Sunday, January 6, 2008

God is Good, All the Time. . . Unfortunately

I wrote in my Dec. 29 post that Larry Crabb's book had gotten me to think about the goodness of God. We easily, in the comfort of a good worship service, respond to the pastor's line "God is good" with the refrain, "All the time." When he says, "All the time," then on cue we answer:  "God is good." And this is true. But not in the way we mean, or want it to be true.

If I say, "God is good," what do I mean? And when God says He is good, what does He mean? Are we on the same page? Are we talking about the same thing? Frankly, a close reading of the Bible makes it plain that we are not. Because the God of the Bible isn't always what I think of as good.

And yet, God is good--all the time. He is good because He never lies, not about Himself nor about what we are like. He is good because He always forgives the one who repents, no matter how heinous or despicable that person's deeds. He is good because He is merciful in equal measure to all who come to Him. He is good because He is always faithful to His words and to His character, and because He will not endure evil. . . not even in His Church. Especially not in His Church. This is what it means to say that God is good all the time:  That He never varies from this.

Whatever is good reflects the character of God. This means truthfulness even when it puts me in a bad light, and forgiveness and mercy when I would rather wound in turn the one who wounded me, and keeping my word no matter what it may cost me.

What do I count as good? Getting what I want is good. Being safe is good. Being wealthy is good. It's good to be sought out as a wise man, to be called "gifted" and "anointed." In other words, when we get down to it, selfishness is good. Christlikeness is painful and therefore is not good. Not that I would actually say this. But it describes the way I think and live.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, one thing is said of Aslan again and again:  "He's not a tame lion." Or, as Mr. Beaver puts it:  "Of course He's not safe. But He's good." So I have a choice between safety and the goodness of God. Not always, of course; sometimes they are the same thing. But in a fallen world, God does not promise to keep me safe in the way I wish He would. He only promises to make me like His Son. In all things, God works for the good--not for the comfort--of those who love Him.

In our hearts, there's something that responds to that. There's something that wants to throw off the fear of true goodness and where it may lead; there's something that wants to follow no matter what the danger, no matter the cost. That something is the Spirit of God, Who impels us to follow Christ. We are ready to let God look into our hearts, show us the root of our fear, and put it to death. The truth is, we know that we won't be safe in being safe. We are only safe in Christ.

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