At Covenant College I learned to say, “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.” I’m not sure where it came from or how it started but it was part of our college liturgy so much so that now, whenever I hear someone say, “God is good,” I want to respond, “All the time.”
I spent the Labor Day weekend with dear friends, several of whom have also faced severe trial. We talked often about what it means to affirm that God is good. If we really do believe that He is good and that, being God, He is unchangeable, then He is good no matter what He sends. I find I have this habit of saying, “God was so gracious,” or “Wasn’t God good?” whenever things go the way I want them to. I don’t suppose it’s wrong to say such things – the Lord DOES give good gifts to His children. But, do I also say, “God was good,” when my desires are denied or when He fills my heart with pain?
I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis soon after we lost our twins. He wrote it after losing his wife. It is not for the faint of heart. He wrestles with his pain with such intensity that it often took my breath away. And this idea of the goodness of God is primarily what he wrestles with. In typical Lewis fashion he states his proposition: either God is a cosmic sadist and loves to see His children suffer OR He is good and the suffering that He sends is absolutely necessary. In other words, if God is good then the pain that we endure is essential to us and there is no other way. We know, after all, that “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Or, as another author put it, “It is His strange work, not His natural delight.”
These thoughts have been balm for my soul – admitting that what I am currently undergoing is necessary for me. There is no point in rebelling against it. There is no other way.
But there is another side to this coin. If God, in His goodness, will continue cutting away at me, consuming my dross and refining my gold, then I have no guarantee that the pain will stop. It will only stop when the work is finished. I have never been afraid of God BECAUSE of His goodness, but I am now. I fear His goodness that will do its necessary work in me, no matter how painful it is, no matter how hard I plead for Him to stop.
Or, as Lewis so aptly put it, “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?”