Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Goodness and God-ness of God in Tragedy

by Stacey

I cannot tell you how I felt when I first heard the news. Like, you know you should be feeling loss, but in reality all you feel is complete disbelief. She was only 36. She was a wife and a mother of six children. And she was gone. Even living here, in Cameroon, this would be surprising. But I am not talking about my neighbor. Lynn Shreve, a young American living in Louisville and attending every week our main sending church died in her sleep Thursday night. This is a tragic loss for her family and for our church, and it is a time for us to reflect on the realities of life and the God that we serve. Can it be true that a good, sovereign God would take the mother away from six children? And the wife from a loving husband?

We strive to share our lives with our neighbors here and as I have been dealing with my mom’s cancer, and now the shock of hearing of Lynn’s death, we have found our neighbors genuinely seeking to bear our burdens. One of the most common expressions of empathy comes in the form of a bold declaration that in the name of JESUS! my mom will be healed. I really appreciate that my friends do not want to see me sad and that is why they say these things. I equally appreciate these declarations as an outcry against all the sickness, death, and suffering that just should not be. And they are right. Children should have their mothers, cancer is bad, and death is an enemy.

But on the other hand, there is a dangerous posture in these pronunciations. They tend have the air of “God will do this because I said so.” Or, for some, it behind these words lies an ultimatum: “You need to heal my mom or else you are not good.” Are these attitudes…okay?

I do not think so.

The God-ness of God

I fear that the idea of God’s goodness in many minds does not leave room for God’s “god-ness” or sovereignty. Yes, the Lord is compassionate to those who suffer but he is also a powerful creator who has the right to do what he wants with the creatures he has made. He himself declared,
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none who can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
He is the one who gave us life and he is the one who can take it up again. It is he who gave us health and he can take it away as he sees fit. And even if we do not like this, we simply do not have the power to do anything to the contrary. The beating hearts of our loved ones are at his mercy.

The Lord is not a child that we can look in the eye and tell them that something precious to us is off limits for him to touch. Every aspect of our lives is fair game for God to “tamper” with. And once the Lord acts, we have no right to demand from him an explanation. He does not answer to us. We answer to him. Without the understanding that God is all-powerful and free to do as he likes, we end up fighting to make God submit to our will instead of making our will submit to his.

The Goodness of God

And yet, although the Lord is all powerful, he is also compassionate.

He is not obligated to care for and love his creatures and yet he does. Not only that, but he gave Christians the incredible gift of prayer. He does not have to listen to us and yet, he invites us to make our requests known. When Jesus was on earth, he showed us the kind character of his Father by healing diseases and even granting the requests of grieved parents to raise their kids back to life. He did not have to do any of this.

President Obama has never given me his cell number and told me to call him up and tell him what I would like to see happen. And yet, someone so much more powerful than the President tells me to ask for anything in the name of his Son, and it will be given to me. This is stunning.

There is no moral imperative requiring God to listen to us at all. But because he is a kind Father, he opens his arms to us and welcomes us to approach his throne boldly. We do not boldly approach as his counselors, or worse yet, his masters. But we approach as his children, boldness derived not from our own authority, but from our assurance of his love.

The God-ness and Goodness of God and our Prayers

If we as Christians approach God forgetting about his “god-ness”, then we end up coming to him with a “MY will be done” attitude instead of a “THY will be done” posture. The Lord is God and cannot be bullied. We have no right to come to him and tell him what to do. He is God and he will do what seems best to him and we have no right to critique what he does.

And, on the other hand, if we come to God forgetting about his “goodness” then we adopt a fatalistic “Que sera sera” attitude. “God is just going to do whatever he wants and there is nothing I can do about it. Oh well.” This posture comes from a poor understanding that even though the Lord is not obligated to listen to us, he chooses to. He wants to. He delights to. He calls his people to pray and he is a good father that loves to give good gifts to his children.

I believe wholeheartedly that God wants us to pray in faith. But we must ask ourselves, what should the prayer of faith look like? At the end of the day, I believe that our prayers ought to look less like the TV preacher telling God what he will do, and more like Shadrack, Meschack, and Abednego. When threatened with the burning fiery furnace if they did not worship the king’s idol they said:
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).
Now, that is faith. Not faith that God will do something that he has not explicitly promised to do (save them from the furnace). But faith that he can, and faith that even if he does not, he is still alone worthy of worship. May I pray for my mom with that kind of faith, and wait for him to do what most pleases him.