What do you believe about God today that you did not believe previously? What do you no longer believe about God that you once did?
It’s an intriguing thought. It shouldn’t take very long before we realize that there’s something we once thought of God that we no longer do. And that, at the very least, ought to make us pause the next time we dig in our heals and sharpen our claws in preparation for a red-hot theological row. But that’s for another time.
Rather, I asked myself these questions recently. One of the places my mind has changed the most regarding the Lord fell in the area of God’s will, his goodness and my role in whatever the Lord may actually do on the earth.
You see, I thought at one time that God’s desire to heal sickness and disease today was essentially his sole prerogative. He might choose to heal; he might not. Neither I nor anyone else had much to do with it. Bottom line, I didn’t get what prayer was all about or how it might influence the Lord or events in “real life.” I was thinking like a fatalist, which is no fun, neither for the fatalist nor anyone else around him.
The broader question—”What was the Lord’s will?”—is a common puzzle for a lot of believers. Personally, since I didn’t know and believed I couldn’t affect it, I’d assume generally that whatever actually happened must have been God’s will by default. It was a natural outflow of a pair of theological tenets most of us never question: God is all powerful and God is all knowing. If these are true, then the Lord’s will is what is.
This is all well and good when the question at hand is whether we’ll get the promotion we’re aiming for or whether our offer on a house will be accepted. If it doesn’t come to pass, then the Lord must have some good reason for it. Que será será.
But when darker issues arise—like personal tragedy or global conflict—this line of thinking becomes extremely problematic. The omnipotent God crashes headlong into another theological tenet: the omnibenevolent God. The result for many is some kind of divine monster who would will—let alone allow—something like the Montecito mudslides. No decent human being shrugs her shoulders and says of the Holocaust, “It must have been God’s will.”
Set with such a dilemma, it’s not hard to see that one thought or another about God has got to change if we’re to keep from closing down our faith altogether.
So here’s a token of advice, if you’ll have it. When you find yourself in an impossible theological position, find one piece of solid ground to stand on. Make it your center, and allow everything else to be refashioned around it.
Here’s one of mine: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
It’s the most repeated refrain in the Psalms—perhaps even in all of the Old Testament. These were, I believe, the last words to leave Jesus’ lips before heading to his arrest, trial and crucifixion (see Mark 14:26, which may be a reference to Psalm 118, the last of the Hallel psalms traditionally recited at Passover). You’d be hard pressed to find more solid bedrock in the scriptures than this brief, easily remembered chorus.
Whatever else may be going on in life, however stressful your circumstances, however tragic your hardship, stand on this: God is good and his faithful commitments to his people and his creation will never be overcome. It worked for Jesus.
Does this mean God is not all powerful? Does this mean the Lord is not all knowing? Not necessarily. Though the theological and philosophical arguments there are too lengthy for now, the point is simply that there may be more going on in reality than we know (always a good lesson to keep in mind), but you can at least stand on one assurance, repeated again and again in Scripture: God is eternally good.
For that it’s worth giving thanks.