Monday, September 13, 2010

The Goodness of God, by Randy Alcorn

I would mark this little 117 page book down as a "must read" if you are a Christian or are considering becoming one. Why? Because it is subtitled, "Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering."

Since Christians are assured suffering in this lifetime, it is good to think about the topic, study it, dwell on appropriate scriptures that relate to it and come to the conclusion (sooner rather than later!) that even though we suffer - God is good. That the point of the message that this book is delivering.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16

In this book, The Goodness of God, Alcorn takes a look at the concept and reality of suffering and discusses how Christians should expect it, welcome it and view it through the eyes of scripture. I know this is a topic that I touch on a bit here and there with some frequency but it's an important one - not just because of my past because of my future. Whatever suffering I may have already endured in this lifetime, I can rest assured that my struggles with it are not over. Until I have said goodbye to this world, I will continue to face struggles, pain and difficulty. My only hope is that I can learn more about who God is and learn to deeply trust in His greater plan which is for my good.

When you are young (/when I was young) I picture so many perfect things about life. Pain never touches us in our imaginations. It's only when reality steps in that we begin to feel less than comfortable about our present situations, various relationship issues, death and disease. When we are children we tend not to think of pain and when we think of God, we see Him as a big, strong loving being who does, of course, exist to fulfill our dreams. Then we start to grow up and our faith is then tested. Our childhood theology is challenged. Alcorn says this:

"Evil and suffering have a way of exposing our inadequate theology. When affliction comes, a weak or nominal Christian often discovers that his faith doesn't account for it or prepare him for it. His faith has been in his church, denomination, or family tradition, or in his own religious ideas - but not in Christ. As he faces evil and suffering, he may, in fact, lose his faith.
But that's actually a good thing; any faith that leaves us unprepared for suffering is a false faith that deserves to be abandoned.
Genuine faith will be tested by suffering; false faith will be lost - the sooner, the better." (Introduction, page 5)

The older we get, the more trials we face, the deeper the pain we feel and the tighter we hold on to Truth - the more real our faith. Alcorn quotes from Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes who explained it this way:

"God cares most - not about making us comfortable - but about teaching us to hate our sins, grow up spiritually, and love Him. To do this, he gives us salvations's benefits only gradually, sometimes painfully gradually. In other words, he lets us continue to feel much of sin's sting while were headed for heaven . . . where at last, every sorrow we taste will one day prove to be the best possible thing that could have happened." (page 19)

How can sorrow and pain be the best thing that ever happened to us? That's the question that Alcorn spends most of his time addressing in this book. Yes we will feel pain but that's not because God is "out to get us" anymore than He is out to be our personal genie in a bottle. When our pain lasts longer than we'd like it to, it's because God has a great purpose in it and a lesson to teach us.

I know that many of you out there have also suffer from some deep, wounding scars. I'm not the only one wrestling with forgiveness, anxiety over particular situations or have been flat on my face begging God to intervene on my behalf. I know that I'm not alone in this because I am not the only Christian on the planet. But in all of this pain, we would be doing ourselves a great disservice if we didn't consult the Word of God and see that in all things, God is working for His pleasure and our good. We cannot allow each other to fixate on things like "the love of God" or "the holiness of God" or "the mercy of God" to the exclusion of all of His other perfect attributes. Alcorn makes the following statement which puts this better than I can:

"While we cannot understand all God's purposes, it's easier if we don't lock ourselves in to focusing on only two or three of His attributes. That God would demonstrate His holiness and glory through evil and suffering is just as legitimate and God-like as that He would demonstrate His love through His common grace and sending His Son. Anytime we limit His character to one, two, or three of our favorite attributes, we will not see the full picture of Who He Is, and we will therefore not be thinking of the true God, only a god of our imaginations." (page 33)

As strange as it may feel or seem, when your heart is breaking the only perfect balm is truth. We cannot say, "If God really loved me, this would never have happened." It is exactly because God loves you and has a great plan for you that whatever happened, happened. Assurances such as these offer solid hope. Fighting against the facts may make us feel better (although most of the time it just makes us feel frustrated) for a moment, but acceptance that God is sovereign, holy, just, kind, full of compassion and great mercy, love and goodness is the best medicine and the only way that we can live through the pain. Because that is the goal, is it not? To see through the pain and accept that we are finite and only see a little piece of a great puzzle. The sooner we grasp hold and say the words, "God - I trust you!" the sooner He can begin the healing process. And it will be good. Because He is good. All of the time.

Whether you are currently in the midst of pain (and need assurances), have just come out of it (and need some confidence) or know you have more of it in your future (and need to prepare for it) - I would say that The Goodness of God is a must read.

Thanks, Multnomah Publishers, for printing a faithful message of truth for Christians to be encouraged by and for sending a copy my way.


bekahcubed said...

Wow-what wonderful truths! Thanks for sharing them.

Barbara H. said...

I think this is one of the hardest concepts Christians have to wrestle with, and one time through is usually not enough -- I know I have to work through these truths often.

Something on the same topic I saw this morning is here:

Carrie said...

That was a great post, Barbara. Thanks for sharing the link. (I esp. liked the poem she shared at the end.)

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