But I'm A Good Person!
The other night I heard someone describe a friend of theirs who had experienced a traumatic event as being "mad at God" over it. I understand that feeling. I think that most of us do. But how many of us actually admit to feeling that way when things don't go well for us?
I've had arguments with God in the past about these kinds of things. I will ask God if there is any way God might see the way clear to make things better for me considering all of the work I do on God's behalf.
I know that being a pastor doesn't afford me some sort of privileged status when it comes to hardship, trials, and tribulations. Just because I talk about faith, God, and church-y stuff for a living, doesn't mean that I get a pass on the hard things in life.
But sometimes... I sure wish it did.
In my experience, this is a common response that I've heard from people who have come to me for counsel when they've experienced something hard, a challenge in life, family or relationship troubles, a bad diagnosis...
"I don't know what I'm being punished for. I thought I was a good person."
So there are two things working there that need to be addressed. First, the whole "I'm being punished..." trope is one that far too many of us immediately lift up when we're examining the narrative of our challenges and troubles in life.
Most of us live transactionally, so we assume God does the same. We embrace the harmful theology of that old saying, "One good turn, deserves another," which reduces love and goodness down to a quid pro quo way of being.
As I write this, I am thinking of a song from The Sound of Music called "Something Good:"
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good...
The singer stands before her Beloved delivering this basic message:
"I don't believe I deserve to be in love and be happy, but I suppose somewhere along the way I did something good enough to warrant this feeling."
This isn't how God works. God is not transactional. In fact, (and here's where the "good person" thing comes into play) there is nothing that you and I could do to earn or merit the incredible love and grace that God offers to us every single day of our lives. There is nothing we could do to deserve abundant, eternal life. It's simply given by a God who loves because God is love.
Once when someone came to Jesus for advice, they called him "Good Teacher." Immediately, Jesus responded with a rebuke by saying there was no one who was "good" except God. I've always wondered why Jesus did that. I've come to understand it this way:
God became one of us in Jesus in order to rescue and restore and resurrect all of us, and all of Creation. Through Jesus, God intimately identifies with us and demonstrates just how far God is willing to go in order to connect with us and give us the kind of life God longs for us to live.
So Jesus was constantly reminding his followers that his humanness was a real thing. And that humanness was not meant to be despised because it mattered to God to become matter in order to show God's love and longing for a relationship with us.
It was important to Jesus to be honest about the limitations of humanity not as a means of rubbing our noses in it, but to demonstrate the great love that God has for us not in spite of our frailty, but because of it. God loves us as we are, but also loves us so much that God will never rest until we become our best and truest selves.
And God knows that the journey from where we are to what we will be is a path of enlightenment, fulfillment, true peace, and enduring love.
If you are struggling to understand the complications and uncertainty of the universe right now, rest assured that you are not alone. And know that the God who understands completely what it means to live in that uncertainty is the same God who creates order out of that chaos, life from death and loves you beyond all love.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.