God is Good
I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a whole generation of folks for whom saying the phrase “God is good” brings an immediate internal recoil.
And if you reflexively cringe inside when you say that sentence, “God is good,” there are two possibilities, two sets of experiences I think might have forged this association in your mind.
The first possibility is that you might have grown up in a youth group somewhere. And your experience in that youth group was probably much like mine.
I remember going to countless youth retreats & revival nights growing up, and it always felt like the speaker knew it was going to be a hard sell. Here are a bunch of kids, and all they want to do is play basketball and goof off, and now they’re going to have to sit still for 45 minutes and listen quietly to a sermon. And so what did every speaker force us to say before he began his sermon?
“God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.”
I’m sure it’s well-intentioned. And I’m positive they’re trying to remind us of the undeniable, universal truth that God is, in fact, good. And He is, in fact, good, all of the times. But, while they might have been trying to drum up a positive emotional outlook prior to them launching into a boring sermon, what they were, I think, more powerfully doing was creating an unconscious cognitive association that “God is good” mostly when you don’t, at all, feel like He is.
The second possibility is that “God is good” has been mostly used as a flimsy life raft when you were drowning, in the midst of some deep, dark pain and heartache. And you would force yourself to say, or a well-intentioned friend would offer up, “You know, God is good.” Those are friends, though, who are honestly like Job’s friends, who are uncomfortable with simply sitting with someone else’s grief, connecting with another’s pain to share the load. It’s a little too hard to stare into that pit of darkness all together now, so they change the subject.
How else can I explain how countless people I’ve met with and counseled, when they’re in pain, will almost reflexively and defensively say, “But, you know, God is good! So it’ll be okay.” It’s almost Pavlovian. It keeps you from really connecting with the depth of the pain you might be in. It leaves it shelved and unprocessed, waiting to burst out somewhere else. It’s like a neurolinguistic programming of denial of pain and difficulty, of stuffing your dark and stormy emotions downinto a tiny little box, and sealing up with a little lock: “But, you know, God is good.”
The result is the same either way though — we end up reaching for that sentence only in difficult times. It becomes associated with all of the crappy times in life. It starts to feel like a cheap bottle of Natty Ice — we know we’ve reached a bad place when we’re pulling this one out.
The thing is, that sentence was never meant to be a defensive response to get you to avoid pain or try to brace yourself for difficulty. Instead, it was meant to be seen clearest when you stare down difficulty and pain right in the face, connect with it, process through it, and see on the other side just how great and wide and true that sentence really is.
God is good.
You know when I’ve seen it truest in my own life? Not when I’ve avoided pain, but when I’ve steered myself right into the emotional skid of the unprocessed pain in my heart. It’s feeling that dawns on me after I’ve bawled my eyes out in grief. It’s the moment right after I’ve physically shaken, processing the hurt I’ve unknowningly carried inside of me for years. It’s after I’ve shared with real brothers and sisters the deepest doubts that I’ve had, and they’ve stared me in the eyes and told me, “It is okay that you feel like that. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
When we confront and process our pain, our grief, our failure, the heart we’ve been disconnected from for so long becomes reconnected again. And here’s the goofy thing — when we become reconnected with our pain, we also get reconnected with all of the other emotions we’ve dampened or sedated to get away from pain. We become reconnected with real joy, real gratitude, real happiness. Your whole heart comes back to you, and your heart knows instinctively, in the truest way, just how good God can be.
Suddenly, God’s goodness for you won’t be restrained to retreats or revivals anymore — you start finding His intrinsic goodness in every cup of coffee you manage to have, in the face of every friend who stands by you as things go awry. You start to see His divinity at work not just in communion, but in every cup poured out for you and every loaf of bread broken for you.
You start thinking like the Israelites did every time they shouted “The Lord is good and His love endures forever.” They associated it with the feeling right before they marched into a battle they were about to win by the might of God. They shouted it right before they started their major feasts, distant cousins and relatives all crowded together in Jerusalem, cups and plates overflowing. They would say it to themselves as they brought in the first fruits of that year’s harvest.
Face down your pain, if only to win your whole heart back in the battle. Share your pain with brothers and sisters who aren’t scared of it, but will connect with you in the midst of it, and help bear the load. Win back that sacred sentence from all the negative associations you might have, and let all the positive ones flood in, washing it anew. Let yourself say it the next time you have a deep belly laugh with someone. Shout it out the next time you feel your heart well with excitement over the possibilities that are open to you. Be the foolish romantic who says it at the best sunset you’ve seen today.
Don’t use the phrase to run from pain, and don’t run from pain at all. But face it all down, stare it all in the face for what it all really is. You’ll start to see that pain, so long as it’s acknowledged, is temporary and can be healed.
But you’ll also see that God, well, he really is good, and his love really is quite durable.