This last week, a college student from a local college died as a result of an alcohol involved accident. Tragic in so many ways. But also a good reminder for me of what has been going on with God and me. As I sat down with our church's college age group last week during Sunday school, I found myself having to talk about some of the things that have been going on in my own heart over the last 2-3 years. Heavy stuff that we as Christians often don't talk about. Because it's uncomfortable. Because it might make us appear un Christian. Because it's hard to put into words things that we can't explain. Heavy stuff about God's Sovereignty, our own free will, and the bad things that happen in our lives. I've actually avoided writing about the topic because if I had spent my time really sharing my thoughts, it would have just been a convilutated mess that would have left your head spinning. (One spinning head-mine-is probably enough.)
Fast forward to today on the way into work, where I happened to hear a story on Christian radio that brought some of those feelings up once again. In the real life story, an inexperienced pilot tried to land his personal plane in a strong tail wind and crashed. As he came in for the crash landing, the plane went in between two trees and managed to avoid a head on collision with the trees. Of course, Christian radio described this as a miracle and the pilot was ever so thankful that God rescued him.
Stories like that have become increasingly hard for me to hear. Maybe because my own life stories have not seemed to have a miraculous redemption. (At least not the ones that I like to feel sorry for myself about.) And maybe because the cynic in me thinks "So the logical conclusion is that God loves him and is present in his life so God rescued him. What then does it say when people aren't rescued, when God seems awfully absent?"
It also reminded me a bit of the hype that surrounds NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Much has been said about his faith and much has been said about the idea of God being on Tebow's team, that Tebow's faith somehow means God orchestrates success in Tebow's life.
I think when it comes to the sports comparison most of us think that is a bit ridiculous. We are pretty sure God is not at work to make one team victorious. But when it come to the pilot and his survival, we might be quick to nod our heads that God indeed intervened.
The reality is I am not so sure we know what we are talking about when it comes to weighty spiritual matters. We are quick to find God's presence and goodness when the miracles occur, when someone is healed, when someone is rescued. But this leaves us with a strange silence when the miracle doesn't come, when someone dies, when deliverance seems to be 2 days to late.
I think what it really boils down to is that we do not know what a good God really is. We assume we know. A good God helps us win a game. A good God prevents our plane from careening into a tree. A good God removes the cancer. A good God has our dog bark at the just the right time to save us from the house fire.
But what if a good God also is present as we watch someone grieve? As we see a young man die too soon? As someone is consumed by addiction? Where is God in that and where is the miracle, the deliverence, the healing? Sure sometimes it doesn't come because of choices someone has made but many times, it simply seems to be a chance occurrence. Where is the goodness? And why does God's sovereignty seem limited?
I think in some ways adopting Zeke brings this full circle. At some point in time, I am assuming we will be having hard conversations about why his hands are like they are. Was God not good when He created Zeke? Was God absent when his hands were formed? Doesn't God desire for us to be whole and perfect and if so, why didn't He intervene to do just that?
In my mind, perfect means two hands with ten fingers. But what if God's idea of perfect and goodness have nothing to do with two hands and ten fingers?
There is often the idea put forth that God allows bad things to come into our life for a reason, that He will use it to bring glory to Himself. The flip side of this is that it turns God into a bit of a cosmic puppet master who selfishly afflicts us with tragedy in order to turn hearts and eyes to Himself. (As a disclaimer, I certainly believe God will use whatever event are in our lives and that one of the greatest acts of worship we can have is to worship in the hard stuff, to bring God a sacrifice of worship that comes at great cost to our own personal comfort.) But I can't help but think that it is our vision that is skewed. I want to believe in the two hands and ten fingers version of life. Where I see God's goodness and His powerful Sovereignty because life around me seems to have been arranged just so. A version of life where everyone lives to be 110 and the other heartaches of life are minimized.
What if all along, I have been viewing life with a warped perspective? What if what I thought was good was really just an illusion, where having one hand and two fingers is just as good as having two hands and ten fingers? I mean, what if God's good is more about our souls than what is going on around us? Could it be that God is able to see goodness juxtaposed with tragedy in a way that we will never be able to grasp? Sure, we say the churchy words about everything working for the good and we often have some nice ideas about why certain events play out the way they do. (And might I add, we often have those nice ideas about the tragedies that befall others. It is often a completely different story when those tragedies are our own.) Could it be that in God's mind the worst thing of all, the essence of the absence of His goodness, is simply not living in relationship with the One who made you? That the rest of it, the things that we attribute as signs of God's goodness, are perhaps signs of God's goodness...or perhaps figments of our minds where we are still stuck on how ten fingers is good but two is not.
I think I just find myself wishing that the church was not so quick to attribute the good things in our life to God's goodness. I do believe that the things in life we enjoy are gifts from God. But what if those things are taken away? When the things we value disappear, are we left clinging to a faith that is just a shell with no real substance?
It's not that I don't want people to recognize God's hand in those joys. In fact, I knew I was struggling with joy so I purposely spent some time on joy with God. I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp which is an interesting read on finding joy in our lives, especially in the mundane or the hard. I took the challenge of finding one thousands joys, things that were connected to joy not necessarily happiness. It has been hard work for me. I think I am just reaching 100 and I've been doing it for almost 9 months. That said, what I have seen is that by being so purposeful and deliberate about what I put on my list, I have ended up with a list that is not about "things" at all. It is a list that someone might market as the eau de joie. Joy in a bottle...not tangible and touchable but a fragrance that does permeate my life.
I just wish we could also counterbalance our beliefs on the ways God is good to us with the idea that we may be playing the goodness game while only holding half the deck, that until we see Jesus face to face, we may really have not idea of what God's goodness really is about.