Dear Christ Church,
After the sermon this past Sunday I received a lot of encouraging feedback, but also a couple requests for additional clarification regarding the illustration I gave about a well meaning, but unhelpful individual who tried to comfort me at my father in law’s funeral by saying, “God is going to work this out for good. We have to have faith for that.”
The point that I was making was that many Christians think that peace comes from trying to see the good in everything. I like to call that Pollyanna Christianity. If you are unfamiliar with Pollyanna, watch it over Christmas break, it’s a great film. Pollyanna is a little girl who goes around showing people the best in every situation. Many Christians think that this is what God wants from us. The justification that gets given for this is Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28 ESV) Romans 8:28 never says that we will see the good that God is doing. Nor does it say that because something happens it must be good, because it is God’s doing. The Bible is full of verses that express deep sorrow and lament over the evil that is in this world. If we have to see the good in everything, then the Psalms might as well be taken out of scripture as it regularly expresses disgust and sadness about the terrible things that go on in this cursed place. We live in a cursed world where Satan is prince (Eph 2:2) and creation is groaning for liberation from its bondage (Romans 8:22). Peace does not come from pretending that things that are terrible are actually good. Cancer is not good. Loss of a loved one is not good. Abuse, violence, addiction, slavery, rape, the list goes on and on about things in this world that are just not good. If you think that peace is going to come by seeing the good in those things then you will always be looking for peace, but never finding it, because it is not there.
Not only will we not be at peace if we are always trying to “see the good”, but it is very dangerous to our relationship with God to think that he caused this evil to happen for some deeper good. God does not cause evil to happen (although he is still sovereign over it, but trying to explain that dynamic would make for a much longer blog post. If you'd like more resources on the relationship of God's sovereignty and the causality of evil, I'd highly recommend Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology chapter 16 as a good place to start.). If we are always looking for the good, or thinking that God made this happen for our good, then we are just one major tragedy away from losing our faith. It was terrible of that man to try to console me by saying that my father in law’s death was somehow good. His death was not good. It was a tragedy. It was a sign that we live in a cursed world, because things like that are not supposed to happen. God did not make that happen. If he did, how could I think of him as anything other than cruel? God does not do evil. But he can use even evil things to work out his good purposes. The point that Romans 8:28 is making is that God works all things, even evil things, for our good. We don’t pretend that the evil isn’t evil. But we do trust that God is going to do good even through evil. We might never see it on this side of eternity and that is ok. Faith is not seeing, but trusting. To wrap this back into Phil 4:8, one of the ways that God shows that he can be trusted is through allowing us to see some things that are good. “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phi 4:8 ESV) Thinking about how we do see God at work is meant to build our trust in him for the things where we don’t see (and won’t see) how he could possibly be at work.
The Christian worldview does not call us to bury our heads in the sand. It gives an explanation for why there is evil and also gives us hope in the midst of that evil. The gospel gives a much better and much deeper truth than that offered by Pollyanna.
Peace by with you!
Facebook Jeff Boettcher