The god of this world has done a masterful job of convincing American Christians that the Lord’s goodness is defined by the positive side of His blessings. I’m talking about more than the booming message of prosperity gospel – that is still limited by the gaudy flashy smiles of its slick-haired leaders. No, it’s a more subtle worldview that dominates our thinking today. In short the source of this thinking is based in the success of our “Christian” nation on a global stage. Since this nation was built mostly by Christians on mostly Christian values and morals, and because it is the dominant country on Earth today, then God must be behind our riches and freedom. And He must be behind it simply because we’re Christians and we don’t cut people’s heads off. Look at other countries dominated by other religions and it’s clear that God is not blessing them.
That is a general statement about a wide swath of people here to be sure. But I still believe it’s a dominant ideal. And I believe that it’s a deadly ideal. Thinking like that is not thinking Biblically. Thinking like that abandons the Creator for the creature. Thinking like that is the dull state of mind which leaves us utterly bored with God.
What does God say about His goodness? How should we view it? What is it like? These are questions quite frequently answered in Scriptures. And each answer begins with something like “He who scattered Israel…”, “The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back…”, “I will chastise you in just measure…”, “for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy…”. This seems confusing at first glance. It seems like I’m talking about something totally different from God’s goodness. And that is exactly the problem. When we read verses in Scripture about God cutting babies in half, we cringe and think, “Thank Heaven that the Old Testament ways are done now..” And that is about as far as the thought goes. God used to do things a certain way back then, and it’s different now and we’re glad for it. Let’s not pop a blood vessel trying to understand why He did those things. Let’s not risk breaking our comfortable molds in opening our minds to the possibility that killing babies was a part of God’s good plan. Let’s not chance causing someone to “lose their faith” when they hear that pain can come directly from the hand of God – for a good reason.
There was a point in my life when I did not understand these things. I did not know that God was completely sovereign over all things. I did not know that He used pain for good reasons. I did not know that He allowed sin to run its course for a redemptive purpose. And exactly because I did not have a category in my mind for the Bigness of God – I ran hard into a wilderness of sin. And had God decided not to break me in unbearable pain, I would, for the rest of my wasted life, have been building my own tower of Babel to an unreachable Paradise.
God teaches so very clearly throughout every book of Scripture, that He saves us through judgment. Sin is our fault. The offense is real and is eternally condemnable. Of course our sins were crushed at the cross – praise God! But our sanctification requires more. That is why Paul said in Colossians 1:24 that he was “in his flesh completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is the church…” Paul rejoiced in the suffering God ordained for him because it sanctified him and it sanctified the church. So what does that have to do with God’s goodness?
The quotes earlier were from Jeremiah 30 and 31. This is a beautiful portion of Scripture wherein God specifically defines his goodness (31:12). And when you see the context of the whole passage, you see that God’s goodness is preceded by a very dark past. The summary explanation is this: Israel was drawn to God by His grace alone and made His Bride. She committed adultery by worshiping other lovers (idols). She would not heed God’s call to come back because she could not hear His call and was dead in her sin and unable to bring herself to life. God’s anger against Israel’s sin was fierce and swift. Israel was destroyed, broken, scattered. Women and children were cut apart. Men were slaughtered. All manner of society was utterly wiped away. The bloody Bride was left in a desert wilderness – dying of thirst and anguish – finally seeing the big picture of her sin. That is the point of the bloodshed. The sinner, still in his sin, cannot see the effects of that sin. He cannot see how he is turning his back on God. He cannot tell that his road leads to hell. Jeremiah 2:13 puts it like this, “Be appalled at this oh Heavens, be shocked, be utterly dismayed, says the Lord. For my people have committed two great evils: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of Living Water, and have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
The futility of sin is that we pursue it for satisfaction and survival, when in fact, it becomes bitter agony and eventually kills us. That is the eternal horror of it – God is infinitely satisfying and safe, yet we run after cyanide. God is perfectly beautiful and valuable, yet we drudge up cheap wood and fake gems to carve our own idols. Therefore judgment. Why judgment? Because God is just. But here is the most important thing to remember at this point – God’s wrath against sin has already been satisfied thanks to Christ’s work. So any judgment against sin that happens now must be for some other reason. Paul said in Galatians that Christ didn’t need to die again.
What then is that reason? Why was my life broken by blindsiding adultery and divorce? Why did a beautiful 8 year old girl die of cancer last month? Why does Ebola ravish nations? Why are Christians’ heads being cut off on television? Why is the sex slavery industry booming? All because of one definite answer – God’s goodness.
See it here – Jeremiah 31:2-3, “Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” This all being said after God spent the first 30 chapters of Jeremiah shredding through His beloved children with famine and peril and sword. So this is God’s point – He punishes in order to save. And His salvation is good. If God did not put you through painful seasons, you would not turn from your sin back to Him. Notice that when Israel was totally spent, totally broken, totally helpless and hopeless they did what? They sought for rest and found grace in the wilderness. This is the place that God met them and brought them out of their sin into their sanctification. He broke them, then He appeared to them. And when He did He said something extraordinary, “I have continued My faithfulness to you…”
I know that when I was first entering the darkest portion of my life that it did not seem God was being faithful to me. What I did not understand then was that if God did not break me in weighty pain, then I would not have ever turned to Him of my own accord to make Him my all-satisfying treasure. I would always choose sin over Him. My only hope was for Him to shatter my pride with pain so that I would finally be ready to receive His grace in my sanctification. So, the ONLY way God could have been faithful to me – faithful to “be my God” – was to allow my life to be devastated by an ex who broke her vows to me. Because through that He kept me in Himself, and He kept me satisfied in nothing except Himself.
This is God’s goodness defined – that He will stop at nothing to have our devotion. Because we are ridden with sin, He used the consequences of sin to break us and prepare us for grace. God is sovereign. Pain has a purpose. As Paul said in Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition…” We must turn to the Scriptures for our definition of God’s goodness, otherwise we’ll define it in ways that lead to death.