Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hope and God's Goodness

Suffering says, "Pay attention to me."
In yesterday's post, Love: Hope's Wellspring, I talked about the fact that hope flows from unshakeable faith in God's love for you. Until you accept that God exists, and that He is good, and that He loves you, my efforts to help you find hope will be fruitless because you won't be interested in doing what it will take to help you find hope. So, today, I will discuss the ways that we can know that God is good.

Faith in God's Goodness

The sure and certain knowledge that God is always good, and that He is always working for your good because He loves you leads you to look for the good in every circumstance. Once you start looking for it, you find it. You’re able to push through the worst of the storms that life has to offer because you know that on the other side of that storm is something beautiful that couldn’t have come into being any other way.

But how can we be sure that God is good? Aren’t evil, suffering, death, and natural disasters proof that God is either not good – and therefore should not be followed – or that He does not exist since if He is all powerful He could choose to stop them all but doesn’t? The answer is using those things to prove that God doesn’t exist is like pointing to bear poop in the woods and arguing that it means the unseen bear that left them behind doesn’t exist.

A Faulty Premise Leads to a Faulty Conclusion

It’s a faulty piece of logic that begins with a faulty assumption. The assumption is that because you don’t want those things to happen means that there is no good reason for them to happen. It’s a childish kind of logic, but as grown-ups we know that sometimes medicine that doesn’t taste good for us is good for us. Sometimes the surgeon needs to cause temporary pain in order to bring about lasting healing.

Evil and God’s Goodness

When I was a child, I was abused by someone close to me. I knew about God, and I knew that I’d been taught He was all good and all loving. I couldn’t understand how He could possibly allow me to experience this kind of evil. I doubted His love for me because of it.

I wrestled with that question for a long time. When I was ready to listen to the answer, it made perfect sense. In order for love to be real, it must be freely given. It must be an act of the will. Evil exists as a consequence of God’s gift of free will.

God couldn’t stop the person who abused me – even at the last second – because to do so would have been to rob that man of his chance to choose to love instead. God will never take from you your ability to choose love, because that’s ultimately what He wants for you to do. So He will stand by and allow you to do evil, if that is your choice.

However, what God promises is that He will turn the things that were intended for evil into good if you trust in Him. What He did with the abuse that was done to me is transform it into a gift that allows me to minister to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others, who struggle with finding God in the midst of that suffering, and to bring hope to those in need of healing.

Suffering and God’s Goodness

I’ve experienced a lot of suffering in my life. I’ve been through all manner of abuse, poverty, hardship, and experienced some incredible losses in my life. It can be tough to see God when you’re going through it. However, suffering has been my greatest teacher in love.

Most people, myself included, start off life assuming that suffering is bad. It makes sense. The human brain is wired to tell you to get away from anything that causes you pain, and if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to cause pain it is suffering.

But that’s exactly what makes suffering a sign of God’s goodness. Suffering is a built-in warning system that tells the person when something is broken and needs fixing. Suffering is like a tire blow-out. It forces you to change the balding tire you’ve been ignoring because you just didn’t feel like dealing with it.

It’s not always something in your own life that’s broken, either. Sometimes it’s something in the life of someone you love, or someone at the work place, or someone at your school that has something broken in their life. The suffering that surrounds someone who is dealing with brokenness spills out onto everyone around them because God wants you to pay attention to that and help them find a solution to it. If it didn’t cause you suffering, too, you might not have the necessary motivation to do that.

And that’s exactly what suffering is meant to do: to focus your attention and get you motivated to fix things. It lasts only as long as it is necessary to accomplish the end for which it was allowed. It isn’t meant to hurt you but to get you to seek answers and find solutions.

Death and God’s Goodness

If you start with the assumption that there is only this life, then death seems pretty cruel, especially the death of young children. It seems a waste of their potential, robbing you and everyone who knew them the chance to experience the joys of a relationship with them. It seems cruel to introduce loved ones into your life and then snatch them away from you.

Christian presentation of death as a punishment for sin doesn’t seem to offer much comfort in this. How can the young deserve that punishment when they haven’t done anything wrong? It seems unjust, and the deaths that come from evil or natural disasters seem especially hard to take.

However, if you start with the assumption that there is a life beyond this one, one that is beautiful and unceasingly good, then death starts to seem like a gateway to better things instead of a final curtain. If you view this world as a school where you are being educated in love, then death is not a punishment. It’s graduation day. To remove death would be to remove that gateway, and forever trap the child in a world of sorrow, suffering, pain, and anguish.

The reason that it isn’t man’s right to take the life of another is that no human being knows when the soul is ready to graduate. No human being knows when the soul has accomplished the mission which God gave it, and so no human being has the right to rob that soul of its chance to accomplish that mission by taking its life. Only God knows when the mission is ended, because only He knows what the mission was.

Natural Disasters and God’s Goodness

Alright, you’re thinking by now, let’s assume that all of those things are true. That still doesn’t explain natural disasters. After all, natural disasters aren't caused through man's choice to sin (unless we're talking about global warming, and then maybe) and so therefore the people impacted by them are innocent and don't deserve to die or to suffer needlessly. 

Ignore the fact that I've already shown that dying and suffering aren't always the bad things we make them out to be. Let's talk about the loss and devastation that come from natural disasters.

Natural disasters are God’s way of conducting spring cleaning, maintenance, and renovations on the Earth. Volcanoes, for example, provide an outlet for pressure build-ups but they also serve as a method of expanding the surface of the earth to accommodate more people and animals. Earthquakes allow God to rearrange the furniture, so to speak, by moving plates from one point to another.

God usually gives us plenty of warning to move before allowing a natural disaster to strike. If we pay attention, we can usually avoid them. It’s up to us to listen. The problem is, we get too attached to our possessions and our homes and we don’t want to leave them. We forget that the Earth isn’t meant to be our forever home.

Natural disasters are God’s reminder that the Earth is not mankind’s permanent home nor is it our possession It is a school where you and I are meant to learn to love. Without natural disasters, it would be easy to get too comfortable, to settle in and settle down, and to forget that there is something greater than this world. It would also be too easy to forget that we aren’t the owners of the joint, just its caretakers.

Allowing us to lose possessions and property is painful. There's no doubt about that. But it can be a very healthy thing for love, and therefore for hope. Take the person who has made the accumulation of wealth and possessions their entire focus. They are not going to voluntarily give those things up.

So, God uses the natural disaster to help pry their fingers off of those things in much the same way as a good parent pries the fingers of a toddler off the lollipop that isn't good for him in order to give him something much better for him. And the fact that He loves us so much that He is willing to endure the abuse and ingratitude and anger that He knows His actions are going to inspire is a proof of His goodness.

Evidence of God’s Goodness

That there is beauty in this world and we are capable of seeing it is evidence of God’s goodness. God did not have to make the world a beautiful place, nor did he have to make us capable of seeing its beauty. That He did both is the first evidence of His goodness.

Love: Evidence of God's Goodness

That there is love in this world and that every human being is given an opportunity to experience it on some level is the second bit of evidence of God’s goodness. Psychologist Harry Harlow conducted primate experiments on love. It showed that primates deprived of love will literally lose their will to live and die. It is no less true for human beings. Love is an essential ingredient to life.

However, to love others takes great courage because it involves a lot of risk. It involves the risk of being hurt emotionally and even physically. Human beings are wired to avoid pain, and love inevitably brings it into our lives. So, then, how does love exist and how is it continued to be passed down if not sustained by a source of love much greater than ourselves? That love is still in this world in spite of everything is the second bit of evidence for God’s goodness.

Science: Evidence of God’s goodness. 

As much as atheists would love to say that science proves God doesn’t exist, or that it can’t prove His existence at all, neither is true. Science is actually evidence of a good and loving God. Science rests on five basic premises: There is truth, the truth does not change, the truth can be discovered through application of logic and reason, that it is good to know the truth, and that testing is the means by which things that aren’t true can be separated from things that are true.

How is that proof of God’s goodness? Because it is science that allows people to understand the world around us, how to prevent and cure disease, to anticipate and reduce the impact of natural disasters, and to find our way to Him. God could have left us with no help. He could have created and abandoned us, but he didn’t.
   
He gave us the tools we needed to make our way in the world before we even thought to ask. He gave us the means to find our way to the truth so that we would have the power to make the choices that would benefit us most. He didn’t have to do these things for us. He did them because He is good and He wanted us to have what is good in our lives, too.

Come Back Tomorrow for Hope and God’s Love

I hope that in this chapter you’ve begun to be convinced of God’s goodness, even in the middle of suffering, tragedy, evil, and death. In the next chapter, I’ll discuss God’s love for humanity and for you specifically, how you can know and be certain of it, and how that knowledge contains the secrets to growing in hope.

Share Your Thoughts

If you've read this chapter and it helped you in any way, I would really appreciate hearing from you. Writing can be a lonely thing, and receiving positive feedback encourages me. If you read this and you disagree, I'm just as happy to hear from you. At least you're thinking about it. If you read it and it made you angry, I still want to hear from you. We can discuss it.

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