By Helen Brooke
“God is good.” Often I feel unsettled by those words of praise.
The much-needed rain arrived: God is good.
I got that promotion: God is good.
He’s been declared cancer-free: See, God is good.
That response, that “God is good,” rubs me wrong. Why? I do believe God is good. I do see the good things of life as emanating from this good God, whether because he built that goodness into the structure of the universe, infused it into the heart of a person, or delicately wove it in the tapestry of events. So why does this phrase in this context strike me as so problematic?
Sitting with that question, I realize my objection is to the implication that whatever good thing just happened proves God’s goodness—as if the problem previously unresolved was enough to throw God’s goodness into question—as if we’re gathering and weighing evidence and have decided that this particular thing outweighs all the bad that came before and tips the
scales in favor of God.
And if the drought had continued? If I had been laid off? If he had died a long and terrible death? Then?
Some time ago I had an injury that affected my vision, balance, and sensory processing. For over a year I was unable to process visual information from the left side; I couldn’t even look toward the left without instantly feeling sick. Many people prayed for my healing. I saw lots of doctors, did lots of therapies, rested a lot, got special glasses, did all the things. And I was still unable to look left. Then one day in the middle of a worship service, I could suddenly look left
again; I could track an object past the midline; I could hold a book in front of me instead of to the right.
“See. God is good.” people said to me. And I said “Yes. Yes, God is good,” and I meant it. But it wasn’t my newly recovered ability to look left that confirmed God’s goodness. My injury hadn’t called his goodness into question, but if it had, this one little bit of healing wouldn’t have proven anything. After all, I was still unable to balance properly, still got motion sickness from walking, still couldn’t work more than a couple hours a day. If my healing was the test of God’s goodness, he’d get a maybe-barely-passing grade.
Many years earlier I had squeezed through a tunnel into an ancient church, so old the land had built up around it and buried it. The sanctuary was bare stone, a stone altar the only furnishing. An old man told the story of the place. Eighty years ago, when his father was a boy, a troop attacked the village in which this church stands. The people of the village, women and children mostly, hid themselves in the church, hoping to escape massacre, but the marauders didn’t leave. They pillaged the houses then waited. There, in the sanctuary where we stood, the people ran out of water. They ran out of food. The odors of close quarters. The whimpers of dying children. Finally, a man, his friend, and his twelve-year-old son decided to make a run for it, to sneak out a back tunnel, split ways, and try to get help. Only the boy survived.
We walked back through the village, past houses whose owners were driven out or killed for their faith, past crumbling walls and fields without people to tend them, past the guard placed to intimidate the remaining residents.
That evening the surviving boy’s son—now an old man—sang an even older song: “Taste and see how good the Lord is. How happy is the one who takes refuge in him!” He blessed and broke bread and gave it to us.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the psalmist wrote. “Those who worship him lack nothing… [The Lord] delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:8, 9, 17)
Provision. Deliverance. The provision and deliverance that did not arrive for the faithful worshipers in that village church. They died there, parched, starved, shot dead. And they are not an anomaly in history. From Abel onward, millions of faithful have lived hard lives and died cruel deaths. Isaiah. John the Baptist. Jeremiah. James the apostle. Jesus.
Whatever God’s goodness means, whatever biblical promises of provision and deliverance mean, they also include this: a faithful person can die of starvation; innocent children can be killed; the most loving people can be tortured.
I’ve traveled roads on which thousands upon thousands of innocents met violent deaths, stood in rooms where children died of thirst, watched destitute toddlers pick through garbage, carried a one-year-old so malnourished she weighed less than most newborns. I’ve grieved the murders of men I knew, cared for children abandoned by parents, seen whole communities burnt to the ground. I’ve witnessed people celebrate these horrors.
In my own body I’ve felt this broken world: parasites, broken bones, torn ligaments, unrelenting pain, exhaustion. I’ve suffered relational hurt: betrayals, rejections, international moves, deaths of friends. I’ve known fear, terror, dread, nightmares, emptiness, despair, helplessness.
And yet, I trust God. Trust him for what? Not to keep me from the horrors that have befallen so many of my fellow humans. So then what? What do I mean by saying that God is good? What do I mean when I say I trust his goodness?
I trust that God is not the source of those horrors.
I trust that God is horrified by them too.
I trust that God loves his creation, loves those who are suffering, loves me.
I trust God to one day set all things right. (And I’ve told him often that’s a huge job past anything I can imagine.)
Mostly, I trust God to know what it’s like. I trust God because he’s not just outside looking in. I come back again to that evening in the village, that broken bread. “This is my body broken for you.” God. Broken. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Helen grew up in the Middle East and moved to the Midwest as an adult. She has been a member of Resurrection for over a decade.