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)