Throughout the month of July I’ve been studying and reflecting on God’s goodness. As I shared in my last post, this is a characteristic of God that I sometimes struggle with. I’ve realized that much of my doubt comes from my limited understanding of God; my inaccurate perception of what is “good”; and the enemy’s ancient scheme of delivering lies to have us believe that God withholds good from His children. I suppose most Christians struggle with doubt regarding God’s goodness at different times in their lives. The devastation of the fall left nothing in this world untouched. The despair and sorrows across the globe and in our own communities are enough to raise questions in our hearts. These concerns suddenly become an even louder and piercing cry when we have to reconcile our personal sorrows with the Bible’s teaching that God is sovereign and good.
August 16th will mark six years since I lost my parents and 3 year-old daughter to family violence. As the anniversary approaches and I continue to wrestle with my own questions, I’m encouraged by how the nature of my questions have evolved throughout these years. Just last week, I recalled the very first church service I attended after that tragic day. It was sometime in September and the message was about God’s goodness and mercy based on Psalm 23. As the speaker shared, one example she gave was related to a serious medical condition her son had in his childhood and how God had carried them through those challenging days. As I sat there, I thought of my own child and how her life had not been spared. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” these words challenged me as I thought about my daughter’s death and at some point during the service I challenged God. I remember praying through my tears “Where is your goodness and mercy in her life? Where is your goodness and mercy in my life?” Immediately a thought impressed upon my mind: “It is my goodness and mercy, look for it and you will find it”. My heart was both convicted and comforted by this thought. I suddenly realized at that moment that God’s goodness and mercy does not necessarily manifest in ways that I expect and that just because I can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The internal dialogue probably lasted 30 seconds but it was one of the most powerful moments I had in those early days; it represented a major shift in my thinking. At that point, bitterness could have taken root in my heart but I was filled with hope instead. My heart was softened and I allowed Psalm 23 to minister to me that morning: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The Holy Spirit quietly and powerfully reminded me that reconciling my natural experiences with spiritual realities starts with faith and trust. I didn’t have answers to my questions but I left that service praying, “Lord, open my eyes and help me to see your goodness and mercy in my life”. As I look back on these six years I can see God’s goodness and mercy vividly. As I think about all the things I’m grateful for, I recognize that God’s goodness in my life is found in the Gospel and the Spiritual blessings that accompany it. It has eternal implications and is the foundation of everything this life is about.
God’s Grace and the Gospel
There is no greater expression of God’s goodness and mercy than His grace. The value and significance of any good is related to the need for said good. Its value and significance is also related to its cost. I remember finally understanding that no matter what else I lacked or what I had lost, my greatest need had already been met at the greatest possible cost. I needed a Savior and God Himself had made provision for this need. The Father did not spare His only Son. On the cross, Christ experienced the wrath that I deserved, making it possible for me to be reconciled to God. Having a better understanding of this truth changed my life forever! The Gospel is the gift that keeps on giving and I want to highlight specific ways I’ve witnessed God’s goodness and mercy because of this gift.
The Good News has brought me rest: I no longer have to wonder how I stand before God or how my sins are going to be dealt with. Christ’s work on the cross was enough and it was complete. My past, present, and future sins have been paid for. This understanding relieves me from the worries of “losing my salvation” and safe guards me from a works-based relationship with God. I’m able to rest in the finished work of Christ. I know that my performance and ability to keep the law has no weight on my righteous standing before God. Christ is my righteousness!
The Gospel also allowed me to experience self-forgiveness: I’ve had to deal with the incredible sense of guilt I felt for leaving my daughter to serve in Haiti. Along with that decision, there are countless other things I would have done differently in the years and months leading up to that moment. Living with remorse is maddening and I needed to be set free; the Gospel did just that! The beauty of God’s good news is that it allowed me to look at my life and my sins more honestly. I was able to own what was mine without the crushing weight of never-ending regret. I was able to look back, repent, confess my sins, and receive God’s sweet mercy and goodness: His forgiveness. This allowed me to forgive myself and finally let go of the what-ifs that immobilized me for so long.
Experiencing a deeper understanding of the Gospel presented another amazing good: it enabled me to forgive others. The only surviving member of my family was my brother and our relationship was changed forever because of what he did. Although for the time being I cannot have direct interactions with my brother, the Gospel afforded me a powerful new paradigm for relating to him. It shaped how I would see him and how I would think of him. It allowed me to see that his greatest need was no different than my own. I understood that, before God, my brother and I were equally desperate people in need of a Savior. I did not have to make him my enemy because of the harm he had caused me or our loved ones. I had the emotional and spiritual resources to love him, pray for him, and believe that he too can come to experience God’s grace. The first step on the road of forgiveness was only possible because I became aware of God’s grace in my life and it compelled me to extend that grace to others.
My story demonstrates that one can grow up in church but not understand or be gripped by the Gospel. I can know it but not know how to apply it to everyday life. I’ve learn that I have to constantly ask myself “What are the implications of the Gospel in this particular situation?” This leads to another manifestation of God’s goodness and mercy in my life…
A Desire for Sanctification
Along with a deeper understanding of God’s grace, I’ve also received the amazing gifts of a softened heart and a desire for holiness. You see, it’s very possible to go to church every Sunday, to rationally know the Gospel, and yet, have no desire to live it out. For example, you can know that Christ calls you to forgive others but it’s possible for you to not want to forgive, to not care to forgive, to allow hurt to be an excuse to not forgive, or to have criteria for what you are willing to forgive. When I consider the transformation that has taken place in my mind and heart, I can see that the very desire to honor God with my life by actually living out the difficult things that He calls me to, is itself a manifestation of His goodness and mercy to me.
Romans 8:28-30 states: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
So often we quote verse 28 completely out of context. When we’re confronted with difficult situations, we immediately start looking for how things can “work together for good”. We do this by looking for and evaluating changes in circumstances. However, if we keep the verse in context, we clearly see that the “good” that God promises to work is that of “conforming us to the image of His Son”. So when looking for the good any situation might produce, I need to be on the lookout for internal changes, not changes in my circumstances. One way to assess this is to ask “Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) being cultivated in my life?” Seeing all of life through these lenses increases our ability to respond to challenges in a God-honoring way.
The last good I will highlight is that of family. By God’s grace, being a “child of God” is no longer an abstract concept to me. In Romans 8, Paul talks about Christ being the firstborn among many brothers. He died so that we could be adopted into God’s family. Family became a real need in my life because I lost my own biological family. I’m so thankful that I have come to know and experience the reality of being part of God’s family. I’ve been embraced, encouraged, and blessed by people whose only commonality to me is our faith. They have come alongside me at different times during these years to minister to my heart, counsel me, and point me to Christ. Additionally, belonging to God’s family is an eternal good and knowing that one day I will be reunited with my loved ones brings me comfort that words cannot describe.
My family’s story is only one manifestation of the evil, devastation, and sorrow that permeate our world. Each day, individuals, families, and communities live with the reality of our fallen state: broken relationships, failing health, poverty, addiction, wars, oppression, etc. My experience has made me realize that I have nothing of myself that can offer any hope. I have realized that there are no resources in this world that can solve the problem. The only remedy is the Gospel. By God’s grace we can be reconciled to our Heavenly Father and be given the resources we need to live a life of forgiveness, love, peace, joy, and hope. We can serve as a beacon that reflects God’s goodness by allowing Him to conform us to His Son’s image.
As I continue to witness the transformation of my own mind and heart, I’m convinced of God’s power to redeem all things and to work them out for my good and His glory. When life circumstances cast shadows of doubt, I can respond by meditating on passages like Psalm 23 and Romans 8. I can remind myself that I no longer have to look for God’s goodness and mercy; I just have to look to the cross.
Resources for understanding the Gospel:
40 minute sermon that significantly impacted my life
Book by theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer that emphasizes the importance of actually living out the implications of the Gospel
6 minute animated video that explains simply the basics of the Gospel