As I sat around today eating steamed broccoli and drinking sweet tea (it’s the hard knock life, but somebody’s gotta do it!), I began, like the Grinch who stole Christmas, puzzling and puzzling. One particular aspect of my relationship with God hasn’t made a whole lot of sense lately.
Oftentimes when I am struggling spiritually, behaving carelessly, going days without speaking to Him, sinning persistently and without shame, He does something mind-blowingly good, just as I’m waiting for the bomb to drop and Him to whip my butt back into shape. He woos me back instead of beating me over the head the way I know I deserve.
Alternatively, it seems that I’m doing really, really, well, feeling solid in my walk with God and wanting nothing more than to be more like Him, something happens that sends me into a: “OK, God, what the heck was THAT?”. . .right when I feel like I deserve a big pat on the back.
I realize that my walk with God isn’t a trade-off; that I’ll always get back more than I put into it, and that “doing the right thing” is not some kind of guard against bad things happening in life. But it’s somewhat confusing when I receive easily identifiable aspects of His goodness at times I deserve a kick in the butt, only to do right and THEN get that swift booty kick.
I began to ponder: “Why do I do it? It really seems that it would be best for me if I just kinda did my own thang (which, in my oh-so-in-need-of-sanctification world means “sinning. A lot”), since that’s when God is most obviously good to me. It’s as though when I start to strive for holiness, things just kind of fall apart.”
There are obvious theological problems with that statement, and I won’t insult your intelligence by addressing them all at length.
But I did have a bit of an a-HA moment, which sounded very deep and awesome and theologian-y when it happened and now sounds slightly banal, but I’ll try to explain it anyway.
In the past, I’ve always looked at things in my life that might constitute “suffering” (though I use that term very, very loosely, understanding how privileged I am) as things through which God could work, though they were inherently negative. “Suffering sucks,” was my mantra, “but it’s ok, because God can redeem it”. And I still believe that’s true, particularly with regard to systemic kinds of suffering (ie: sex trafficking, slavery, genocide).
But I think my overall paradigm of goodness being the anti-suffering may be skewed. I tend to think that what is good is that which produces immediate positive results. It could be immediate happiness, or an immediate feeling of being closer to God, or even the promise of blessing to follow soon. But what actually is good is that which brings me closer to God for the long term, for eternity.
Therefore, wouldn’t God’s goodness be demonstrated when He yanks the metaphorical rug out from under me? Perhaps it is not that His goodness is there in spite of the ‘suffering’, but that His goodness is inherent in the ‘suffering’? What if, instead of working against the pain to redeem the suffering, He’s working with the pain to redeem me? Certainly it is not wrong to enjoy the experience of His goodness when it gives more immediate results. But if I shift my paradigm of that which is “good” to include anything that shows me more of who God is and makes me want to be more like Him (even if I have to get over myself first), then those instances in which I feel as though I was dealt an unfortunate hand may actually be absolutely, unadulteratedly good, though not, perhaps, easy or painless.
Please note, I am not saying that all suffering is good. I’ve already talked a little bit about suffering that can result from the evil of mankind, such as murder and rape, and I think that those are instances in which God works to redeem the messes humanity can make. I’m merely saying that if we (or at least I–maybe you guys figured this out back in the days when “20th Century Fox” was relevant) change our paradigms of what is good, those God-ordained hiccups in our lives may be seen as pure instances of God’s goodness–hard, but good nontheless.