Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What is the test for God’s goodness?

A few days ago while chatting politics, someone said it was unlikely that a Republican would become the next U.S. president. I agreed, but when that person began Bush-bashing, I said that only history will show if he was a good president or not. Last night, I repeated this to another person, and he said, “And even then, history may not get it right.”

This morning, my devotional reading was about our difficulty in knowing how to evaluate whether or not some things are good. As a Christian, I know I am in the care of a good God. I also know that He promises to use all things for my good, yet even that promise has been given dubious interpretations.

It actually says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29).

In our minds, ‘good’ is more like ‘it feels good’ so many interpret verse 28 that way. They assume it means God will eventually make us happy or make our circumstances comfortable. However, we need to read the next verse. It says that the ‘good’ that God promises is Christlikeness, not a feeling!

I know from experience that I am not like Christ. He lives in me, but I have covered His glory with sinful junk—which often requires major jolts to get rid of that junk. He says “all things” work toward that end, but I’ve learned that many of those things may not seem good or feel good at the time.

In other words, how can I know that the things that happen to me are good, or at least ultimately are good for me? At the time, I cannot. I must rely on God’s promise that He will use them for my good, not that I will enjoy the experience, but in the end I will be like Jesus.

The devotional reading points out also that we are to continually praise and thank God. Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

God wants us to be thankful people (which is like Jesus), but I struggle to give thanks for some of what happens to me, at least until I see something good come out the other end. However, the writer of the devotional suggests that I thank God because He is good, not because what happens seems to me to be good.

I like that; it puts my focus on Him rather than on my circumstances. It helps me remember that He is sovereign over my life (and the life of every U. S. president). Because this is true, and because He is good, and because I really don’t know the big picture or the eventual outcome out of all that happens, I cannot participate in bashing anyone. God is in charge, even when it seems that He is not.

My part is remembering that He is good and that He is working out history to bring glory to His Son. His workings may not make sense to me, but I am mere mortal. Someday I will understand, even if human history writers don’t get it right, at least at first.

Revelation 5:13 tells of a vision that the Apostle John had of the end of things. He says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’

This is how it will end. Everyone will get it right. As commanded in Psalm 150, all creation will praise God. After all is said and done, it simply and spontaneously will happen.

Even though I really do not understand God’s goodness most of the time, someday I will see the big picture too. For now, He asks me to trust Him. Wars come and go. Presidents come and go. Sometimes we win, sometimes it seems otherwise. Nevertheless, the promises of God stand firm. He loves this planet and its inhabitants so much that He sent His Son so we might know Him and live forever.

Although His ways are often mysterious, His plan is to bring blessing and glory to Jesus by bringing every creature to a state of heartfelt praise, no matter what is going on around us. At that point, I’ve a hunch that for some, offering this praise will not feel all that good, but for those who have had some practice, it will be a grand and glorious finale.

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