I don't believe in God's goodness towards me. It is something I want to believe in and an area of faith where I am progressively growing, but it remains true that at the core of my heart, I doubt God's goodness. It is easy for me to believe all of his other attributes and I consent rationally to his goodness, but the degree of stress, anxiety, worry, etc. that I keep around in my life shows that regardless of logical agreement and correct theology, there is a doubting disconnect between my mind and my heart.
Two weeks ago, God used some frustrating circumstances to give this disconnect a lesson. I was with friends in Siem Reap, enjoying the first delicious days of vacation and very ready to move on to the beach so I could completely unwind and let go of an exhausting semester's lingering stress. In a twist of events, though, my passport was stolen and I lost any chance to rest as I battled embassies, immigration control, crowded international buses, and sickness just to be able to return to start a new semester. The stress was almost unbearable, primarily because its roots lay in my anger that God wasn't giving me what I needed. I needed rest and he wasn't being good enough to give it to me.
As I sat on a bus from Cambodia to Bangkok, I read something in George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind that has started to dissolve the head/heart disconnect. MacDonald tells the story of Diamond, a little boy who meets the North Wind and progresses through a series of adventures with her. North Wind is at times an allegory for God and in one particular chapter, MacDonald uses North Wind to give one of the best illustrationa of God's infinitely wild love and goodness towards us, even though it is often almost impossible for us to comprehend this kind of love.
Two keys aspects of the story stand out to me. First, being as close to North Wind as Diamond is brings pain with it. Diamond could choose to stay on the safe side of North Wind, benefiting from her and having relationship with her, but keeping a safe distance. Instead he desires to be close to the very heart of North Wind, regardless of the pain it includes. Being at the center of God's loving heart is simultaneously the best and most painful place to be. Diamond makes the statement, "I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable." Knowing God's love is a tremendously powerful thing, but there is nothing comfortable about it.
Second, it is only possible for us to doubt God's goodness when we think we have done anything for him; when we realize we have never done anything for God, that only he has done on our behalf, we can start to make sense of God's wild goodness. As North Wind holds Diamond in her arms, she sets out to sink a ship. Horrified by this, Diamond questions her goodness. He knows there can't be two North Winds, one good and one bad, so he is faced with deciding if North Wind is completely good or completely bad. Diamond admits he has never done anything for North Wind and therefore their relationship is based entirely on North Wind's goodness to him. Because of this acknowledgment everything about his relationship is based on North Winds desire to do good, Diamond has faith that sinking the ship is within North Wind's good character and they continue on their journey.
It's a difficult argument for me because at times I think I see God's goodness and at times I seem to see God's badness, for a lack of a better word. What is to keep me from deciding that God is entirely bad all the way through? When the ship is sinking in my life, why shouldn't I decide God is bad? And it can only be harder for others. It is one thing for me to flip flop back and forth on this issue because sometimes inconvenient things like stolen passports happen in my life. But what about the really bad stuff in this world? What about sex trafficking? What about people I love going to hell? What about starvation? What about earthquakes that kill thousands of people? Based on the collective experience of humanity, what is to prevent us from concluding that God is bad all the way through? Grace.
George MacDonald got it right when he highlighted grace as the evidence in our lives that God is good. If I think I have contributed anything in my relationship with God, or on the large scale, that people have contributed anything, then yes, there is enough in this world to think God is bad. But if I believe that I have not been able to give God anything, that even my best is worthless, that God is in my life simply because of his own desire to be in my life, then that is enough goodness for him to be thoroughly good. MacDonald's point is that if I accept God's grace in my life, then I also accept his goodness, even when I don't understand the sinking ships.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this. No, I am trying to wrap my heart around it. I want it to transform the way I see my life and my God, so that stress and anxiety don't define me. If I lived like God was good to me, fear would have nothing to control. I want belief in God's goodness to sink down into me, deeply and completely. And it will. Just as the North Wind's billowy and blustery presence changes Diamond and leaves her mark in his life, so will God's powerful and loving presence leave its mark in my life.
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