Have you ever doubted that God is really good?
I sat in church not too long ago and that line was in a song... or maybe someone said it from the microphone. I don’t remember. Only that instead of that “God is good!” inspiring excitement or hope, it made me really, really angry. I thought about my life, the details that I don’t blog about, the deepest parts of betrayal and wounds that still haven’t healed, the evils that seem entirely unnecessary.
I thought about a family who had just lost their precious little one so tragically. I thought about the documentary I watched about sex trafficking, about children who are practically babies when they’re sold and treated like soulless objects and this is all they know - no way out. I thought about pornography addiction and the millions of people who claim to “follow Christ” - people who go to church and sing those songs and quote bible verses - but instead of liberating the oppressed like Jesus did, they fuel an industry that enslaves the people he gave his life to free. I thought about the stories that don’t have happy endings and the people that die never experiencing what real, human love actually feels like.
How can a good God let those things happen?
I thought about the person who said or sang those words. I don’t know their story, but I thought they certainly don’t have one like mine… and they sure as hell haven’t seen that documentary about sex slavery! I wondered if I’d ever tossed those words around and if anyone who was hurting, doubting, questioning heard them and wanted to punch me in the face.
I actually used to feel comfortable with the god is good crowd. Messy stories that involved suffering made me really uncomfortable. I think it was because I didn’t have any good answers and I felt like I should. I felt like I needed some way to explain the unexplainable to make it have a purpose or happier ending, but I didn’t. I tried, of course, but the “comforting” explanations always felt grossly insufficient at best… even to me. I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t know how to make god good in that scenario.
The past year I’ve become a lot less comfortable around the god is good crowd, and the people with messier stories and lots of questions have started to feel more like home. Once my own life started feeling like a giant cosmic mistake, I finally saw what I’d been missing before when I was so eager to offer “help” and answers. People in the middle of mess don’t need quick fixes and pretty answers or bows to put on top of their crap. They need safe people with whom to ask their questions and have their doubts and not be alone. They need to be surrounded by humans who believe in something non-human that’s big enough to handle tough questions without any good answers. And generally speaking, those are the ones who have walked through a lot of messy things either themselves, or intimately with others.
I’m starting to wonder if the peace that heals our deepest spiritual unrest isn’t in theology, but relationships. It’s awfully hard to find Jesus in isolation and even harder to live like him alone. What if our spiritual understanding can only grow as deeply as we plant safe people in our lives and offer our vulnerable, unfiltered selves to them? What if it’s our overly-simplistic answers rather than our wildly honest questions that have been keeping us from experiencing community? I think it’s interesting that in the gospels, Jesus wasn’t offended or put off by people with doubts and questions… his response was always come and see, come and follow, join this community, learn from me, let’s have dinner. And the people who had all the answers and looked down on the ones who were asking bold questions? Jesus used some strong and vivid language to call them out and cursed them for being oppressors, making a show of their religion, and keeping people from God.
So why do we feel this need to defend God or be able to explain him? Why did I feel the need? Maybe its just the human condition - fear of what we don’t understand, a need to make meaning of things, a desire for predictable outcomes and reasons we can wrap our brains around or fit into tidy equations. Whatever the reason, I’m working on being okay in the discomfort of a God who is bigger and less explainable than I once thought. I’m struggling to find peace while I have zero answers. I'm getting more comfortable admitting that sometimes God feels trustworthy and safe, and sometimes it feels like my life is screwed over for his glory and I don’t want any part of it.
But most of all, I’m finding that sometimes faith isn’t about creating reasons or answers for God. Sometimes it looks like having faith that the God I’m struggling to trust is big enough to handle my honest doubts. Could mustard seed type faith in some seasons mean risking being painfully vulnerable, laying down my bare, open questions before I have a chance to polish them up to make them "doctrinally sound”? I think my mustard seeds look an awful lot like that right now. And if that’s the season that you’re in too, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I don’t have answers to make the unthinkable make sense, but I’m honored to sit in the unpolished vulnerable with you as we ask our questions and have our doubts. Together.