Sunday, February 5, 2012

God is good. All the time.

“God is good. All the time.” When you hear the phrase “God is good.” the response is “All the time”. And when you say it, you should say it like you really mean it and believe that God is good and that He is truly such, all the time.

This greeting is widely practiced in most evangelical congregations, including those from “born-again” congregations and from Afro-American or Black churches. It has been said that, generally, Episcopalians are not accustomed to this kind of greeting. One Episcopalian once noted that when she was in a group of Baptists, the Pastor addressed her and said, “God is good” and kind of waited for a reply and she, not really knowing what to say, reluctantly said: “He is indeed. Alleluia”, using the Easter greeting she’s more familiar with.

Okay. So we’re not used to it but I think, maybe there’s a reason why “All the time” does not resonate well with other Christians, let alone the average Episcopalian. I honestly believe that while most Christians could attest in unison that, indeed, “God is good”, there are others who could be skeptical about the “all the time” part of it. It’s as though they’ll agree and say: “Yes, I know, God is good. And I agree, but I also honestly don’t think that God is good all the time.”

“God is good. All the time! Really?"
I think residents of The Land Down Under would not likely have responded “All the Time” as they recall the disaster that hit Queensland in January last year. That hesitancy would have been most certainly paralleled by residents of Christchurch in New Zealand, as they view the aftermath of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake last year that caused buildings to topple down on buses.  Residents of some parts of Japan watched with horror as the raging tsunami caused by the strongest earthquake that hit Japan in 100 years, wrought havoc and engulfed towns.

“God is good. All the time! Perhaps”
And then there are work issues. Just when you begin to “tighten up your belt” news about the lay-off that the company was trying to delay for sometime finally happens. Just when you really need those extra hours to help pay for daycare, they’ve been cutback as well. Who knows if the company you work for going to be around in a year or so. Will that new CEO, who doesn’t even know you or what you are capable of doing, fire you as he plans to please his stockholders?

“God is good. All the time! Hopefully.”           
And then there’s your family. The people you love. You see your parents getting much older; perhaps becoming less stable and word comes around she has another fall. Or perhaps, you begin to see your child struggling in this or that and finally, you’re told he has this rare learning ability. Or perhaps your marital life becomes more and more unbearable and you end up fighting who gets what or who.

You get the picture? You see, sometimes the setbacks and disparities in life challenge faith. We wonder if God caused these evils and whether, as some preachers would suggest, they are really God’s punishment. But then again, why would a good God do it in the first place? Why would a good and loving God answer other people’s prayers and not heed yours? Or worse yet, does He ever exist?

If ever these words begin to sound scary as you find affinity in one or more of the examples I have illustrated, don’t worry. You’re not alone in this. In fact there are really quite a lot of Christians out there who might need some serious conversation about this faith-based anxiety.

And here’s where I find our Old Testament Reading from Isaiah very helpful and timely. So let’s do some unpacking. The people of Israel, especially the Judeans, in the late sixth century BCE, were in a similar predicament as those I’ve included in our illustrations of disasters and calamities. They were a people in agony, their great city of Jerusalem conquered and in ruins, under Babylonian control. They could have easily lamented as they searched for answers to the whereabouts of their God in the midst of this catastrophe. The prophet Isaiah was writing to them at a time when they felt like their strength was sapped and they had no hope.

“God is good. All the time! There were those who responded “LO” (meaning ‘No’) but they actually had another way of making that lament. The prophet Isaiah quotes them saying, “My way is hidden from the LORD; and my right is disregarded by my God.” In other words “God doesn’t really care about us!” “How can he?” Look at all this bad and difficult stuff that is happening all around us.” “He’s not really in charge of things!”

Does it sound familiar? Of course, it does. Their lament and ours appear to be both premised by the claim that God must be partisan; to use a term that connotes some selective preference. He must be good, indeed, but not all the time! Otherwise, why would God answer pleas and supplications of others and not yours? Why would some continue to live almost a hundred years while a three year old gets his life snuffed just like that?

Seems like a justifiable line of argument, isn’t it? And at times, we feel the same. We say, ‘It’s not fair’. But then again, maybe we are the ones who don’t see the big picture. I suspect that only when we find ourselves in one of those terrible and challenging situations and don’t get what we want that we all end up blaming God for what we believe as his ‘partisan’ tendency. And when we begin to remember only the bad ones, then we, in a sense, have ‘selective memory’. In a way, we have become ‘partial amnesiacs’, remembering only what we want to.

This is best seen when things are really doing well. We rarely invoke God to offer thanksgiving for the manifold blessings we enjoy. But as soon as things go awry, we ‘remember’ God and plead our case before His Heavenly Throne. This latter stance is best seen on our hesitancy of blurting the phrase “All the time” to the greeting “God is good”. He was for some time but not now, we claim.

The prophet Isaiah wanted nothing to do with the selective memory or ‘partial amnesia’ of a disheartened Israel. Isaiah was not going to condone such a questioning community in their failure to see the very source of the created order. Hence, the prophet asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? He, (meaning, YHWH, God) sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. And its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy and spreads them out like a tent to live in.”

And he confronts them again and say, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

God created everything and is above everything and rules everything. In other words, God’s goodness knows no bounds and we need to look beyond the stuff of the world and the stuff of your life” and see the one who is behind it all and also the one above it all.

Our selective memory or ‘partial amnesia’ is not beyond repair. We can still fix it and one way of finding a resolve for this predicament is to constantly remind ourselves that we are not in charge of the present, God is!  We are not in charge of the future, either. God is! God is in charge! God is the Lord! But there’s even more. Not only is God in charge, but God also loves us with a perfect love; one on which we can totally rely.

He even gave us some very reassuring words. Listen to Isaiah once again: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

God wants us to soar on wings like eagles. And the way it happens is through a paradigm shift in our mindset. When we commence entrusting our life to God instead of our self, our mindset is changed. Everything in our life is dwarfed in comparison to the largeness and authority of the Lord. He is bigger than any problem we might face. Remember Isaiah as he says; “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth”.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as we learn to trust God, we begin to see things from His perspective. He draws us upward in faith; so that we begin to get a bird’s eye view of things, or better yet, a God’s eye view.

Yes, we will still have to face problems and great challenges, all of us will; until the day we die, but we will not face them alone. The Lord will face them with us. And that can make all the difference. That is the strength we need to move on in our life and faith journeys.

So after all, with the greeting "God is good", there’s wisdom in responding "All the time". God never abandons His creation in spite of their having erred, again and again. The truth is that this loving and compassionate God does not give up on us. 

“God is good. All the time!

No comments:

Post a Comment