Chapter 2 Assigned Sunday, February 7th
In “The Good and Beautiful God,” the author recalls a time when he was invited to speak at an Episcopalian church where they had him call out a phrase, “God is good!” and the congregation responded by shouting something back, and this was done as a warm-up before the sermon. He talks about a life characterized by only good things up until the point where he and his wife were faced with the loss of their daughter, and how to respond to the situation as Christians. A friend, who was also a pastor, asked him a shocking question, “who sinned to cause this, you or your wife?” He and his wife were faithful followers dealing with burying their child. He did not like seeing the death as a punishment for sin. He came to learn how ancient religions operated on the idea of working to please a higher power in order to gain rewards and avoid punishment, and people still believed in a judgmental God who is highly engaged in the affairs of mankind.
“It was not until I was faced with the situation of dealing with my daughter’s congenital illness that I confronted this narrative. Surely our little Maddie had not sinned and caused this disease? And what possible sin could my wife or I have done that God would force a small child to suffer for it? Our situation drove me to look deeply into what I really thought about God. I went straight to the best God storyteller I could find. I turned my attention to Jesus.”
The book shows examples from The Bible where Jesus denies a connection between sin and punishment. He does not blame suffering on the sins of relatives; it’s more or less how an imperfect world operates. Jesus healed the blind and the sick and he made it his mission to reach every person he could. The author was working in Brazil with two pastors who were loved by the people blessed by their ministry. Those who are selfish and spiteful and mean may never know the life those pastors know because it does not
“Both good and bad people get rained on, whether they want it or not. Jesus faced suffering, rejection and alienation, and the people jeered at him as he hung on the cross, questioning whether God was really with him. And Jesus believed. And he believes for me. He believes when we cannot. He prays even when we cannot. We participate in his faith.”
(The fact that God is just means that He can and will judge between right and wrong and He will administer justice in accordance with His standards, but that will come for us later). Jesus took on our punishment because he was inspired by God and he believed in us, for our future. He believes in the goodness of heaven.
The soul training exercise for the chapter deals with awareness of creation, and asks us to slow down and focus on the moment, find a time each day to sit and be silent, and use our minds to solve problems. My mind has been racing back and forth for as long as I can remember and I often cannot focus. I ended up taking a long walk through the park to help clear my head and figure myself out. It was through that walk that I found some of my hope for the future. I calmed myself down for a while.
We celebrated Easter at the end of March, which for me meant going to church on Sunday morning but not getting to celebrate later with my family because I had to work all day. I miss the era when businesses shut down on a holiday. The week after Easter was so much greater than that because I was involved in a week-long community service project called Flower City Work Camp, which involved roughly 800 middle school and high school age students sacrificing their spring break to serve across the inner city of Rochester. We had two churches as our home base, and students could choose between a work site, a sidewalk club, or one of the sports camps. I was one of four leaders in charge of teaching nine students how to fix up a house. I am truly grateful for the leadership opportunities I was allowed to take on and the excitement I saw in my students. We headed back to home base every afternoon for a worship service.
Those who have no faith, they often have no spirit about them, no creativity, and nothing to believe in but themselves… so when they fall down there is often no one to pull them back up. God is good because He has given me the strength to overcome obstacles in my life. I graduated from high school. I graduated from one college and transferred to another. I found the courage to drive a car again, and a group of Christians who showed me what love was. I helped people. He has showed me everything over the years, and that is why I am faithful. I will always be willing to share that with someone who has no faith. I’m not perfect about it, I make lots of mistakes, but I give it my best effort.
If God can bring one good thing into your life and take it away, he can also bring you something even greater.
– James –