As a young, uniformed girl at my Christian elementary school, I often heard the call-and-response “God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.” I said these words with everyone else. I knew them to be true because, well, I didn’t know anything different.
However, when my older sister Katie died in a car accident, I had trouble with those words. How could God be good when my sister died and was not rescued, even though she followed Jesus as the Lord of her life?
I’m going to let you in on a little pet peeve of mine, and I sure hope it doesn’t make you think I’m too salty. But bear with me…
Oftentimes on Facebook or Instagram, I’ll scroll through and see posts like, “My family member was in a bad car accident. Here’s a picture of the car. It’s a miracle she’s safe. God is so good.” What follows are many comments to the effect of, “Yes! God is so good.” “God sure is a miracle worker.” “What an amazing God we serve.”
Yes. This is true. YET. Are we proclaiming these truths about God when the tragedy happens? When the car accident happens and our loved one is in critical condition, or the unthinkable, dies? When someone we love has a terminal health diagnosis? When we battle through unemployment?
Would we still see God as good, even if the outcome wasn’t our definition of ‘good’?
Would we still be faithful to glorify Him, even if our prayers aren’t answered and even when there’s suffering?
One of my favorite figures in church history is Corrie ten Boom. A woman who suffered through a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis, she endured the death of her sister while they suffered together through that unspeakable time. Corrie offers some incredible insight, allowing her suffering to shape her very own questions:
“Often I have heard people say, ‘How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!’ Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. ‘No, Corrie,’ said Betsie, ‘He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.’” Corrie concludes, “There is an ocean of God’s love available–there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love–whatever the circumstances.”
Even reading this passage leaves me speechless.
What might it take in our own lives to be faithful to glorify God, even in the midst of heartache? I firmly believe that the Church needs a robust theology of suffering. Yes, as individuals in Christ, we are victorious in Him. However, we live in a world that’s groaning, yearning, and heavy under the weight of sin and brokenness. Things are not as they should be. Yes, God is reconciling all things to Himself and making all things new, and we get to be part of that incredible God’s-kingdom-coming-to-Earth process. But in this in between time, we face sometimes horrific suffering and agony. Do we believe that Christ comes alongside us in “compassion,” a word that literally means with + suffering – that He’s with us in suffering?
Are we settling for half-truths, believing that “God is good, some of the time,” namely when the times are good?
I challenge us all to remember that God is a God who comes alongside us in our suffering, as French poet Paul Claudel offers, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”
In my own life, I’ve known Jesus to nestle so near to me in the trauma, in the suffering, and in the tragedy. I’ve seen God be good in the pain, not in spite of it. It’s a harder praise to give when life is tough, but it’s still praise.
So, let us rejoice when others rejoice, proclaiming that God is good.
Let us mourn with those who mourn, proclaiming that God is good.