Q. My mother just died a long and painful death and last year my husband of 30 years walked out on me. I’m struggling as a Christian to believe that God is good when it feels like he doesn’t care and he doesn’t help. How can I get through this period of doubt? Cindy
A. First, let me tell you I’m very sorry for your losses. This is not an easy question for theologians to answer, let alone counselors. Entire books are written about it so let me just leave you with a few things to think and pray about.
First, it’s tempting to think that we only struggle with the question of God’s goodness when things go wrong in our lives. But Eve doubted God’s goodness even in the midst of Paradise. There was no suffering to tempt Eve to doubt God’s character and yet still she decided not to submit to God’s truth or trust his goodness when she ate the forbidden fruit. Don’t beat yourself up. Honest people acknowledge that they often struggle to believe God’s goodness toward them while they’re hurting.
Second, goodness is a moral question not a scientific one. Who gets to define what is good? When we judge God as not good we make our own view of things the highest authority. But what makes my judgment any truer than the next person’s? What if what I define as good, someone else sees as bad? Is there any absolute authority that teaches us how to view things or is everything seen through the eyes of our own perspective?
In his book, Systematic Theology, Dr. Wayne Grudem, wrote. “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval.” But it’s not our approval that defines what good is, it is God’s approval. The Scriptures define and declare that God is good and that what he does is good. (For example, see Psalm 100:5; Psalm 106:1, Psalm 34:8; Psalm 119:68, Psalm 86:5, Naham 1:7.) Jesus also affirmed God’s goodness when he told the rich young ruler, “no one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18).
One of the things that helped me come to terms with God’s goodness during a painful loss in my own life was when I read these words, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). The apostle John declares that this is the message he heard from Jesus and that he is writing these things so that we might have joy (1 John 1:4). The psalmist said, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness, evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4).
In my anger and pain, I was not only blaming God for doing bad things, I was accusing God of being evil. As I pondered John’s words about God’s character, I was forced to decide whose truth was true. If God is incapable of darkness, then God is incapable of evil. He is all good all the time. If that was true, then there had to be another reason God allowed my personal pain and suffering. There is a mystery to the Almighty that we cannot expect to grasp with our finite minds. Perhaps I would never know his purposes this side of eternity but would I trust that God knew, and that he was indeed good?
In the book Faith and Culture Devotional, John Eldredge refers to two main themes woven throughout scripture. “A major theme of hope, love, and life triumphant, and a minor theme of suffering, sorrow, and loss.” He says when people focus only on the major theme of scripture; we can sound insensitive and glib about the real hardships of those who hurt, promising them that God will work all things for good and that they can have victory in Jesus. He says, “The Christianity that talks only about hope, joy, and overcoming would be hollow, syrupy and shallow.”
On the other hand, he cautions us that in modern culture’s quest for authenticity and transparency, the church has majored in the minor theme of brokenness and suffering. Although refreshingly honest and necessary, if that is all there is, where is our hope? Where is the abundant life that Jesus promises? Where is the resurrection, the redemption, the restoration and reconciliation themes of scripture? Eldredge concludes, “We must be honest about the minor theme, but we must keep it the minor theme.”
Remember, often when we look back through what we thought were the worst of times, God used them for great good. In the Old Testament story of Joseph, he was able to keep his joy, peace and hope alive in the midst of circumstantial hardship because he believed and trusted that God was good and therefore his purposes were always good (Genesis 50:20).
Proverbs reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5,6)
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But help me understand this because it feels just like word salad. Help me understand this from a lunch room, a normal perspective. If God is just compatible with whatever happens then you have defined Him as absolutely nothing. Anything and everything is now compatible with God. What can’t God do? My faith (and I hold a Dr. Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology position too —but I can’t for the life of me, really and I mean really, understand it), —-My faith and Wayne’s too is just prepared to allow for infinite flexibility in our expectations for God, a readiness to excuse and absolve any seeming atrocity as long it is God who commits it. But this leads to moral nihilism, since there are no consistent criteria for “goodness.” It also produces theological nihilism, a “belief” that is vacuous and incoherent. Even more than that, honestly applied, it now proves all religions. Ever religion can just appeal to: One day, in the sweet by and by, we’ll find out. If the logic proves everything, it can prove nothing. –And once you take that first wrong step morally by believing things without evidence (and you know you do not have evidence because you call it faith) you can justify ANYTHING. What is commendable about believing things without evidence? To me, swallowing intellectual dishonesty is not the same as submitting your will to the Saviour. I have this “feeling in my heart” but the hearts of every other believer in every other religion deceives them. Are you and I just going with our culture, our cradle, our upbringing. I graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary but it feels like I am just going with my upbringing. Do I really care if what I believe is true or am I just going with it because it happens to be useful? It just seems that the amounts of ingenuity used to harmonize blatant Bible contradictions and errors would have cured cancer by now. I’m always telling myself: Do not prey on ignorance. Do not rely on ignorance as a means to build faith. You don’t get anything worth having by believing in things without evidence. Again, what is commendable about believing things without evidence (It seems to me intellectual dishonesty and special pleading for our faith tradition)?
Sorry Jeff, but I don’t really understand your point. I never said to be intellectually dishonest or that our faith is without evidence.
I apologize if I wasn’t clear. (–And thank you for even interacting with me, I’m sure you are over committed by a factor of eight, —who isn’t?). . . . (Oh, by the way, if you have evidence, then it is clearly not faith, it is evidence. It is one or the other, otherwise logic just breaks down.) . . . . So, to the point, when I’m out just talking to people about God and Jesus, lots of nice people (who are not trying to rip on the Bible at all) they say something along the lines of: The only way to say God is good/righteous is to ignore everything we have come to realize about morality in the last 2,000 years (slavery, treatment of women, treatment of gays, et. al.) and for no good reason, by faith, declare all the evils in the Bible*** good out of the dogmatic assertion that God must be good so whatever God did must be right. The “Hebrew God” of the “Old Testament” condoned human sacrifice, rape, murder, genocide, incest, slavery, child molestation, and any other debauchery as long as it was in “His” name.*** Then they hit me with something like: That’s not proving your God is good, it’s ignoring all the clear counter-evidence and warping all your moral judgments accordingly, even if it means making excuses for the most heinous crimes imaginable. God has too many “mysterious plans” –all excuses for God’s total and utter inaction amount to the same thing: claiming that different rules apply to God than to us. But God is good–which must necessarily mean that God is “good” in the same sense that God expects us to be good. Otherwise we don’t know what anything even means do we?
***Killing Event Reference Bible’s Number Estimate (These could go on for pages and pages and pages)
Firstborn Egyptian children Ex 12 500,000
Forcing friends and family to kill each other Ex 32 3,000
When the people complained, God burned them to death Num 11 100
Lord smote them will a very great plague Num 11 10,000
A man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day is stoned to death Num 15
God burns 250 people to death for burning incense Num 16 250
God kills 14,700 for complaining about God’s killings Num 16 14,700
Massacre of the Aradies Num 21 3,000
God sent serpents to kill for complaining about the lack of food and water Num 21 100
God slowly killed the Israelite army Dt 2 500,000
et. al. for pages and pages