I remember the day as a sunny, summer Brazilian one. My wife, Denalyn, and I were spending the afternoon with our friends Paul and Debbie. Their house was a welcome relief. We lived close to downtown Rio de Janeiro in a high-rise apartment. Paul and Debbie lived an hour away from the city center in a nice house where the air was cooler, the streets were cleaner, and life was calmer. Besides, they had a swimming pool.
Our two-year-old daughter, Jenna, loved to play with their kids. And that is exactly what she was doing when she fell. We didn't intend to leave the children unattended. We had stepped into the house for just a moment to fill our plates. We were chatting and chewing when Paul and Debbie's four-year-old walked into the room and casually told her mom, "Jenna fell in the pool." We exploded out the door. Jenna was flopping in the water, wearing neither floaties nor a life jacket.
Paul reached her first. He jumped in and lifted her up to Denalyn. Jenna coughed and cried for a minute, and just like that she was fine. Tragedy averted. Daughter safe.
Imagine our gratitude
We immediately circled up the kids, offered a prayer, and sang a song of thanks. For the remainder of the day, our feet didn't touch the ground, and Jenna didn't leave our arms. Even driving home, I was thanking God. In the rearview mirror I could see Jenna sound asleep in her car seat, and I offered yet another prayer: God, you are so good.
Then a question surfaced in my thoughts. From God? Or from the part of me that struggles to make sense out of God? I can't say. But what the voice asked, I still remember: If Jenna hadn't survived, would God still be good? I had spent the better part of the afternoon broadcasting God's goodness. Yet had we lost Jenna, would I have reached a different verdict? Is God good only when the outcome is?
When the cancer is in remission, we say "God is good." When the pay raise comes, we announce "God is good." When the university admits us or the final score favors our team, "God is good." Would and do we say the same under different circumstances? In the cemetery as well as the nursery? In the unemployment line as well as the grocery line? In days of recession as much as in days of provision?
Is God always good?
Most, if not all of us, have a contractual agreement with God. The fact that he hasn't signed it doesn't keep us from believing it. I pledge to be a good, decent person, and in return God will...save my child...heal my spouse...protect my job...(fill in the blank.) Only fair, right? Yet when God fails to meet our bottom-line expectations, we are left spinning in a tornado of questions. Is he good at all? Is God angry at me? Stumped? Overworked? Is his power limited? His authority restricted? Did the devil outwit him? When life isn't good, what are we to think about God? Where is he in all this?
God at times permits tragedies. He permits the ground to grow dry and stalks to grow bare. He allows Satan to unleash mayhem. But he doesn't allow Satan to triumph. Isn't this the promise of the Bible in Romans 8:28: "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose"?
God promises to render beauty out of "all things," not "each thing." The isolated events may be evil, but the ultimate culmination is good. We see small examples of this in our own lives. When you sip on a cup of coffee and say, "This is good," what are you saying? The plastic bag that contains the beans is good? The beans themselves are good? Hot water is good? A coffee filter is good? No, none of these.
Good happens when the ingredients work together: the bag opened, the beans ground into powder, the water heated to the right temperature. It is the collective cooperation of the elements that creates good.
Nothing in the Bible would cause us to call a famine good or a heart attack good or a terrorist attack good. These are terrible calamities, born out of a fallen earth. Yet every message in the Bible compels us to believe that God will mix them with other ingredients and bring good out of them.
But we must let God define good. Our definition includes health, comfort, and recognition. His definition? In the case of his Son, Jesus Christ, the good life consisted of struggles, storms, and death. But God worked it all together for the greatest of good: his glory and our salvation.
And is it possible that the wonder of heaven will make the most difficult life a good bargain? The Bible says, "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
God's amazing offer
Suppose I invited you to experience the day of your dreams. Twenty-four hours on an island paradise with your favorite people, food, and activities. The only stipulation: one millisecond of discomfort. For reasons I choose not to explain, you will need to begin the day with the millisecond of distress. Would you accept my offer? I think you would. A split second is nothing compared to twenty-four hours.
On God's clock you're in the middle of your millisecond. Compared to eternity, what is seventy, eighty, ninety years? Just a vapor. Just a finger snap compared to heaven. Your pain won't last forever, but you will. Remember that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
If you have already accepted God's offer into his family through placing your faith in Jesus Christ, then you can have confidence in God's plan for your life in any crisis. The Bible promises that nothing "in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).