“God is good!”
I said it a hundred times at least, standing in front of 160 kids at VBS. Twice each day we gathered and I led them in shouting, over and over, “God is good!” When life is unfair, God is good! When life is scary, God is good! When life is sad, God is good!
I’ll be honest. More than once that week, a little question arose in my mind: “Why is this so easy to say, but so hard to believe?”
I know, I know. Gasp.What? You don’t believe God is good? But for years that statement has driven me crazy. We say it so casually, just like I did, leading all the kids in fist pumping the air and shouting something we all want to hear. “Yep, God is good! All the time.” Honestly? It sometimes feels like putting a Band-Aid over a severed limb.
You might have cancer and it’s moving so fast, there’s nothing they can do. But God is good!
You might be facing divorce, the thing you swore would NEVER happen, not to you, and your kids are devastated and you are lost. God is good!
Your heart is broken in a million pieces and you don’t have strength to continue. God is good! Fist pump like you mean it!
It’s what we say when we want everyone to believe that we’re fine, totally fine, even though we’re about to drown in our suffering. Paste on the happy smile and say what you’re supposed to.
Surely I am not the only one who sometimes looks on all these words, words upon words, piles of words that we say we believe. Admit it. Some days, they really are just piles.
What is it for, this faith we cling to, when darkness finds us anyway and injustice rips the branch of abiding right out of our hands? Are these words anything but piles of noise?
Some days, I want to fling that noise right in the Father’s face. I want to beat him with the rage that pain brings. I want to demand that he prove himself. I want to shout, “Can’t you see how much we are hurting?”
My own pain doesn’t make sense. The pain of those around me doesn’t make sense. The shame of the pain I have caused; oh, this is not bearable. To live in a world that is so dark and seems darker every day. Some days I cannot bear it. And standing in front of kids, teaching them this mantra, God is good, I think how I don’t ever want their faith to be a Band-Aid. I know the pain some of them already face, and I imagine the suffering that may be coming. What am I really giving them to hold to?
I honestly struggled with this last week. One night, I don’t know why, but I grabbed Lincoln’s Daily Devotional from my shelf. I stared at the plain cover for a few moments, remembering holding this small book in the middle of a teeming tourist shop in DC, thinking of the man who opened it each morning and pulled out its promises to face a world at war—and his own fears.
I flipped it open randomly, read the title, “Communion with God a Source of Joy.” It quoted Psalm 4:6-7:
“There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?’
Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord!
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
Well. This is me, demanding, questioning, lamenting. We say You are good, God. But where is the good? Who can show me anything good?
God IS good. And the good is in the light of His face.
The good is in the light of His face.
I read the whole short psalm, over and over.
We mortals turn all glory into shame. We love worthlessness and seek falsehood. We chase lies and in the end, are disillusioned and angry. “Who will show us anything good?”
The Psalmist calls to God, puts his trust in the Lord. He even lies down in peace and sleeps. Why?
He seeks the face of God. And here is what he says of God:
God answers him when he cries.
God relieves his distress.
God is gracious and hears his prayer.
God sets apart the godly for Himself.
God puts more joy in his heart than the wealthy will ever have.
God alone makes him dwell in safety.
God is good because he is there, listening. And responding. The joy comes not when the pain stops, but when his presence starts.
Maybe in the crushing disappointment of suffering we will not be crushed, if we can see the face of God.
God is good. The words can be a Band-Aid, just another falsehood we say without meaning it. Or the words can be a quest. A searching. God, you say you are good, and I don’t see how. I’m going to seek your face. I’m going to find you.
In truth, He is here in our blind groping, not far from each of us, and in our searching, He wants to free us from all we look to for goodness, all the things we use to try to shape this life into the thing we desire. He really is good, and when we really do see His face, He really is all we need. Everything.
The goodness starts when we start seeking His face.
Maybe that’s why I hate it when people say it so tritely, “God is good!” Seeking his face is no small thing. Knowledge of this goodness is hard-won. It hurts to find God’s goodness. It costs us something. It is so, so worth it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful. Because God isn’t good like Disneyland good, like magic in the air and everything you ever wanted. God’s goodness is about HIM being good, not me. All the things about myself I thought were good? He calls them filthy rags. God’s goodness is a holy good, a goodness that strips us bare, shows us who we really are and what we really live for, and—if we let it—reclothes us, makes us new. God’s goodness remakes us. It is sacred.
This is what I pray those kids remember. I don’t want them to just say God is good until the words have no real meaning. I want them to believe it. And the only way is to seek his face. To sacrifice everything for that quest. This is where joy is found.
When you find yourself faking it, fist pumping and smiling, it’s time for the quest. Is He really good? Your own shattered self might not truly think so. Don’t go for the Band-Aid. Go for the surgery that will save your life. Seek His face. It’s worth it.
Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. 1 Chronicles 16:11
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace. Numbers 6:25-26
Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; Save me in Your lovingkindness. Psalm 31:16
In my distress I called upon the LORD, Yes, I cried to my God; And from His temple He heard my voice, And my cry for help came into His ears. 2 Samuel 22:7
Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Your ear to me; In the day when I call answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:4