God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. I remember being taught to say this responsively in church as a young girl. The congregation would joyously affirm the goodness of God as the pastor began the phrase, often right before a sermon and in response to the worship through song that had just taken place.
God Himself is the definition of good. His goodness is the standard of measure for all goodness. Placed against the measuring stick of the Almighty Himself, none of us are good.
You are good and You do good; Teach me Your statutes. ~Psalm 119:68
But what do we do when God’s goodness doesn’t feel good to us? How do we reconcile the goodness of God with the suffering and pain we must face as followers of Christ? Can any good be found in the midst of the hardships of life?
IN THE BEGINNING
God’s goodness is established in the very first paragraphs of Scripture through the account of creation. We see over and over that everything God created was called good. Everything God created was good because He is the originator of good. Then, at the pinnacle of His creation, mankind is called very good (Genesis 1:31).
However, creation didn’t stay good very long. Shortly after the declaration of the goodness of creation, sin entered the world through Adam and distorted the utopian picture we see in the first two chapters of Genesis (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12). Because of man’s sinful desire to be his own god, we see a quest for autonomy turn into a curse on all mankind (Genesis 3:16-19). This is the dichotomy we currently live within. But there is hope!
In Genesis 3:21, we see the Lord cover Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. Previously, they had attempted to hide their sin with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), but God Himself covered them with the skins of animals. Most commentators agree that this is the first blood sacrifice to atone for sins in history. And it points to a greater sacrifice of bloodshed that is coming – the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ Himself (Hebrews 9:11-14).
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ~Hebrews 11:13-14
Animal sacrifices could only purify the outer man. But Christ’s sacrifice is better. Christ’s sacrifice cleanses the conscience. That God Himself would be pleased to offer His only Son as a sacrifice for our wretched, wicked, stubborn selves demonstrates the immense goodness of God (Isaiah 53:10, Jeremiah 17:9). In God’s inherent kindness, He offered His Son for our salvation (Titus 3:4-6; Titus 2:11-14). Yes, God is good all the time.
But, redeemed children of God regularly face suffering. In fact, suffering and hardship are promised to us as Christians (1 Peter 2:19-21). Suffering doesn’t feel good by a human definition of goodness – and therein lies the rub. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves if God is good in the midst of suffering. Instead, we should be looking to discover how God is using suffering to display his goodness. Suffering should cause us to check our definition of goodness and, when necessary, redefine it by biblical standards.
Here are three ways you can remember and rehearse God’s goodness in the midst of suffering:
1. REMEMBER YOUR SALVATION
“The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath (Rev. 14:10). This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserved each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has given me a cup (Psalm 116:12) that is full of ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3) and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.”
— MILTON VINCENT
As sinners in comparison to a holy God, you and I deserved God’s wrath and judgment. Instead, the kindness of God has called redeemed saints to a more excellent salvation and fellowship with Him for eternity. No matter what suffering you’re facing, the fact that you are a child of God is a far better state than you deserve. You have been given the gift of Christ Himself in the person of His Spirit which indwells you.
In the midst of suffering, remember the grace-gift of repentance you have been given. God loves you. He has not forsaken you. He loves you enough to not withhold any good thing from your life. Oftentimes, those good things feel not-so-good. Everything allowed by the holy and loving God of our salvation is meant for our good and God’s glory. Refresh these truths in your mind by reading the account of Joseph in Genesis Chapters 37-50 and Paul’s recounting of the benefits of our salvation in Romans Chapter 8.
2. CONSIDER THE SAINTS WHO’VE GONE BEFORE YOU
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. ~Hebrews 12:1
Scripture is stuffed full of real-life accounts of saints who have faced great suffering and endured until the end. Just before the verses quoted above is the famous Hall of Faith in Hebrews, containing example after example of faithful saints who faced great trials. Those trials didn’t deter their faith in God’s goodness. Instead, their suffering caused them to double-down, if you will, on their faithful commitment to the Lord.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” ~Genesis 50:19-20
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. ~Job 1:21
… “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. ~Job 2:10
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. ~Philippians 4:13-14
Affliction, suffering, trials … whatever you call them, they are meant to both draw you closer to the Lord your God and cause you to reflect Christ more and more. This has always been a tool God uses for His purposes in our sanctification and it He hasn’t changed His methods (1 Corinthians 10:13). He loves you far too much to allow you to remain unchanged once you’re His (Hebrews 12:6). When Job said that God sends both the good and the adversity in Job 2:10, Scripture affirms that he was making an accurate assessment when it says that Job did not sin with his lips.
But, as intense was the suffering of the saints who have gone before us, Christ suffered even greater still. The faithfulness of the saints to endure to the end pales in comparison to Christ’s faithfulness to the end (Hebrews 2:10). Christ Himself suffered on our behalf so that we might be reconciled to God (Romans 5:19). Nothing we suffer can be compared to the suffering Christ endured for us. And He did so willingly because of His great love for us. This should bring us perspective and remind us to worship rather than wallow.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~Philippians 2:8-11
3. KEEP AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
All things on earth are temporal, including the earth itself (2 Peter 3:7, 10). We are eternal beings in an earthly shell of a body more excellent and our souls live on eternally either in heaven, for the redeemed, or in eternal torment for the unregenerate (2 Corinthians 5:1-5; Revelation 20:15). Our very lives are temporary.
Even if our suffering lasts our entire lifetime, it will not last forever. This life on earth is merely a moment in time on God’s kingdom calendar (2 Peter 3:8-9). When your suffering seems endless and too great a depth to bear, remember that there is coming a day when suffering will end. The Lord Himself will break forth from the clouds, break into the midst of our groaning and put an end to the temporary pain we have endured. He. Is. Faithful. If He promised it, He will do it. If nothing else gives you hope or encouragement, let it be this one truth, dear friend. Jesus is coming back! Rejoice and be blessed.
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells. ~2 Peter 3:11-13