Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bad Storm, Good God

Here in South Louisiana, we're just beginning to recover from the effects of Hurricane Isaac. Though the storm was only a category 1 hurricane at its strongest point, it was surprisingly devastating. The greatest threats from Isaac were storm surge and rainfall, things the Saffir-Simpson scale doesn't necessarily do a good job of reflecting. In my area, rainfall and flooding were the biggest problems, coupled with the obligatory and ever-annoying power outages. Seeing a street lamp illuminate the neighborhood entrance, while every house on the street remains dark, is a frustrating thing indeed.

My patience was sorely tried on the last afternoon we were without power. I had been driving around, checking on some church members who were close to getting water in their homes. I knew of some others who were desperately sandbagging their homes and moving their furniture in an attempt to beat the water that was being forecast to rise another few days. On this particular afternoon, I needed to get my wife and kids settled in for the evening and refuel the generator so that it would continue running for them while I was out in town.  I opened the fuel tank and started adding gasoline. At that instant, the sky opened -without so much as a drop of warning- and a torrential rain began to pour down. It was all I could do to hold my torso over the top of the generator while I poured the gasoline, trying to keep the rainwater from going into the fuel tank. I know men who would have cursed aloud.

Though I didn't speak, my heart cursed inside- I was so very angry. Sometimes, you just feel like you deserve better... "Here I am, trying to take care of my wife and children for the afternoon, so I can check on a few other families that are in need." "Here we are, in the aftermath of a hurricane, with water rising all around, and its raining... again?!" "You are aware that the Midwest is in a terrible drought?! Why send the rain here?!" And then I stopped. It had become abundantly clear who I was angry with. In that quiet moment in my garage, with rain-drenched clothes and gasoline-fouled hands, I remembered my place. I half expected to hear the words of God to Job: "Gird yourself, and answer me like a man!" Instead, God reminded me of several reasons that I can always trust His goodness.

First, God is good. English actually gets its word "good" from the same root as the word "God." There's something to be said for that relationship. Christians talk about God's goodness a lot. Radio stations use His goodness as a tagline:" "God is good, all the time." Bumper stickers convert minivan real estate into billboards of God's goodness. I fear the world finds this all a bit trite. The statements are true, but hopelessly oversimplified. God doesn't simply declare certain things to be good. Good is not something that God has, and it is not merely something that He does. Yes, God is good- but reconsider that statement. We are not affirming that God measures up to our standard of what goodness is- just the opposite! His very essence is the standard by which we ought to measure all other things, to see if they are good. (Psalm 34:8: "O taste and see that the Lord is good."; Mark 10:18: "And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.")

Second, God graciously made and gives good things. Consider the creation narrative in Genesis 1.Scripture tells us that God created the world and everything in it. After each stage of creation, God observed the fruit of His own work and pronounced it good. And this was no man-made measure of goodness. With God Himself as the standard, He pronounced all creation good- it was without blemish and knew no hardship or grievous thing. When people ask, "What kind of God would bring a Hurricane?", or "Why would He allow such wickedness?", we would do well to remind them that God made a world that knew no hurricanes. No suffering, disease, or death. It was our action that brought sin and its terrible, dreadful consequences into the world. Let's not blame God for what our failures wrought. Additionally, God is the giver of good things - even in a sin-corrupted world. Despite the awful state of things in the world, good things do come. We experience life, beauty, we give and receive love, we have provisions to nurture and shelter us. Scripture reminds us that nothing good comes in this wicked world unless God gives it. Jesus made the comparison of an earthly father giving good things to his son. If a fallen man does this much, how much greater is the goodness of God?
(Genesis 1:1-31; Matthew 7:9-11; James 1:17)

Third, God's mercy is evidence of His goodness. God's mercy is evident in every tragedy. While this might seem an insensitive thing to say, it is absolutely true. Even the worst disaster we can imagine, be it man-made or natural, is not as bad as it might have been. In the storm, not all is washed away, not all is lost. In the Tsunami, not all are swept to sea. In battle, not everyone is killed. Until the last days, we can say with great certainty that "it could have been a lot worse." The difficult part of embracing this truth is admitting that "a lot worse" is exactly what we deserve! It seldom occurs to us that since God is Holy and hates what is wicked, He would be perfectly justified in wiping the human race out completely. Scripture tells us that the consequence of sin is death, and that everyone has sinned. When Jesus was approached with news of various tragedies, His response was to point people to this truth. The fact that God allows anyone to live, despite their sin, is an indescribable demonstration of His goodness. 
(Psalm 119:77; Luke 13:1-5; Hebrews 4:16)

So my anger was typical of two great sins we often commit in regard to God's goodness. The first is that we blame Him when it all goes wrong, while He is not at fault. The second is that we do not praise Him as we ought when anything in this broken and sin-sick world goes right. One is not better than the other. So praise God for every good thing that happens, knowing that He is the source of all good things. And when difficulty comes,  remember that His mercy is on display all the more. He is sovereign, and always does what is best for His glory. He sees the end from the beginning, while we have a terribly small perspective. Believers also have the added hope of knowing that He will one day restore a new heaven and a new earth, fashioned as He intended. In that place, all doubts about His goodness will come to an end. My resolve is to let the difficulties of this present life remind me of all the goodness I will experience in the life that is still to come!

Blessings,

~JL


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