We sat sipping our coffees and checking our smart phones, a sprinkling of conversation here and there. I was afraid I was going to be late, as I snuck into the back row right as Sunday school got started. For the next hour a few dozen of us ranging in age from late teens to well past retirement talked about the attributes of God’s goodness. We celebrated the God of love and mercy and grace and wrestled openly with the idea of God’s justice and righteousness and holiness.
We asked questions… How do you help your child understand that God is still good when they go to school with kids that don’t have enough to eat? How to you reconcile that God is love with the Old Testament stories of hardened hearts and decimated armies. How do you trust in God’s mercy when He allows good people to die early deaths?
Is God good? And if He is good then what do we do with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the hurricanes, the murderers?
This morning when my alarm went off my first thought was that question. Is God good? The prayer that followed that question was a sincere one, “Father, help me to see your goodness today.” Not even an hour later news reports started coming in, the deadliest shooting in America’s history. More than 50 killed, hundreds more injured, all at the hand of one man. A man who’s name none of us knew when we went to bed last night. A man who will occupy most of our thoughts and conversations today.
Yesterday in Sunday school we talked about Psalm 139 and how it is a picture of God’s attributes. How He formed us and knew us before we were born. How He inhabits every moment and every place. How He knows us intimately and deeply. One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Psalm 139, verse 16 says “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” That verse has comforted me many times in life. It’s served as a reminder that none of my days take God by surprise. And that even the days filled with sorrow were ordained by Him for me. And if they were ordained by Him for me then there is goodness in them, even when it’s hard to find.
Here’s the thing though… if that is true for me then it is true for everyone. If God wrote the story of our lives in His book before we drew our first breath then He wrote the story in today’s headlines in His book too. This man that none of us knew yesterday was known by God before he was formed in his mother’s womb. Before he lived a day God saw this day and the hundreds of lives that would be tragically altered forever by this one man.
Can I be honest? I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know how to process the thought that God allowed this man to be born and live 64 years on this earth knowing that today would happen. But He did.
Is God good?
I wish I had the theology to unpack the truth of God’s goodness in the shadow of mass murder. I don’t. All I have is faith. Faith to believe that God is good because He says He is. Faith to believe that there will come a day when all truth will be revealed. Until that day, I chose to cling to the hope that God is who He says He is.
I chose to believe the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky “I believe like a child, that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage… in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that is will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
This side of eternity I can’t see anything that would justify all that has happened. This side of eternity I find it hard to forgive. This side of eternity I can’t make sense of today. But I hope, with all of my heart, that a day is coming when He will make all things new, and we will be reconciled once again to life, and love, and truth.
Until that day comes…