I’ve been thinking about the goodness of God again, as it’s been quite a keystone of this effort to understand. I’ve come to realize that part of what might have made this so difficult for me comes from a root belief about pain. In Christian churches we often equate all pain to the brokenness of this fallen world, it’s strictly the forces of evil that make it hurt. There is little to no recognition of pain that may be for discipline, pain of our own making, or the pain that God uses to grow and humble us. In tandem we have a very clear vision of God in his un-matched power bringing all the good things into our lives, we see him as the great goodness orchestrator planning for such blessings to exist specifically for us. So when happiness comes about we give God glory for his all knowing planned out divine hand in making it happen, but when pain come about he seems less so the orchestrator and more of the fellow griever of the evil created by man and his serpent. It’s like God was involved and powerful in giving the good and somehow lost the battle to the evil forces in the bad.
Now this synopsis is not consistent with Christian theology, it’s just a reflection of the evangelical churches loudest narrative, or maybe just the narrative that I picked up on. Other than the inconsistency in the logic around this way of thinking, it also seems problematic when we try to understand God’s character and involvement in our world. When I started reading the Old Testament through my rosy Christian lenses the glass shattered and everything became blurry. Just a quick skim through the Old Testament and I think we’ll all see pretty quickly that God not only allows for pain caused by evil or our own free will, but he actually creates it sometimes to humble his people, to teach them something and to test them to understand their true character.
To get all the credit logically you have to take all the blame, right? So if God is orchestrating all the good it’s logical and rational for us to believe he deserves credit for that same orchestration in all the pain. This is frustrating for us when we have been praising God throughout our charmed lives for all our western blessings, then life throws us a curve ball of flaming pain. It’s our pattern to look to God give him the same credit we’ve been giving him all our lives but now it’s the dark side of the same coin.
It’s a problem of defining blessings and goodness, but it’s also a problem of what we believe we are warranted. I think we first need to separate happiness and our favorite Christian #blessings with the true goodness of God, which I already blabbed about. Second we need we need to grapple with why only some are chosen and only some receive blessings and what we deserve. Right before the Israelites go into the promise land, Moses gives them a rundown of the law in Deuteronomy. One of the things he says to them is,” Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.” (Duet 9:4).
I'm not a theologian, but it seems that even in the grace of the law it wasn't because they were good that they were blessed it's because they were chosen, or maybe because the Canaanites were worse, I don't know. It seems there are two edges to the sword of grace, if we're chosen it bails us out even when we can't live up to the law, but if we're not, try as we might we'll never make it. I don't know what to do with that.
But if we’re all as wicked as the Canaanites and deserve all the evil that this world and beyond has to offer, the law and what it does should feel like our lucky reward if we get the chance to participate in it, then grace to fail is bewildering, and blessings are just beyond. What if the small bits of goodness, painful or otherwise, should blow our minds by its extravagant grace because of what we actually deserve.
I had been picturing it like we were all in the grey zone and God decided who went up into salvation or blessings, and who went down into pain and evil, and now it looks more like a pit of humanity. We’re all at the bottom of it and God gives us the law and grace as a ladder to Him and goodness, and all the blessings and pain in our lives comes from God, free will, evil and probably some luck. It still doesn’t explain why some are offered this ladder in clear ways and others aren’t. It’s still unfair and confusing and I think it’s only human for us to question God allowing such great pain, but if the ladder is there, I’ll start climbing and hope to God those around me can too.
Our sin and its repercussions are really just an exposure that we’re all in the pit of sin together, and if the ladder of the law feels narrow sometimes, we are gravely misunderstanding the pain of what’s below. Furthermore, if we think we can do it all on our own, we have completely missed the outstretched hand of grace from above. And finally, we are guaranteed it will hurt along the way, it doesn't get easier the higher we go, let’s all just hope it’s worth it in the end.