Friday, May 25, 2007

Trusting God's Goodness in the face of the evidence!

“Is – is he a man? Asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, Chapter 8, C.S Lewis, © C. S. Lewis PTE Ltd 1950

Well I am finally getting round to writing on the subject of the goodness of God. The title of this post is the main point I want to make. The Fact that God is a good God and is good to His people even when the evidence in front of us screams out to the contrary.

The Evidence Against!

I have been challenged about my belief in this fact several times in my Christian walk. When everything that is going on in life around me seems to point to a vindictive, cruel and heartless God. Doubtless Richard Dawkins would agree with that point as he seems to make it readily when talking about how God acts in the Old Testament, but that is an aside.

I don't make that point about God lightly but it sometimes seems to be where the evidence points to, on the face of it. I am sure every one of us on this planet could point to a time where everything is going so wrong and life seems so totally unfair and unjust that to believe in a God who is 100% good, just and loving and has our best interests at heart seems not only impossible but laughable and stupid.

There is a lady who I know who's family just seems to be stalked by death. Her daughters boyfriend was killed in a car crash when they had a very tiny baby. Both her daughter and her son have lost teenage friends repeatedly over a short space of time. What do you say in situations like that. It seems cruel to suggest God is good in the face of evidence like that.

Yet the Bible suggest that if 'God is for us, who can be against us' (Romans 8:31). Also see these passages for other examples declaring the Goodness of God including:

34Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. 1 Chronicles 16:34

These passages declare that God is good, yet in times of deep distress and trouble do we really believe it?

What do you say to relatives when their father/husband is healthy one day and struck down with meningitis the next and reduced to a barely living shell with no medical hope of ever recovering?

The world is a cruel and nasty place. People can be evil, vindictive, violent and abusive. It can be so difficult to believe in anything good if you take even a brief perusal of the news headlines. Wars, shootings, bombings, rapes, murders, homelessness, starvation, disease, poverty, the list goes on.

Yet, Jesus declares:

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

and Psalm 106 sais:

1 Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

So enough of the stating of the miserably blindingly obvious to anyone who lives on this planet. So apart from the obvious evidence I have stated above what makes us distrust that God is good and how can we learn to believe those promises and statements in the Bible and build our lives upon them in surrender and trust to God? It all started in a garden!

Did God really say?

That title comes from Genesis 3:1 where the serpent asks a very clever question and has used the same strategy ever since. The passage from verse 1-4 is as follows:

1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You can't eat from any tree in the garden'?"2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, 'You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.' "4 "No! You will not die," the serpent said to the woman.

Look what the devil does! God had told Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 about the 'tree of knowledge' and that he must not eat from it or he would on that day die. Eve at this point appears to also assume she cannot touch it either, though that is not what God said to Adam. The Devil asks Eve a general question about what God has said in regard to eating from the trees in the garden. However the underlying deceit is very clever.

That first phrase immediately starts a thought process that would never, ever have occurred to Eve before that. The assumption that what God has said is up for our judgment? Before that was absolute trust in His goodness and therefore absolute obedience. Satan's first hook is in. This questioning then points Eve to start to focus, in verse 2-3, on what God has restricted from her, some unknown pleasure possibly, not on every other wonderful fruit tree in existence that she could eat from.

Satan then goes on to answer Eve with a lie and a half truth in verse 4-5.

4 "No! You will not die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate [it]; she also gave [some] to her husband, [who was] with her, and he ate [it]. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Verse 4 is the lie "No! You will not die," and verse 5 is a half truth. Both designed to point to God being a liar who is somehow holding out on them because He doesn't want them to be like Him, even further casting doubt over His character. That says He's is not to be trusted because He doesn't really have her best interest at heart, He’s not really good!

Satan indicates that he is just the good guy pointing out that God is deceitful and is holding the best back from them, he is the one to trust not God. Also that restriction and boundaries are somehow bad and that his advice is to ignore God and listen to him.

So that is Satan's strategy. Get us to question God's judgment, to undermine our confidence in Gods goodness, get us to take the place of God in our lives and believe that what God has restricted is much more exciting.

So she picks the fruit and eats and gives some to Adam and Sin enters the world through their disobedience. They disobeyed God's one simple command.They gained knowledge of good and evil but not at all in the way the Devil indicated. That knowledge was for the creator not the created and we can't handle it.

The Legacy of Eden!

So what legacy does that leave us with? I believe at the core of our sinful nature is a distrust of God's goodness. We have inherited that lie, that 'God is holding out on us'. The devil uses that more than any other method to tempt us to sin. One of my favorite passages in scripture highlights our state. Jeremiah 2:11-13

11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?(Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.

12 Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror, declares the LORD.

13 My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

New International Version - UK (NIVUK) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

This passage clearly shows our sinful nature in action. We have forsaken God and decided to do our own thing to satisfy the thirst only God can meet. If we don't believe God can fully satisfy our needs, ie: that He is holding out on us, then we will go absolutely everywhere else to try and have them met. I have said before in my article on Knowing Gods Love, that this is at the root of every non pathological problem. Our core sin of displacing God and putting ourselves firmly on the throne drives all our problems and neurosis in life since we were never created to be there.
The moral breakdown we see all around in society is because '25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.' Romans 1:25When we worship anything other than The Lord God then it all goes horribly wrong, as that whole discourse in Romans 1 shows. It is what Adam and Eve did and is what we continue to do every day.

'Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature' (Sytematic Theology, (c)1994 Wayne Grudem, Inter-Varsity Press)

Our sinful nature delights to go against God's moral law. It is our legacy from Adam. We hate absolute boundaries, we hate life being out of our own control, we hate the idea that we are not in charge. Even as Christians we are still caught in this battle. We are no longer bound by sin and are set free but since we are being Sanctified, we are not there yet, therefore we still choose badly.

Why do we not believe it?

Because it is in our inherited nature to distrust that God is good! At the same time we are trying to regain what was lost in Eden, we are thirsty for a fully restored relationship with the Living God. The dissonance is obvious.

We can all declare that God is Good in our praise and worship times in church and in our prayers in groups but I believe in a good majority of cases if you looked deep in you heart it would be a different story. There is often that nagging doubt at the back of our minds that prevents us fully believing it, in case it isn’t true. Especially if you have been hurt by those you once trusted. The risk is too great to let go of that element of control, what if God lets me down, what if He isn’t to be trusted, what if He isn’t 100% good? However:

The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

Since our core nature is to distrust God’s goodness then we look and become dependant on absolutely everything else except the one thing that can restore us and satisfy our thirst. Forever caught in the need for God’s pure living water and our natural inclination to ignore the offer of a drink. Most of the time we are not even aware that we are doing it. We so often don’t see this misplaced dependency and it can take a personal storm from God to reveal it sometimes.

We can think we are doing alright yet take a look under the surface and all sorts of things can be taking Gods place. Any addiction like alcohol, drugs, smoking, internet, sex etc... A relationship or relationships, work, church and so much more can all be the thing we are looking to in order to satisfy our thirst. We have an element of control in choosing those things even if it isn't felt choice. Where is life to be found is the question to ask yourself.

So what is God's Goodness?

So life can be pretty bad and not point to a good God. We inherently don't believe God is 100% good and for us and we look in the wrong places for the thing only god can provide. So what is this goodness that we don't trust in?

Goodness or to be Good is described in the dictionary as:

2 having the required qualities; of a high standard. 3 that which is morally right; virtuous.

The following are other aspects of the characteristic of God we call His goodness:

Love, Grace, Mercy and Long Suffering, Justice, Holiness, Righteousness

God's goodness is not something He chooses to be or do, He simply is good in His very nature. There is not an ounce of 'non-good' or bad in Him. Everything God does is morally perfect, right and unquestionably good. The difference is that we sometimes cannot see why God does things that seem to us contrary to His very nature. But we are making a judgment that we are not capable of making. We do not know the mind of God and can never do so since we are created not creator. The Bible states the characteristics of God and we simply must trust that they are so. If you don't view scripture as being the inerrant word of God then it will be all the harder to trust God.

Verses like James 1:17:

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.

Psalm 86:15

But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abundant in faithful love and truth.

The reason I put that passage from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in was because it captures in a few words the message I would want to convey. That God is not to be messed with, He is the creator of everything and His power is beyond anything we can possibly grasp, He is not a tame God, not a God we can safely box into some category or idea. But He is undeniably good in all that He does. The facts are in scripture, that is the source of truth. Nothing that happens to us changes the facts. Yes the world can be an awful place to live sometimes. However we have a God who is so much bigger than any circumstance or hurt. He doesn't always deliver us out of painful situations but the whole character of God is for us (Romans 8:31) so we can stand confident in this fallen world with a God who 'IS' perfectly good.

All Bible quotes unless otherwise stated are from:

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Nick Payne said...

Fortuitous that you should post this the day after BBC3 aired "Signs", which i think answers this question extremely well. A lot of people loathe that film with a passion... but I love it.

C.S. Lewis was also probably the best apologist we had in the last century... and he faced the challenge of God's goodness in very real ways himself. He lost both his mother at an early age, causiong him to turn atheist... and then after regaining his faith, he lost his wife Joy Gresham - yet he was not defeated by this in the end. He wrestled it through with God.