I grew up in a day and age in the church where the response to every good thing that happened in life was “God is good.” I still hear it today nearly daily in my Christian circles and see it all across social media. Someone get’s a promotion or gets blessings of some sort and everyone’s response is, “Wow! God is good.” Someone gives their life to Christ or gets healed of a physical ailment and everyone’s response is, “God is good!” There is nothing wrong with that phrase in and of itself. God is most definitely good. His goodness blows my mind on a regular basis. BUT, it has absolutely nothing to do with our circumstances. It is an innocent enough statement but it speaks worlds about our view of God and our view of the place of blessings as well as trials in our lives. It suggests that His goodness is contingent on circumstances when in fact, His very nature is goodness. When good or bad things happen to us, it isn’t God’s nature that changed, it is merely our perspective of Him that changed. And this is incredibly important for us to acknowledge. The goodness of God is not a conditional element of His character, instead it is a character trait that applies to every other attribute of His character (Psalm 16:2 & Matthew 19:16-17). I think we often find ourselves believing this in theory but rarely in practice.
Scripture tells us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I know from experience how easy it is to hear that scripture and with a hint of bitterness or pain say, “yeah, whatever”. In my experience, that response often is in a large part due to basing our view of God’s goodness off of our present circumstances. Often, if our life doesn’t look like we think it should look we start playing the blame game. There was a time in my life where I assumed blessings = God is happy with me and troubles = God is angry with me. But soon enough God lovingly revealed the truth of His character to me and I realized that God’s character is far more beautiful and complex than anything I could have ever imagined. I realized that the God we serve doesn’t work on a tit for tat system. His favor isn’t merited, just as much as His discipline isn’t punishment. Instead, through His goodness, He allows both joy and trial into the life of the believer. And often even what satan or other individuals mean for pain or destruction, God can turn around for good. Take for instance Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” which was brought about by a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and yet God permitted this so His strength might be manifested through Paul’s weakness (12:7-10). And earlier in the old testament we see how the “evil” Joseph’s brothers intended against him God intended “for good” (Genesis 50:20). Whatever comes into the life of the Christian is a part of God’s purpose to bring about our good and His glory.
And this is where it gets difficult and where I want to put down the pen. The past few months of my life have been difficult. They have at times been painful. I’ve had to walk through more than one hard, even life-altering circumstance. BUT I acknowledge here that my present struggles don’t compare to the pain or loss that others across the globe are currently walking through or have walked through in their past. I acknowledge that there are those out there who have lost children, parents, a spouse, family members and friends. There are those who have had to fight through terminal cancer or live with a life altering ailment. I don’t want to even pretend to understand the pain that others have had to walk through. I have no place, no voice to share apart from the truth of scripture and the power of its’ work in the life of the believer.
One story that I am reminded of here and that has ministered to me tremendously in the past while walking through trial is that of the great hymnist Horatio Spafford and the origin of his song, It Is Well. If you don’t know the back story of the song, it was written during a time of incredible loss in His life. During the Great Chicago fire of the late 1800’s He had planned to travel to Europe with his family. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
In the midst of tragedy. In the midst of pain. In the midst of losing all 4 of His daughters as well as a son and everything He had worked for in America, He was able to respond to God, “It is well.” The power and beauty of that blows my mind. And I make that my prayer for myself and for anyone reading this, that you would truly know and understand God’s goodness in spite of your present circumstances. I truly believe that that is the call on the life of every believer. That no matter what we walk through in this life, no matter the pain, the loss, the heartache or even the blessings, the beauty or gain, that we would be able to say to God, “You are truly good”… That our response in every season could be, ”Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”