Is God Really Good All The Time?
Over my lifetime I have watched Christians of all persuasions claim that God is the answer to our trials and tribulations and that, if we just have the faith, everything will be right. In fact, people have cherry picked parts of Holy Scripture to show that God not only wants us to be blessed but to prosper and that everything will be restored to the way it should be with us. This form of triumphalism has been so well publicised that it has had the opposite effect that was intended. While some still firmly adhere to the, so called, prosperity gospel, many have rejected it and its hypocrisy and have even left the Christian faith.
How sad it is that we sow the seeds of division far more easily than we tend the fragile saplings of unity and truth. Perhaps it is good, therefore, to look at this matter in some depth from time to time and ask ourselves, what is God’s response to the evil of this world and, if he is imminently involved, why do Christians seem still to suffer so much?
This problem of suffering is expressed in the book of Job but it does not give us the answers we would have expected. I would encourage you to read it. Job fell on hard times and it would seem for no apparent reason. He was a righteous and faithful person, but he lost everything he had and was smitten by great illness. His friends came to comfort and encourage him but ended up judging him for his apparent lack of faith and for lack repentance. Job held strongly to his standpoint that he was faithful and he was righteous and yet he still suffered. Eventually his fortunes are restored, but only after he has encountered God with contrite submission. The story is mythical and a piece of literature by an author who attempts to address the very nature of evil and why bad things happen to good people. The answer is… well, evil does happen and for no apparent reason but in spite of this we need to cling to our faith and submit to God. Easier said than done.
It has been my observation that many people come to God in times of personal trial. I have often wondered about this and thought that it is sad that it takes a problem for people to realise their need for God. Why do people who are in the prime of their lives and when their careers are flourishing not come to a place of knowing God? Surely it is when we are successful that we should be acknowledging the role of our Lord in our lives? Yet it is when things are going well that it seems we are rather drawn away from God. Pride and arrogance creeps into our psyche and very often we begin to feel that, as Sinatra once sang, “I’ve done it my way.” Most people have little need of a god when things are going well for them. During the last years of the troubles in this country in the late 80’s and early 90’s we saw a sudden upsurge in the number of people attending church. People were worried about the uncertainty of the future and scared that we were about to plunge into bloody civil war. What sort of future was there for us in this country if we went the same way as Somalia or the Sudan? By the mid 90’s the euphoria of a peaceful transition (generated byin no small measure by the miracle of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) saw those same people who had begun to filter into the churches leave in their droves. There was, sadly, a sense that they did not need God anymore.
So what does God do for us when things go wrong? We get sick and sometimes we are healed but oftentimes we continue ill and sadly, some even die. Did they die because of their lack of faith? Not at all. Paul, wrote about the thorn in his side and that on three occasions he had asked God to relieve him of it, but the problem remained. Paul then points out that, in some way, this malady he suffered was helping him in his witness and ministry of the Gospel. I know of another person who was once very wealthy and in one misdirected decision lost everything he had. He and his wife ended up at age 70 living in a house provided for them by their church and doing menial work to merely put bread on the table. God did not restore his riches or even his dignity. Rather than shout at God and reject him, this couple have become even more faithful and devout followers of Jesus. Crazy as it sounds, but in their ongoing adversity they have probably ministered to more people in their current state than they were able to with all their wealth.
God does not reverse bad fortune always. In fact my experience is that he reverses bad fortune very infrequently, but he does something else. In that adversity come the most unexpected blessings. In sickness we find God using the victim to stimulate the caring in others. In poverty others are stimulated to compassion and in suffering of others people find faith and find God. It is an amazing paradox. We are less thankful in success and more responsive in adversity.
So then what of us who live a life of comparative ease? Perhaps there is a far greater challenge for us when there is little or no adversity at our door. Instead of taking the high moral ground and (perhaps we do not mean it but we may unconsciously feel it) considering ourselves specially blessed, perhaps we are called to a far more difficult job. Can we humbly step down into God’s broken world and be his hands and feet? Can we be truly loving, compassionate, non-judgemental servants of our God and our fellow human beings?
The reality which we need to face is that our faith in Jesus Christ is not a triumphalist expression of what God is going to do for us. We need rather to focus on the extraordinary paradox of the cross. It is unthinkable that God would allow his only son to go through such suffering and yet he did. The world is still today full of despair and brokenness and yet even in that people find a God of love and compassion. The thing is that God is not watching us from a distance and uninvolved with our world. He is very active in our daily struggles and trials, but his answers and not what we should or would expect. In the final analysis, what should our response be? We should not be disillusioned by God’s apparent lack of response to us, but rather we should search to see what God is communicating to us in these times of trial. We then can and will be his compassionate, loving and caring hands in a world of sadness and pain.
– Rev Jonathan Meintjes