Recently, as I announced to our Facebook friends that we were finally, after 7 weeks, taking Abigail home, a friend of mine–a former pastor’s wife–chimed in: “Abigail lived. God is good.”
The statement bothered me a bit. After all, the survival of a NICU baby is hardly a referendum on the goodness of God.
And Scripture tells us as much. Jesus was very clear that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust.
Good things happen to good and bad people; bad things happen to good and bad people.
In Matthew, no small number of mothers in Bethlehem had to watch as their babies–from newborn to two years–were sliced and stabbed to death by Herod’s thugs. Their weeping and wailing could be heard all the way in Ramah.
This all happened as God, who so loved the world, had delivered Jesus to provide atonement for sin. In fact, the slaughter was Herod’s attempt to snuff Jesus in the crib. He wanted to share his throne with no one, not even the King of Kings.
Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood the goodness of God, even as they knew that they were not entitled to deliverance from the fiery furnace. They were devoted to serving God, and had faith that God could deliver them from the fire. In perhaps the closest thing to telling someone to do something anatomically impossible recorded in Scripture, they told Nebuchadnezzar:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
These were godly men who, long before Stockdale came along, understood his paradox: they had the faith that they would prevail in the end–as that was a function of the promises of God–even as they were sober enough to realize that things could get a little warm before that happens. Sometimes, the only victory you have will not be of this world. They understood that.
I have friends who have had to bury young children. I have friends who have buried their wives. I have friends who lost one or both parents when they were children. God is good, but this world can suck.
Fact is, we live in a world that is cursed, broken, and dying. Jesus said it himself: “Heaven and earth will pass away.” In Revelation, we are told that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus promised that He would go and prepare a place for us, and that He would return and take us to Himself. He did not promise to make this world good; He promised he would prepare a place for us. In fact, He said it plainly to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Sometimes, God intervenes in the natural order and delivers miracles. Jesus cleansed lepers; Jesus healed a paralytic; He restored a man’s withered hand; He healed a woman with persistent bleeding; He raised a couple people from the dead; He healed deaf and blind people. In the Old Testament, God drowned an entire army; He delivered military victories against great adversity; He provided healings, even raised people from the dead. And He delivered three men from a furnace, and another from a den of lions.
But good people still suffered: Naboth was stoned to death because of Jezebel; Jeremiah was not delivered from captivity; good priests were killed on occasion; good men died in battle due to the sins of others; most of the Apostles died horrific deaths for their faith.
As MrsLarijani and I prayed for Abigail, we understood that God was not obligated to heal Abigail. This was not a mark against God, but rather an acknowledgement that He is King and we are not. “Blab it and grab it” is theological tripe manufactured in Hell. In my seminary days, a friend of mine and I developed a term to describe such viewpoints: buoyancy. That is because dung floats. It was our humorous way of calling bad ideas “a pile of ****”.
And make no mistake: Word of Faith theology is highly-buoyant.
Equally buoyant, however, is the premise that God is somehow not able to interrupt the natural order, or that He gets some thrill out of seeing His people suffer.
I have an idea, granted it’s speculation but I’d call it an educated guess based on what we know to be true from Scripture.
Ultimately, Satan and his legions will get their day of judgment for the evil they have wrought.
Every tragedy, every death, every instance of human suffering–even the sufferings of Jesus–will stand as a witness against Satan on the day of judgment. On that day, Satan and his legions will suffer from the mountain of evidence against them. While Hell will be ugly all the way around, it will be far worse for them than for anyone else. This is because THEY are the perpetrators of “original sin”. Remember: original sin did not start with Adam and Eve; it actually began with Satan and those angels who chose to abandon God and follow him.
Those not covered by the blood will also be punished, some more severely than others. Their punishment will also be eternal–there is no “Get Out of Jail”, free or otherwise, in Hell–but some will have it worse.
With them, as with Satan and his legions, their record of evil will stand as a witness against them: every widow forsaken, every orphan who starved, every rape victim who was violated and in many cases denied justice, every murder victim, every act of torture, every act of fraud and deceit, every rejection of God.
But human suffering, it will be a witness on the day of judgment.
And for many of us, that may be the only vindication we ever see.
But here’s the thing: while God will definitely make all things fair on that day, “fairness” will be very devastating. In comparison to those who will be welcomed into eternal life, the ranks of Hell will be staggering.
For those of us who have received Him, who are children of God, the words “well done good and faithful servant” will be the most important words for all eternity. It won’t matter if you’re the toilet scrubber in Heaven, you’ll have it better than the richest people–combined–ever had it on earth.
I had a friend from my seminary days–who had been raped in her teen years–tell me, “Nothing I can get from God will restore what I had.” Many years after graduating, she was still very angry with God. This is what drove her theology leftward.
I told her: “You’re aiming too low. Jesus didn’t come to give you what you used to have; He came so you can have something newer and better than you ever had, that will never be taken away.”
I, for one, don’t want what I used to have. Even in my best years of fitness, that young body is still perishable.
Fact is, there is nothing material that you have on this earth that can’t be taken from you. I don’t care how rich you are; I don’t care how powerful you are; I don’t care how many friends you have. Government can seize your property; natural disaster can wipe out your possessions; banks and insurance companies can fail, leaving you broke. Disease and age can steal your health. I believe it was Spurgeon who said it: “Death is the Great Equalizer.”
If you are in Christ, however, you have something no one can take away from you. Jesus said it in John 10: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My father, which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my father’s hand.”
I once had someone, in a time of grief, tell me, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to have all kinds of questions for God!”
I told her, “I think I’m just going to settle for having the tears wiped from my eyes.” At that point, all of those questions are probably going to be petty.
For now, we rejoice that Abigail is recovering well and is home. We are thankful that God delivered her from near-death.
But His goodness was not contingent on that deliverance.
This life can suck in ways that few in the West can comprehend.
But God is still good.