I noticed something about myself a few years ago. After I noticed it in me, it wasn’t long before I began noticing it in others. More than likely, you’ve done the thing I noticed, without thinking much of it. As you keep reading, you might even think, “What’s the big deal?”
When Christians hear a testimony of God’s healing someone, restoring a marriage, or giving someone a promotion at work, our response is almost always to say three words: “God is good!” But what I noticed was that those words were almost exclusively assigned to God’s acts of kindness that resulted in immediate comfort. I don’t have to go to the doctor: God is good. Two spouses have worked things out: God is good. That promotion at work: God is good. Don’t get me wrong; it is a good thing for God to bring immediate, tangible comfort to those He loves. But if my proclamation of God’s goodness is only there when the outcome seems good to me, I’m neglecting something very important about the nature and character of God. I’m also trying to put Him into a human-sized box.
God is good. That’s true in every circumstance. His goodness is constant and is not contingent on the expectations or outcomes I want so badly. So, while there is nothing wrong with acknowledging His goodness when we get what we’ve been praying for, it’s equally important – perhaps even more so – to acknowledge His goodness when we don’t.
Have you ever fervently prayed for something only to realize later that it was wise and good that God didn’t give you what you were asking for? God’s same caregiving, to postpone or even deny a request, is still there when you don’t have the benefit of hindsight. Truth is, you may never know why God chose to do what He did. When that happens, I often think about a quote from John Piper: “God is at work in the worst of times. He is at work doing a thousand things no one can see but Him.”
I love the Old Testament story of Joseph in Genesis. At almost every point in this story before Chapter 41, it would have seemed strange for any of the participantsto say, “God is good.” When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, wouldn’t it have felt a bit odd to proclaim God’s goodness? Or when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her, causing her husband to throw him into prison, would you have felt normal shouting how good God was? Or when Joseph’s cellmates, the cup bearer and the baker, forgot to tell Pharaoh about Joseph’s interpretive abilities, would your first response have been “God is good”? Without knowing the rest of the story, probably not.
God’s providences often look very different from what we’ve prayed for. After Sunday School last week, my wife Karen asked this question: “Who would have dreamed that God would use the sin of Joseph’s brothers, and Joseph’s faith refined through years of suffering, to save the messianic line?” Who indeed but God, a Father who is infinitely kind, wise, loving and good?
I’m asking God to help me remember that next time something I’ve prayed for doesn’t work out the way I’d hoped. And, regardless of whether I’m comfortable or extremely uncomfortable with what God chooses to give me, to proclaim three very important words:
God is good.