What Percent of God is Good?
Recently I heard a wonderful and inspiring story of a young man who, during a routine physical, was sent immediately to the hospital to investigate a knot on his collar bone. After extensive testing, it was determined that there was a 99% chance that the growth was bone cancer. When the boy’s devastated parents broke the news to their son, his response was calm and full of child-like faith. He simply returned, “But I still have one percent.” Church and family members prayed. A vigil was held. The boy’s baseball team came to his house and prayed over him. Soon after the outpouring of prayer, the final test results showed no signs of cancer. The family joyfully announced that their precious son got his one percent, concluding with the proclamation that “God is good!” The young man’s father told a reporter, “It was an amazing experience to see how God can work.” Indeed, the goodness of God was expressed through a miracle for this family and for the young man who maintained all along that this would be the outcome. And the outcome was solid evidence of the goodness of God.
Two days after my thirty-two-year-old nephew lost his long battle with addiction, I heard that story. Friends and family members had prayed for years. My women’s Bible study prayed all last summer. We prayed for deliverance, for God to overcome the unimaginable draw of the drugs in my nephew’s body. We prayed that he would be able to return to his job and his three young children and that perhaps his marriage could be restored. Statistics showed that he had a 99.9995% chance of not dying from addiction. But the statistics beat him. He was among the .00005% of people in this country who succumb to it. The logical inverse of the young man’s story who got his one percent would conclude that my nephew got his .00005%, and therefore God is not good.
Is God Good All the Time?
Is this true? Is God only good when the outcome doesn’t rip you apart? Can we come to the conclusion that a good God would allow bad things to happen? My nephew leaves behind three little kids. His family is devastated, confused, and grasping at hindsight to find meaning in a tragedy that seems so senseless. The young man who beat cancer is happy, his parents are ecstatic, and hindsight has shown them that God has brought them through darkness into the glad light of joy and relief. If the boy had succumbed to the 99%, could God’s goodness have been proclaimed?
It seems impossible to reconcile the seemingly conflicting promises in the Bible. How do we process the tension between, for example, Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all,” and the story of Job? We are promised miracles and tragedies. Sickness and health. Strife and peace. On our own, it is impossible to understand these dichotomies, let alone trust in God’s goodness.
But trust comes from seeking out who God is. Because when we seek, we find. And when we find, we see that the tragedies in our lives are not part of God’s original good plan for his Creation. They come from the human rejection of it. When we seek, we find his sovereignty, mercy, grace, and infinite goodness in making a way for the fallen world to get right with him.
The journey to him can indeed be long and fraught, and maybe there will not be one single miracle on that road. But what God offers through Jesus Christ is hope at the end of the road. Not a wishful thinking kind of hope, but a sure hope. A solid promise of eternal happiness, peace, justice, and an eternity free from pain and strife. And best of all, complete, intimate, unhindered relationship with the triune God, in fellowship with him and every single person who ever wrestled with God and came to the conclusion that he is good and that he is the only way to overcome the rottenness of this world.
The truth is God is good. Every moment. In every outcome. For every human who ever lived, and throughout all eternity. But the weight of the statement, often thrown about in well-meaning triteness, is crushing. We don’t see a young man dying of addiction as good. Nor should we.
A Hard-Won Conclusion
A Christian who has come to the conclusion that God is good has not done so easily. We come to it through sweat, tears, and wrestling. My nephew is gone. As my good friend described it, “The finality is oppressive.” Through a clenched jaw, my brother, who had just sent a prayer request to his church the day before his son died, is clinging to the examples of Job and others in the Bible who clung to God in despair. Like Jacob, he will walk with a limp for the rest of his life after wrestling with the God he is struggling to trust. But through the struggle, with a broken heart, my brother is proclaiming the absolute goodness of the God he has come to know and love. He told me, “I believed in Christ before this happened. I must live what I say I believe now.”
If the Creator of the universe is not good, everything falls into hopelessness and despair. Apart from Jesus Christ, there is nowhere else to turn (John 6:68). The ever-present and pervasive pain that characterizes life on earth notwithstanding, no answer apart from the Bible offers a more plausible explanation for all that we see, good or bad. Tragedies like my nephew’s death and victories like the cancer-free young man’s miracle are both promised by God. Neither outcome amplifies or diminishes his goodness. The same goodness that preserved the young man’s life took my nephew’s. This is a hard teaching. Because losing a child is the hardest of roads. But when the hard road meets the hard teaching, the gospel is able to prevail. And when the Gospel prevails, there is comfort for those who grieve.
Evil killed my nephew. But what the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good (Genesis 50:20). The statement is no banal platitude. It is a hard-fought truth that is proclaimed after much suffering. God is one hundred percent good. Infinitely, supremely, profoundly, and eternally, in every fiber of his Supreme Being.
As I grieve my nephew, and in my sorrow and through helpless concern for my brother and his family, I will, after wrestling long, proclaim with him and the psalmist, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). I can conclude nothing else.