17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (Hab 3:17-19).
God’s people were suffering under tremendous injustice. The kings were wicked. The princes were wicked. The judges were wicked. But God is still good.
God is about to punish the wickedness of the nation with the invasion of Chaldeans. It would be brutal, harsh, deadly. Most would not live. But God is still good.
Some times fig trees don’t blossom. But God is still good.
Some times the grapes don’t grow. But God is still good.
Sometimes the wheat fields fail. Sometimes the flocks die. Sometimes plague takes away the cattle. But God is still good.
God is sovereign over sickness, cattle, fig trees, olive trees. If they don’t blossom, it is by God’s decree. If they die in the field, it is by God’s decree. When children get sick, it is by God’s decree. A God who has no power over sickness and health is not a God to worship at all.
God is beyond easy answers, mindless platitudes, memes with pretty pictures, and viral sloganeering. He doesn’t fit into your boxes. But he is still good.
We only see part of the tapestry. He sees the “end from the beginning”. And he is still good.
We see only a little bit of the tapestry and we are inside of it. We are a part of created order, creatures of time and space and limits. But he is outside seeing the whole – and it fits into his perfect decree. Not one fallen hair out of place. And he is still good.
His goodness is seen in the beauty of the fig tree, the joy of the olives, the delights of good wine. In the perfectly cooked roast and the wondrously spicy curried lamb.
His goodness is in the children around the table like shoots of an olive tree. In full larders and green meadows and the sound of surf on a spring morning in Oregon.
But he is beyond easy answers. Because sometimes the fig tree fails. Sometimes the olives don’t blossom. And he is still good. He prepares a table for me, but I am still in the presence of enemies. God’s goodness is seen even in suffering, if we have the eyes to see.
I suppose that certain theological persuasions are trying to be helpful when they tell me that it is not God’s will for people to be sick. But it really isn’t helpful because it isn’t true, and lies are never comforting. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always better than a lie.
Who’s will is it, then, that there is sickness? Is there something outside of God’s decree? Is there something outside of God’s control? Is there someone or something that is in charge of illness that isn’t good? Of course not. There is only one God, only one Lord, only one Creator. Only one sovereign.
But the hard truth is this:
Crops fail, and God is still good.
Children suffer, and God is still good.
Death still happens, and God is still good.
He isn’t ignoring suffering. He isn’t delighting in the suffering of his people. But he isn’t out of control either.
Not one hair falls, not one sparrow falls, apart from God’s decree. But hairs and sparrows still fall.
And God is still good. And I can’t sort all of that out, but I can cry out to him. I can’t sort it out because I am in the tapestry of creation and I don’t see everything. But I know he does.
And here is what I know. He hears me when I cry to him. He loves me and receives me as his child in Christ. He has washed away my sin.
I will walk on high places and my feet will one day leap and dance like an antelope.
And until that day, even in suffering, I know I can trust him.
Because he is still good.
6 responses to “The goodness of God”
Oh, Sam. You got me. My heart knows that God is good. Even in suffering, even when the suffering is endless and inexplicable and even when the Christian leaders say “Get back there and submit, and suffer more for the Kingdom.” They are wrong, but God is right. They are bad, but God is good. Thank you for this.
“I suppose that certain theological persuasions are trying to be helpful when they tell me that it is not God’s will for people to be sick.”
Sam, we do that because so many people have been abused by a God remade in the image of someone awful. So we heard it was, “God’s will you were sexually abused as a child” and, “it is God’s will you now endure an abusive marriage.”
It took me years, maybe decades of meditating on John, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,” just to get to the point of realizing that God was not out to get me, not willing bad things on me, not condemning me to endless abuse, not sending sickness because he hates me. Many others have rejected faith outright because of these misunderstandings.
This is one of those things were one can be theologically correct but emotionally wrong. God is sovereign, nothing happens outside of Him or beyond His reach. Death is a good example. Jesus wept over it and Jesus gave His life to save us, so death is not His “will.” It is God’s will that none shall perish and He gave His all to show us that truth.
You are right. I will respond more when I can…
The problem of evil and the sovereignty of God is one that is too complex for a blog.
First, let me say that I am so, so sorry that the sovereignty of God was used against you to perpetuate evil against you. I have blogged against that before. It is a horrible affront.
The best we can do in trying to sort this out so our pea-brains can understand it is to say that God is sovereign over all that comes to pass, but he is not the author of sin. Augustine called sin the absence of good, which, I think, is as close as we can get.
But we do know that which is revealed to us (see Deuteronomy 29:29)
The secret things we will never sort out. The revealed things are for the purpose of us doing that which is right.
So we know that God is sovereign over sickness, but we still go to the doctor, take the medicine, while praying.
We know that God is sovereign over the evil things that men do, (but not the author of sin) but we still denounce sin, fight against abuse, punish criminals and still hold firmly to the goodness of God.
As Joseph said, “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it for good.”
So for those who have suffered abuse and tremendous evil, know this – God will turn that vile act against you into good; he will punish with temporal and eternal punishment every injustice and admit no excuse, his hand was with you upholding you the whole time.
The rest, we leave to the secret things of God, while at the same time holding firmly to his goodness.
Using the theology of Habakkuk again – God sent the Babylonians to punish Israel for their extreme wickedness. Righteous people who believed the promise and trusted in God also suffered tremendously during that purge. How does a sovereign God co-exist with evil? That is the point of the book
The just shall live by faith. And leave the secret things with God.
That’s the best I can do.
And every point that you made is good and true and right. Thank you for them.
Thank you 😊
You’re awesome, Sam. I really appreciate your words and the way you explain things.