You know that point in a movie, where two people fall in love but there is a secret between them? They look into each other’s eyes, he touches her face, she leans in for a kiss…but all the while someone is holding back. Even we, as an audience hold back too. As long as there’s something between them, the love relationship is incomplete. Usually it’s something silly, like the girl isn’t really a princess, or she is a princess and is pretending not to be. Or the guy isn’t really a superhero…or maybe he is a superhero posing as a clumsy reporter. Silly or not, there’s a morsel of reality in there somewhere. Because after all, in fact after the fall, there is always something between us.
When God first spoke creation into the world, including the universe, the earth, the animals and us, he pronounced it “good” – good because he created it, good because he made it so. But then after the fall, we became painfully aware that on our own, apart from God, we lack goodness and light. We are naked and ashamed. We deal with this painful awareness in a variety of ways. The first thing Adam and Eve did was cover themselves up and hide. Sound familiar? Maybe if I dress myself in good behavior and never let anyone see the real me, maybe then I’ll be OK. Or instead of hiding my sin, I’ll expose it to the world, thinking perhaps that if I can make my behavior culturally acceptable, then I won’t have to feel bad about it anymore. Or maybe I’ll just try to be the best at being “bad”.
A friend of mine recently loaned me the book, Give them Grace by Elyse M Fitzpatrick. In it, the author writes that before the fall, God bestowed on people a benediction, a blessing: “It is very good.” Since the fall, we have been consumed with trying to recover that “goodness”. Our striving for morality, power and success are merely attempts to bestow the blessing of goodness on ourselves. We even compete for it. I try to be better than you, and if I think you’re better than me, I’ll try to find ways to knock you down. Like Joseph and his brothers, for example: Joseph was a “good” boy, but his brothers were “bad”. When Daddy favored the “good” boy, what did the brothers do? Why they tried to kill him, of course. Sounds extreme but jealousy and anger and attempts to harm (whether physically or emotionally), those aren’t such foreign concepts, are they?
When and how will we ever be “good enough”? When can I come out of hiding? I’m tired of dressing up in morality, which weighs like a heavy coat in the summertime. I want to be free…to live, to love, to dream, to be me. But I will never truly be free as long as I am trusting in my own goodness…proving my own worth…or just trying to get through a day without every bit of goodness and light sinking into the black hole of shame that seems to reside deep inside my gut.
Trusting God’s goodness sounds simple at first: “God is good. All the time!” or “God works all things together for good.” Neat little packages that sum up all of life’s problems in seven words or less, no questions asked. Until the day comes when you can’t ignore the questions. Why did God allow my brothers to sell me as a slave? Why am I in prison for a crime I didn’t commit? Why are my parents divorcing? Why did God take my father from me? How can I keep my house when I’ve been out of work for a year? Why is there so much pain? And more and more pain? Then I find myself crying out, “Come on, God! You are the creative master of the universe. Surely you can find another, easier, better way to work it all out for good!”
So what does it mean to trust in God’s goodness? I don’t have all the answers…I may not even have any, but I will at least share my thoughts. First, and foremost, we trust in God’s goodness because we have no goodness of our own in which to trust. All my attempts at goodness will fail, and ultimately, the weight of dragging that morality around will wear me down, making me self-righteous and bitter. God’s goodness is my only hope.
Second, trusting in God’s goodness means recognizing, believing and accepting that everything he has ever created or done, he has intended for good, and that he is still in the process of working that all out …. for good. Before the fall, he called his creation good. And since the fall, all of history has told the beautiful, majestic, sweeping romance of his passionate love for humanity and his creative work to restore his creation to goodness. He loves his creation. He loves us. He longs to restore us to himself, to his goodness. If God’s intentions towards us and towards all of creation are good, and if his ultimate plans are good, then what questions are left to be asked?
Maybe life is a lot more like a Dickens’ novel than I previously thought. Think about how his novels begin….with all sorts of odd characters and subplots….so many, that after several chapters you read a name and think “Wait, who is this guy?” only to find out he’s already appeared twice, once 75 pages ago and once 120 pages ago…and you still aren’t sure how he’s related to the main character. As you trudge through chapter after chapter of seemingly unconnected story lines you find yourself asking, “What on earth am I reading? Will he ever get to the point? Is there a point, at all?!” And then, as the book nears its ending, Mr. Dickens, in his usual fashion, masterfully weaves each story line together into one beautiful masterpiece, so rich and warm and touching that you nearly find yourself standing atop a mountain shouting “Beautiful! Marvelous! Wonderful! Every word, every letter, every moment spent was worth this ending!” Well…that’s how I feel, anyway.
All of creation – past, present and future – is God’s novel, a love story that often masquerades as a mystery. Whether we like it or not, we are living, breathing characters in his story. We don’t always appreciate his style and we’re often confused, wondering about the meaning and importance of certain characters and events, questioning motive, conflict and purpose. We anxiously await the next event, anticipating all the possible outcomes. We laugh, we cry, we lament, we rejoice.
Unlike Dickens’ characters, though, we have free will. Even though God holds the pen, he invites us to write our story with him. Every day we face hundreds of choices, some big and some small. And somehow, those choices matter. The mysteries mount as we consider that God is not only the Author of Life, he is the main character! Add to that, the fact that he exists outside of time, and therefore, already knows the ending and we are nearly convinced that this is nothing more than a sensational mystery novel.
But wait, don’t give up! God’s novel truly is a divine love story. Right now, we are just living in the mucky middle of a long, complicated story, fraught with mystery and suspense, in which every detail – every jot and tittle, your choices and mine, good and bad – He, in his creative power, will work together for good. For his good. For my good. For your good. I know that you’re anxious and afraid, or bored or worn out or angry or hurt, but God is good and he loves you. He knows this is difficult for you. He entered the story and lived among the snarling weeds and creeping darkness. And in his mercy, He told you the ending, so that when the “night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong” you could take hold of his promise that He has already overcome the world, remember that He has loved you with an everlasting love and look forward to that day when he takes you into his arms and wipes away every tear from your eyes.
If you know all this and believe all this, but you’re still holding something back, ask yourself why. (I pose these questions to us all – whether we’ve taken that first leap of faith or not – because we are, each of us, still in the middle of our story, his story.) Are you trying to hide something from the Author of Life? He already knows…and he loves you anyway. Have you shut the door of your heart because you fear being hurt again? That works for a while…until the cupboards go bare and your heart is starving and you’ll eat anything except that which really satisfies. Or are you believing a silly lie? After all, why else would the daughter or son of the King settle for a life wandering the streets, digging through people’s trash for food and sleeping on the cold, hard pavement? Your Father, the King of Kings, awaits you. In fact, he’s running toward you with his arms open wide, eyes sparkling, because after all, he’s got a party planned, a feast prepared and your name is written on his heart. No more wandering. No more settling for scraps. No more lies. No more holding back. You are the prince. You are the princess. Your superhero has come. Ridiculous? Nah. We all know that truth is crazier than fiction.