayal and through hell itself. Because that’s the way to redemption. For all of us. And in the middle of it, when we’re suffering and there’s no comfort, it’s very hard not to wonder what sort of God this is we’re trying to follow. What sort of God wouldn’t rescue his son from the cross or me from my petty miseries? And if he won’t, well what’s the point? Why don’t I just drown my miseries in my toxin of choice? Why am I trying so hard if this is just the way it is?

Well, because God is good. Jesus’ story didn’t end on the cross. It ended in redemption. He was dead. There’s not really a worse outcome one can get for their efforts than to be tortured and killed. To be abandoned by your people, your friends and your God on the way. That’s pretty much the definition of a failed life and ministry by any reasonable standard. But God is good and Jesus was redeemed on the other side. Because he went through, we can become redeemed people and if we become redeemed people, eventually, we’ve been promised a redeemed world.

Don’t you want to live in a world that’s redeemed? I do. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of reading papers filled with stories about children blown up in wars and people starving and greed and abuse and just the back and forth nastiness that dominates the way we deal with each other. And I can’t do a damn thing about any of it. So I deal with what’s right in front of me. I trust that God is good and cast my lot in with him. And I’ve done it knowing full well that I’m following the path laid out by a man who literally went through hell to get to the other side. It’s taken me a long time accept it, but I’ve done it knowing that my reward almost certainly isn’t going to be rescue and comfort and a cheering section to encourage me on the way. What else is there to do, any ways? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life for this age.” 

The last couple of years, my life has been hell. And what went before that wasn’t particularly easy either. Many times, I’d ask myself, “how did I end up here?” I’d go over and over the choices I had made and the things I had done, looking for where it all went wrong. I made many mistakes along the way to be sure. But those weren’t the things that lead me to my own personal pits of hell. Instead, at each point that I could say, “if only I hadn’t done that”, it was a point where I chose to do something God asked. To forgive something unforgivable. To love the unlovable. To obey. To stay the course. To hold onto myself in the middle of a hurricane. Often, once I’d sifted through all the pieces all I could say to myself is “God is good.” It was the only I had left to hang onto – that God is good.

I haven’t made it through to redemption yet. I don’t know if that will even happen in my lifetime. But I have been learning to make peace with not being rescued and often not even being comforted. I’m learning to walk through – however long it takes or whatever else it costs. I’ve lost enough by now to know that it doesn’t really matter. Life keeps going and so we might as well keep going to. Because the only way out is through. And God is good.

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18 thoughts on “God is Good

  1. The problem, as you’ve observed, is that religion teaches people to just wait…to be saved instead of being the change that they want to see in the world. People think that just like Bruce Almighty, God is waiting to answer all of our prayers. What if it’s not like that? I like the way that you have dealt with that issue (even if it’s only just the beginning of a life-long journey.

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  2. What makes “God is good” more than a cliche or a tautalogy or a sentimental notion…

    This is saying that the power that rules the universe we live in is ultimately benevolent. That we weren’t created to suffer needlessly. That everything people have said about God — that made God seem like our enemy, a bully, indifferent — is mistaken. Some highly religious people talk like they don’t know this! Some of their ideas fall apart, in the face of this!

    It’s saying that nothing that happens to us here does lasting harm. That happiness, unlikely as that seems, is possible — that it’s even our predictable fate.

    That “world that’s redeemed” will very likely be this one. “Everything is perfect, but some things could use a little improvement.”

    Driving back, years ago, from a working vacation in Florida. Driving an indestructible old State of CA Dodge pickup… but the little electrical gauge keeps wiggling on the wrong side of the line. & we’re waiting for the battery to charge, but it seems to be getting weaker. Late at night, storming out, coming down this long straight road towards the Mississippi and the lights are fading out. The road is literally lined with trees, trunk to trunk, nowhere to turn off, and huge trucks are barreling past. I’m driving with my left arm holding a flashlight out the window…

    And we don’t end up on somebody’s windshield; we drive into whatever city it is and stop at the first motel. Because once I shut that engine off, we aren’t moving. They’re renting rooms by the hour; maids are running around in the middle of the night with armfuls of fresh bedding. But we take it. A few hours later we stagger to the nearest gas station, talk to a repair guy. We really can’t afford repairs, but a little while later, we’re back at the truck with a recharged battery and a cheap fuse for the voltage regulator wire…

    Was that bad? Scared the pee out of us! Amazing & wonderful? That too. Gave us something to talk about for awhile? — Well, yeah.

    I know, stories happen that you wouldn’t want to have to talk about. I don’t know why people need them… except that the Book of Job suggests: This is sometimes the sort of experience people need to know and recognize God. “I had heard of You by hearsay, but now my eye sees You.” Read Zen stories, the sorts of things people have gone through to find ‘Enlightenment’ — which I see as meeting basically the same Reality — and while doing years of meditation evidently helps, nothing is guaranteed to work within one lifetime; no one can predict when — or how — things suddenly click into place.

    Is this world some sort of endurance test? I really don’t think so. But what comes our way is meant for us, and not for our harm. That’s what ‘God is good’ means.

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  3. This is not an easy post to read or accept. And I wonder if maybe you neglected to mention the things that God does do for us sometimes…the little blessings and moments of peace that sometimes come in the midst of our hell on earth. At the same time, there’s a lot of truth to what you’ve said. Jesus said we would suffer for his sake. The yoke may be easy and the burden light, but the path is hard and narrow. In my 30 years of living, I’ve learned that trials aren’t just 3-month stints…some last for years and years. And like you said, sometimes the answer is just to go through them. But, oh, the glory of redemption!

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  4. … God is good, all the time!
    Thank you for reminding us. Our hope is in Christ who is the ultimate overcomer and as His disciples so must we overcome/go through whatever life (God) deals us because we are being made holy…”be holy even as I Am holy” for that day when we will see Him face to face. Even so, come Lord Jesus come!

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  5. Yes, God is always Good; but the gift of Creation often becomes a mixed blessing. Why do the WWJD folk so seldom look to the Cross for guidance?

    Jesus couldn’t understand why God’s Presence seemed to be so absent in the midst of his suffering when his need was greatest. “My God, my God, why has thou deserted me?” That’s what pain often does, blinds us to everything except our own suffering.

    So how did Jesus respond to this feeling of being alone, with his God-forsaken, unjustly inflicted suffering?

    Well, he didn’t curse his enemies and he didn’t call on an Avenging Angel to rescue him and punish his enemies. He did what he commanded his followers to do. He prayed for his enemies, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The WWJD crowd seems to look everywhere for the answer to their question except to the Cross where the cycle of cruelty and pain was broken.

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  6. Rebecca,
    Your post on Tony Jones blog today was the most appropriate one.
    Your pain hurts, I’m willing to listen, I’ll keep coming back, you have exquisite insight.

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  7. Another metaphoric notion about suffering: much like castor oil.

    If you’re not eating right; and there’s nothing else available to do the job, then it’s a blessing. Otherwise… no.

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    • I certainly wouldn’t go looking for suffering. Nor would I willingly walk into it for no good reason. But it seems to be an unavoidable part of life . . . for me at least. My mother and much of my family just can’t seem to understand how my life is always so screwed up. Not that they’ve never had any problems, but they’ve lived unusually blessed lives. My folks had 9 kids and my dad says he never worried about how to afford them all as every time a baby came, something like a raise, promotion, new job, bonus, etc inevitably seemed to follow. That’s their life. Mine has been the opposite. I can’t account for it. But I seem to be sharing an unaccountable amount of suffering with many of the prophets and saints.I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s gone well past the point of teaching anything other than never ending endurance. If the suffer’s there anyways, what is one to make of it? I’ve talked about it before, but I’ve come to see what comes my way as a chance to process some of the suffering of the world so that it can leave the system. It may not be much of a blessing to me, but at least I’m not passing it on to my kids and everyone else who has to deal with me – which is what I think has happened for most of human history.

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      • That makes it sound like a fixed-quantity, “Somebody’s got to have this so why not me” sort of thing.

        Yeah, taking a “Don’t pass it on” stand is good; a major piece of what Jesus was talking about!

        I don’t think suffering comes of anyone “deserving” it — though many of my own wounds were self-inflicted — but some of it could be training of sorts. The NonProphet said that this world was God’s rose garden, in which He grew saints in the same sort of stuff that produces roses…

        I also have a suspicion… just looking at the Karmic Weather Reports — that things could go very rapidly much worse overall; and what you’ve been through already may well help keep you afloat where more comfortable souls start diving out of windows. (I’m not predicting, just looking at the Signs of the Times & wondering if “Beware of Cliff” means something I should be worrying about…)

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      • I do tend to view suffering as a fixed quantity thing. From the time I was a kid, I when I would think of pain and suffering, that’s exactly how I thought of it. I don’t know why, really. But along with the idea of being able to process it out of the system, if you will, it fits together in a way that just makes sense to me. I can’t honestly say for sure if it’s correct or not, but it works for me.

        Not to get all wacky-prophetic, but I happen to have it on what I consider VERY good authority that you are correct about the direction we are preparing to take. It’s going to get very, very ugly – although what exactly ugly looks like, I’m not sure. That will depend in good part on the ugly-makers, I suppose. And I also suspect that you are correct about the training aspect of all this suffering. Which I’m afraid I just can’t seem to take much comfort in at the moment.

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      • I, too, have struggled, like Job, with the question of “undeserved” suffering.

        My mother also faced some formidable challenges that many others seemed to have been spared. Her joking response was, “I hope that horseshoe that they have up their ass gives them piles.”

        I suppose their is no harm in speculating on a theory of the Atonement as long as we recognize that it is a theological speculation and not a dogmatic statement of The Truth. However what I find revealed by the Cross is a statement that “cruelty and pain stops here” and if you want to truly become a follower of Jesus the Christ, it must stop with you, too!. I guess that is the meaning behind the Catholic spiritual exhortation to “unite your sufferings to the sufferings of Christ and offer them up for the redemption of the world.” Perhaps that is the source of Rebecca’s insight. I believe that is a Pauline teaching, also, although the chapter and verse of the text escapes me right now.

        There are two quotes that have influenced my thinking on the Mystery of suffering:

        To suffer is to have anything—great or small—otherwise than as you wish or will or want it to be. If your self-will is powerful and untamed, you will “suffer” horribly when you miss a train or run out of cigarettes: if your self-will is wholly conformed to the will of God, as manifested in the circumstances of the moment, you can undergo extremes of physical pain without “suffering” at all. Hence the joy of the martyrs: hence the serenity of an agonizing but saintly death-bed. –Christopher Derrick, That Strange Divine Sea

        To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

        ISTM that the Cross is as much of a “scandal” in the ecclesiastical subculture as it is in our secular society.

        I believe we will see the petition in the Lord’s Prayer for the Kingdom of God to come upon earth when people of faith begin to pray Jesus’ Gethsemeni Prayer.

        Until then we just have to tough it out and, yes, we do receive some psychological coping tools by going through, rather than being delivered from, painful challenges. In the midst of a painful experience, Mother always said, “And this, too, shall pass.”

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      • I found my text on the suffering of the saints and some cross-references also:

        http://bible.cc/colossians/1-24.htm

        Colossians 1:24
        Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

        Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
        ——————————————————————————–
        1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
        ——————————————————————————–
        2 Corinthians 1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
        ——————————————————————————–
        2 Corinthians 6:10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
        ——————————————————————————–
        2 Corinthians 12:15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?
        ——————————————————————————–
        Ephesians 1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
        ——————————————————————————–
        Philippians 2:17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
        ——————————————————————————–
        Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
        ——————————————————————————–
        2 Timothy 1:8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,
        ——————————————————————————–
        2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

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  8. “Karma” would be fixed-quantity if God didn’t build some slack into the system — “Eye for an eye making the whole world blind” [Ghandi's idea?] as long as someone had to be found to tit every tat… But if enough people stopped contributing thumps to the process, it should run down… We get ‘grace’, and God lets us participate.

    If negligence, cluelessness, compliance with evil systems makes for an incredible amount of ‘harm without malice’ happening to people these days… How much of that is self-deception through subconscious malice? — And how much of it is actually as innocent as the nice people who approve it — or at least, innocent enough that retribution shouldn’t be appropriate? Couldn’t we justly write off all the violence that’s ever happened, from the beginning of the world, on a “Forgive them for they know not what they do” basis?

    Who is punishing us? Us?… Is ‘karma’ self-inflicted? — an ineffective means of correcting sinful tendencies that we really can’t stand in ourselves?

    Does “Satan” really challenge God to find out whether Job really loves Him (or is just being good for the goodies)? — Or is it Job’s own suspicion about himself that triggers the calamities?

    How much suffering do people need, in order to know that “We can take it” — before we just realize that we don’t need to be afraid? That there’s nothing for us to prove?

    Could the world end? — not with a fierce and terrible battle, but with people suddenly scratching their heads, everywhere, just saying to themselves: “Have I been dumb!”?

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  9. I stole treegestalt’s comment to help me out on another blog and, man, did I need help:

    Next Post »
    53 Responses to the irreligious wife

    nakedpastor
    November 29, 2012 | 12:29 pm

    What I see happening, that is creating frustration, is not the content or ideology that is being presented but the way it is being presented. One of the things that I observe are there are some who are very certain about what they believe, and sometimes what accompanies that is the presumption that anybody with any sense would think the same way. Then there are others who prefer perhaps a more open stance that is bewildering for some but also the daily experience of others. It can be frustrating to ask for a clear answer to a clear question only to be dodged by circular reasoning… just as frustrating as it can be for some people not to seem to get what should be gettable. Just some thoughts.

    Gary
    November 29, 2012 | 1:40 pm

    Yes David…very well stated.

    Carol I am going to respond to your statements one at a time for clarity.

    “This is my last comment to our current dialogue:”

    Good.

    “To assume that someone is a fundamentalist simply because they have uttered what may sound like a pious cliche or a regurgitated dogma, put the worst interpretation on their post and then attack…”

    I agree completely. This is absolutely not what I have done. This is a pure falsehood that at this point I can only assume is borne out of some personal vendetta towards me.

    “Only a masochist will engage with someone who consistently puts the worst possible interpretation on everything they post,…”

    Again Carol…false statement if your implication is that this is what I do. It is however very clear that this is exactly what you repeatedly do in your comments to me.

    I am ignoring your quotes.

    Seriously Carol…you have presented clear falsehoods about me in this post. Whatever your motive for doing so is…we have clearly reached a point where you need to either substantiate the false allegations or simply shut the fuck up!!

    (Yes…I meant to say fuck)

    Carol
    November 30, 2012 | 4:40 am

    David, we are no longer a monolithic *Christian* culture. As I meet people of faith from other religious Traditions, what often seems to set them apart from “us” is the way they approach the Divine Mystery through questions, not dogmatic beliefs. And the answers they receive do not leave them believing that they “know it all” but realizing how much they don’t know leading to deeper questions.

    Socrates, whom many consider to have anticipated Christianity in his pedagogic method, taught that “knowing that you do not know is the beginning of wisdom.”

    Most of us are critical of biblical literalism; but not as often recognized is dogmatic/creedal literalism that enables us to worship a God who fits neatly into a box of our own making.

    I do not want to engage in personalities here, we have all fallen short, not just of God’s ideals; but of our own. So, I will simply say that I agree with Gary that religion is not at it’s best when it thinks that it has all the answers for others; but I also think it’s at its best when it asks questions of us.

    Here is a comment from another blog that made me think, “Yes”, I wish I had thought of that. From now on, I will be.”:

    “Karma” would be fixed-quantity if God didn’t build some slack into the system — “Eye for an eye making the whole world blind” [Ghandi's idea?] as long as someone had to be found to tit every tat… But if enough people stopped contributing thumps to the process, it should run down… We get ‘grace’, and God lets us participate.

    If negligence, cluelessness, compliance with evil systems makes for an incredible amount of ‘harm without malice’ happening to people these days… How much of that is self-deception through subconscious malice? — And how much of it is actually as innocent as the nice people who approve it — or at least, innocent enough that retribution shouldn’t be appropriate? Couldn’t we justly write off all the violence that’s ever happened, from the beginning of the world, on a “Forgive them for they know not what they do” basis?

    Who is punishing us? Us?… Is ‘karma’ self-inflicted? — an ineffective means of correcting sinful tendencies that we really can’t stand in ourselves?

    Does “Satan” really challenge God to find out whether Job really loves Him (or is just being good for the goodies)? — Or is it Job’s own suspicion about himself that triggers the calamities?

    How much suffering do people need, in order to know that “We can take it” — before we just realize that we don’t need to be afraid? That there’s nothing for us to prove?

    Could the world end? — not with a fierce and terrible battle, but with people suddenly scratching their heads, everywhere, just saying to themselves: “Have I been dumb!”?

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