“How do we say that God is good when life is not?”

 

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“How do we say that God is good when life is not?”

I read the words and my eyes brim with tears. I’m sitting by the window and bright sun radiating off fresh snow bathes the room in cold light.

I continue reading: “And what, if anything, can be made of the prayers we’ve whispered in the middle of nights, restless with fear and the threat of loss, prayers that have had no apparent answer, no just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue?” *

I read the question again “How do we say that God is good when life is not?” When you bury a child or a parent too early, and Job’s comforters tell you they are in a “better place”. When you watch your body succumb to cancer, and you know that you will not live to see your daughter’s fifth birthday; when your husband of less than a year dies in a tragic accident – how, then, do you say that God is good?

At the end of a life, every single human being has a reason to believe God is not good. But the opposite is also true. At the end of every life, there is evidence of God’s goodness in every breath we’ve been given.

It is tempting to want clean answers, to be able to point to healings and miracles. But clean answers have never helped the one who is suffering.

How do we say that God is good when life is not?

There are no easy answers. We limp our way through this question, sometimes full of faith and confidence that the character of God is ultimately good; sometimes shaking our heads saying “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Theologians call this ‘theodicy’ – a noun that literally means “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” Vindication of divine goodness – God on trial, his very character being questioned.

As I think about this question, I realize that this is some of the thread through Passages Through Pakistan. Yes, Passages is about Pakistan, and being a third culture kid/missionary kid, and living between worlds. But ultimately, Passages is my testament of faith. In Passages I work through what it is to believe God loves, God cares, and God is good when life is not. The tapestry of God’s redemptive plan is not without pain or suffering, but ultimately I have deep confidence that God is good, even when life is not.

This I knew, and I knew it well: when you’re six and you wake up at five in the morning, away from home and unconditional love in a dormitory of seven other little girls, just as young and equally homesick and insecure, there is no one to comfort you. When you are twelve, and your backside aches for a week because of the beating of a house parent, there is no person to comfort you. When you question why dads and babies die in the middle of the night, there is no person to answer you. When you are sixteen, and you feel misunderstood by all those around you, unable to articulate your heart, there is no person to comfort you. When you are eighteen, and your heart is breaking at the thought of leaving all you know and all you love, there is no person to comfort you.

My faith was more than theology – it was a living, breathing entity. It wrapped me with a profound sense of comfort and love, and I knew beyond any previous doubts that God was real. I knew in the marrow of my bones, and the depths of my soul, that there was something greater than boarding school loss, stronger than the grief of goodbyes, deeper than the pain of misunderstanding. I knew that redemption was not just a theological idea, but that somehow it was more real than anything on this earth. Faith was the story written on my life, and my life was witness to a greater reality.**

*Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel

**Passages Through Pakistan pages 165-166

Readers – Rachel Pieh Jones has published a review of Passages Through Pakistan. You can read it here. 

 

6 thoughts on ““How do we say that God is good when life is not?”

  1. Just before I read this I was reading through the small book of Habakkuk near the end of the Old Testament. I went to that book after reading an article in Touchstone Magazine, new to us, a gift subscription from Jonathan, Marilyn’s son and our youngest grandchild. Habakkuk was a prophet in one of the very dark times of Israel’s history. His dialogue with God echoes our own questions as we cry out to God in our own dark times. First God told him to wait, you will see what I will do. But what God was going to do wasn’t what the prophet wanted to hear. Then God said, “Remember…” and we read of how God intervened to bless and deliver his people in the past. Finally, He worshiped with these words, “Though the fig tree does not blossom and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
    The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Hab. 3:17-19 NIV) For me this means (and I have been learning this for a very long time) that no matter how bad life may be, God is still good. Many things that we have experienced I do not understand or see a good purpose and i have no promise that God will ever explain it to me, but in my darkest days, when I have cried out to my Lord, He has allways been there. Thank you, Marilyn!

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  2. Thank you for your process.
    I have been on a journey of learning to have faith and trust God’s goodness through and inspite of the hard stuff, not because of things that happen.

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  3. Marilyn, thank you so very much for your words about God and faith and how we struggle to keep our faith that “God is good”. I’ve struggled with this over the past few years and I still have times my eyes fill with tears and overflow. Bless you.

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  4. Marilyn, you continue to face, and even embrace, the questions that challenge us . . . and your thoughts and words illumine those dark places inside us all. That light helps each of us to find our own answers. I can’t wait to read Passages Through Pakistan!

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