I have been contemplating my own mortality a fair amount lately. You know, the “Is God still good if I get cancer?” kind of question. We romantics think these situations will lead us to our greatest moment of faith and glorification of God until the first unfavorable medical report sends us into a tailspin of fear, doubt and disgrace revealing our faith to be a show that we put on for others and not a deep and true dependence on God for our sustenance and satisfaction.
Is God still good if I get cancer? Is God still good if my spouse dies? Or worse yet, leaves me? Is God still good if my child gets cancer? Or rebels and abandons the faith? Is God still good if I lose my job? Or my house? Or anything else I am holding on to?
The academic says, “Yes! God’s goodness is not dependent or determined by my pleasure, comfort or health.” The false prophet says, “If you suffer any of those things, it is because you have sinned and/or do not have enough faith”. And the appeaser (and one who does not deal with trials on a deep, heart level) says, “Everything happens for a reason, just trust God.”
Yes. We know that “God causes all things to work together for good for them that love the Lord” (Rom 8.28).
But last night I sat at the airport for a couple of hours waiting on a delayed flight and sat another hour in the plane, on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear enough for our takeoff – chewing on this very topic. The storm clouds parted long enough for us to zip through to our detoured route which in theory would allow us to avoid the storms hammering much of the West, and we finally took off. The plane began bouncing wildly before we even left the ground and as we started to climb in elevation my contemplation of a drawn out death via sickness quickly turned to a quick demise via falling. From the sky. How strong does the wind have to be to make that massive steel wing bounce like a giant sling shot released from a child’s grip? Having been miraculously freed from the fear of flying a few years ago (you can read that story here), I never felt the terror of the act of dying if our plane crashed, but my stomach responded as it was designed to in the act of free falling.
Is God still good if my plane crashes?
What is the core of your faith? Do you exist to love God and enjoy Him forever? Or do you exist for God to make your life comfortable while you are here on the Earth? If you exist to know God, to love Him and enjoy Him forever, then what is death other than the gateway leading us from a life of suffering to an eternity of being with the one we love and desire?
But that complete abandon is a difficult place to live continually. We have responsibilities after all! A spouse, children, a job, a ministry, goals. And Scripture tells us that there is a time to mourn. If you are the most spiritually mature Christian, you will understand that children are a blessing from the Lord. They are not yours, but they are God’s and He has appointed you as steward over them for a season. You will love them perfectly as God loves and nourishes the Church. You will discipline them wisely, and teach them how to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God. But if one is killed in a car accident, you will mourn. There will be a season of grief. Yes, you might find wonderful peace and comfort in the knowledge of his salvation and eternal resting with the God of the universe, but you will still miss his face, his laughter, his presence and you will grieve the loss.
Is the answer, “Everything happens for a reason” the best answer in such a circumstance?
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
– Rom 12.15
Yes. Academically we understand that we must take our doubts and fears captive and fight them with Scripture: with Truth. God is good. His plan is perfect. We will all die, and He will give us the grace we need in the moment. God’s goodness is not contingent upon our happiness, and often times we learn the most in moments of trial, struggle, pain or confusion.
No, our trials are not judgment or condemnation for sin or a lack of faith. When we are forgiven, when we are covered by the blood of Christ, when we are made new and found in Him,
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– Rom 8.1
But we are real people and pain hurts. We must remember that pain hurts. Paul encourages the church at Rome to not approach someone who just found out that he has terminal cancer with a blasé “everything happens for a reason” and try to fix the situation or force the sufferer to get over it. Paul taught that very truth four chapters earlier and assumes that the church members already have a solid understanding of it. The one grieving knows that God works all things out for good. Instead he says, “Go cry with them”. Be silent. Feel their grief, pain or heartache. Trust God to instill His truth that they already know as their sustaining hope.
It is if we get to the point of questioning God’s goodness that we need to worry. Why? Because by asking the very question we are blaming God. Yes, God is in sovereign control of every breath you take, and every breath your child takes – or does not take. Yes, God is in control of sickness, disease, terrorists, and falling planes. But if we allow our hurt, pain and confusion to turn into blame and anger towards God, then at the core we do not believe that eternity is the goal. We believe that happiness on Earth is the goal, and we do not love God – merely his benefits.
What is your goal? Think about it. We need to have right thinking before the trials come because the emotion of the moment will cloud our minds, and those truths need to be established deeply in our hearts and minds to stand the test of grief, sorrow and loss. And when that moment comes, when you hear the sentence: “three months left”, and fear, panic, grief or anger hits you, you can grieve well. We will all grieve. We will all suffer. We will all hurt. We will all die. Let’s do it well.
“Concerning [the thorn in the flesh] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Cor 12.8-10