Believe in God's Goodness
The LORD is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!
Accepting the true condition of our lives is one of the hardest and most important things we can ever accomplish. We grow up with dreams of what our lives should look like, based on our perceptions of where we've come from and our expectations of where we want to end up. Our plans come as much from our past as from our hopes of the future.
My dream was simple: motherhood. It's all I ever wanted. The sum of allmy plans, ambitions, hopes, and desires was to have babies. Many babies. Some of my earliest memories include wanting my mother to give me a baby sister for my own. I was seven when my younger sister, Michelle, the fifth of the five children in my family, was born. My older siblings were nine, ten, and eleven years older than I, and I truly was a loved and desired child. A devastating brain-stem injury at age one and polio at age five had made me the center of family attention and favor. The gentle care I received from every member of my family nurtured me back to full health, but the age difference between my siblings and me also made me a solitary child, which is probably why I so desired a "baby of my own" to take care of. Lo and behold, baby sister Michelle came along. Although my mothering skills were mainly practiced on a baby doll that my mother gave me to tend while she cared for my sister, I was smitten with nurturing. Before I went to school, my doll was bathed, fed, diapered, and laid down for a nap, where she would be safely swaddled until I rushed home in the afternoon to care for her. As my sister grew into a toddler and then a preschooler, my parents bought me a walking doll that I dressed in Michelle's hand-me-downs and "raised" to school age.
For as long as I can remember, my one and only dream was to be a mother.
Through junior high, high school, and college, I never had the dreams of my classmates to accomplish big things - to cure cancer or bring world peace. Eventually the counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies enveloped me and "liberated" my thinking. My dream was still to be a mother, but I was freed from the necessity of finding a husband. The hippie lifestyle had made my quest easier, so imagine my surprise when at twenty years old I found myself falling deeply in love with a civil engineer!
In September 1971, Greg and I were both working for the Colorado Highway Department when we met at an office picnic. It really was love at first sight.and what a sight we must have been: wing tip, suit-wearing Greg with barefoot, granny-skirted me! Our courtship was fast and wonderful; we were engaged by December and married by the following August.
Greg was five years older than I, from a family of five children himself, and his immediate goal was marriage and a family. Complete opposites in every way but our foundational belief in Jesus as Lord and a desire for children, we immediately settled down to start our own family. After almost two years of frustration, fertility tests, and treatments, all we had produced was month following month of heartbreak.
The prognosis was inescapable. Due to a combination of factors, Greg and I would never produce children together. I had been raised on my mother's adage, "Whenever God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." Maybe adoption was our "window"!
We contacted our local adoption agency with high hopes, only to be told that they weren't accepting any new applications and we should call back in six months.
Six months later we didn't just call back. Instead, we thought a personal visit to social services might be more fruitful. Were we in for a surprise! We were immediately told that because of our young ages (I was twenty-three, Greg twenty-eight), we could only qualify for a healthy, white newborn - and the waiting list was more than eight years long! Age, race, and even physical problems didn't bother us. We just wanted to be parents - now. Nonetheless, those issues bothered the Colorado social services department.at least when it came to us.
"So you're telling us that we only qualify for a newborn now, but the wait is more than eight years long. By the time we're at the top of the list, we will be old enough to qualify for an older or special-needs child, which is what we want now."
"Are there especial needs' children available now?"
"Oh, of course. We have quite a long list of older, mixed race, or special-needs children waiting for placement."
"So we are on a waiting list, and they are on a waiting list, but we don't qualify for each other?"
Ah, bureaucracy. You just gotta love it!
We went home depressed and dejected. Well, actually, I went home depressed and dejected. My husband is an engineer. In his mind, the "formula" for us added up to children; if this combination of factors didn't work, we'd find another. The pattern of our relationship was being defined in those months. If Greg sees the glass half full, I see the glass cracked and leaking and making a mess all over the place. I immediately begin the "what if " game and jump to the worst possible scenarios on how the situation will end; Greg gets strategic and asks what our next step is. I get depressed and withdrawn; Greg gets energized and takes action. Although it seems that God has a sense of humor when it comes to relationships, our differences are exactly what balance us and make us "better together." My tendency to process an issue to its extreme moderates Greg's tendency to act too quickly; likewise, his energy motivates my despondency.
Yet it was to be my bout of "blues" that offered us the next step. Sitting at home alone, with the drapes drawn and feeling very sorry for my pitiful, childless plight, with no ambition to do anything but watch TV, I turned on the noon news. Either it was a slow news day or God was the station manager that day, because the lead story was about a group of children who were arriving at Denver's Stapleton Airport from Vietnam. Waiting at the concourse were their excited adoptive parents. The reporter pushed her microphone into the face of one of the anxious mothers and asked, "How are you feeling?" (They must teach that question in Reporting 101.)
"Oh," the mother gushed, "we've waited SOOO long for this day!"
"How long have you been waiting?"
"Six months? Six months! You can't even make a baby in six months!" I shouted at the television.
The adoption agency's name was FCVN, Friends of Children of Vietnam. It was March 1, 1975. For decades Vietnam had been a country divided: North Vietnam under the primarily Communist dictatorship of Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam under Western-allied government. In 1961 as the political struggle escalated into civil war, President Kennedy sent four hundred American troops to assist the South Vietnamese government. American involvement grew steadily for the next fourteen years, and although it was never officially declared a war, it was the longest military conflict in American history, claiming over fifty-five thousand American lives. Greg called FCVN the morning of March 2, 1975, and they laid out the process for us. Step one: Get the forms to start our dossier. Step two: Contact a social services agency for a home study. FCVN worked closely with Catholic Social Services, so we gave them a call. That would be the last easy step of the process! The rest became a whirlwind of documents, affidavits, doctor's appointments (Why do we need blood tests for syphilis? We're adopting!), all happening against the headlines of Vietnam's imminent demise.
We had contacted Catholic Social Services and received a verbal agreement that they would conduct our home study for FCVN and get back to us to set a date. Every few days we called FCVN to check on our file. Did we remember to include three copies of our marriage certificate? Did we remember four copies of last year's tax forms? Did our references come in? We used any reason as an excuse for them to dig out our file and put it on top of the stacks of files that the agency was feverishly trying to process before the impending and inevitable fall of Vietnam's capital city of Saigon. The staff was working overtime to get as many orphans placed as they could while it was still possible. Meanwhile, Greg and I continued to work on the stacks of forms, writing our "history" and filling out forms for a foreign government that wouldn't be in power long enough to read them.
March flew into April. Then, on April 4, 1975, our world ended. A C5 transport jet, filled with Vietnamese orphans en route to American homes, crashed and burned on takeoff, killing 155 children and care workers. Our world faded into black. American personnel were frantically pulling out of the country, and these were among the last children that could be rescued from Vietnam. Any possibility of our adopting a child from Vietnam was ended. There would be no more flights, no more children coming to America. My dream of motherhood crashed in the rice paddy that day.
Our bodies had conspired against us - we couldn't produce children.
Our county had conspired against us - we couldn't adopt local children.
And now world events had conspired against us - our last hope was gone.
I was about to learn the greatest lesson of my life, which would also become the message of my life: God is good, and His plan is best! But before I could accept God's plan for my life, I had to want His plan. And before I could want it, I had to believe that His way was better than my way.
We live in an independent culture. We prize our ability to "do for ourselves," and we are proud of our own accomplishments. But the only way we can receive God's plan for our lives is when we become convinced that His way is better. That means we must absolutely believe that God truly is good, that He wants only good things for us, and that He will give only good things to us.
BELIEVING IN GOD'S GOODNESS
Life and circumstances combine to shape our perception of what is good and what is not. Culture attempts to define our idea of goodness, but Jesus attributed the title to God alone. "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good."1
If we desire to live truly blessed lives, to discover God's dreams and purposes, we must choose to believe in the unchanging goodness of God and the unquestionable goodness of everything He does and provides. Goodness is His unalterable nature, the definition of His character, and the quality of His being. He is the Good Shepherd, the source of every good and worthy thing, and the constructor and completer of His good works. But how does God define the word good? If we are going to believe intentionally in God's goodness, we need to have a foundational concept of what goodmeans.Otherwise we may buy into the world's definition or our own self-centered ideas and discover that God isn't remotely like those things. For instance, if good means comfortable, easy, or trouble free, then we will sooner or later discover that everything God gives us in this life doesn't live up to those definitions. Likewise, if we don't have a firm idea of what God considers good, then the first hard thing that happens to us can cause us to fear God and reject or resent His plan. If we are going to genuinely believe that God is good, we must begin by finding out what good means.
THE GOODNESS OF WHO GOD IS
Goodness is an attribute of God; the Bible tells us that it is part of His very nature and the standard of everything He does. The psalms are the "songbook" of the Bible, the poems and anthems written to be read or sung aloud in worship, praise, and confession to God, proclaiming His nature and character. Psalm 23, perhaps the best known of all the psalms, provides a key to God's character by describing Him as our Good Shepherd.
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
The opening lines of this psalm show us God's intended role as the Shepherd of His people. A shepherd is a guide, a protector, a provider. He supplies everything His flock needs. He brings them to places of refreshment when they are weary - green meadows of provision and nourishment, places where comfort and sustenance are provided for their souls. God tells us that He has given us His Word, the Holy Bible, to feed our souls: "People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."2
The shepherd renews his flock's strength when they are weak. He provides times of peace and calm so they can regain their strength and rest. Scripture tells us that God created the seventh day to be set aside just for rest! What a gift from our Shepherd. Most of us don't acknowledge this gift anymore, and more is the pity. In this stressed-out, overcommitted world, we lose 1,248 hours of God-given time to rest every year. The Lord Himself once asked Moses, "How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the LORD's gift to you."3
The shepherd is also a guide; he leads his sheep along the right and safe pathways. When we follow His Word, God leads us along right paths.ways of integrity, moral correctness, and justice. Psalm 119 tells us that our happiness is found "along the path of [God's] commands" and that God's Word is "a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."4 The prophet Isaiah assured that "for those who are righteous, the way is not steep and rough. You are a God who does what is right, and you smooth out the path ahead of them."5 When we choose to believe in God's goodness, we choose a Shepherd who protects us, provides for us, and directs us.
Psalm 23 continues:
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
God does not remove us from the reality of our world or the difficulties of life, but as our Good Shepherd, He never leaves us to face them alone. He is beside us, using His rod to defend us and His staff to draw us close. He tells us that when we pass through the fires and storms of our lives,6 He will be with us; we will not face our disasters and heartaches alone if we choose to follow Him through our valleys. And in the ultimate battle, the battle for eternity, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His flock. Jesus said:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired handwill runwhen he sees a wolf coming.He will abandon the sheep because they don't belong to him and he isn't their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he's working only for the money and doesn't really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.7
Christ as our Good Shepherd gave His life for us so that we could always be part of God's flock.and thereby always be the recipients of His goodness. He isn't like any other shepherd or leader; He will never desert in the face of danger. He knows us. He knows our lives.what we are going through, what we need, what we yearn for and dream about. And He will not rest until all His sheep are accounted for.
But the goodness of God goes beyond His shepherding us. A shepherd is indeed a provider, protector, guide, and leader, but the shepherd does not have a personal relationship with his sheep. Psalm 23 changes the analogy now, and we see our Lord as our host.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
God's provision goes beyond our necessities. His graciousness overflows on our behalf. He sets more than a dinner place for us; He prepares a feast in our honor! In Isaiah, God reassures His children, "Do not be afraid . . . my chosen one. For I will pour out abundant water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessings on your children. They will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank."8 And in Malachi, He declares, "I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!"9 God promises to pour out His abundant blessings upon us in this life, and even more in the next. Jesus tells us that He Himself has prepared a place for us in heaven, and that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast waiting for the guests to arrive.10
Psalm 23 ends by assuring us of God's goodness (that word again!), which pursues us, along with His unfailing love. We don't have to run after God's goodness. He chases after us with it! He wants to pour out His good things on us. And He will not withdraw that goodness from us - it's forever!
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.
God's goodness is the source of all He gives us and does for us. The more we understand what He considers good, the more we can trust that He is as good as He says He is!
THE GOODNESS OF WHAT GOD GIVES
It is God's nature to give. Everything He gives is good, and all that He gives flows from His goodness. Regardless of our circumstances and whether or not it seems thatGod is listening to our prayers,God is giving His children good things. The apostle Matthew writes that Jesus taught:
You parents - if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.11
God's concept of goodness goes far beyond our comprehension or expectations, and often beyond our notice. When we look for the "good" things that the world promotes (prestige, popularity, prosperity), we end up missing the better things.the best things.God is offering: His presence, His provision, His power, and His plan for our lives.
Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? And don't be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don't worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.12
What is the Kingdom? It's the things that God desires: caring for the disenfranchised, the poor, and the needy; visiting those who are in prison and alone; giving aid to the sick and dying; loving others enough to share the Good News of Christ with them; forgiving those who have hurt us; and putting the needs of others before our own. It gives God pleasure to provide for His children, but when we focus on the things of this world instead of concentrating on the Kingdom of God, we miss so much of what God is doing in our lives. We miss the power He gives us to endure through our hard times, we miss the provision God gives us to share with others, and we miss the inner confidence God gives us, the peace that can calm our troubled souls even in the midst of a troubled world.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.13 We can count on the consistency of God's goodness. He will never change His definition or disguise His good things to look like something they are not. Our culture changes its definition of good every new fashion season. The world makes sin look good; it makes evil look beneficial; it makes selfishness and self-centeredness look healthy and normal. The world lies. Only the things that come from God are and remain truly good: His standards, His commands, His will, His plan for us, His chosen and precious children.
God gives us the right to be called His own children: "To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God."14 He gives us His own Spirit of life as a seal of His promises to us: "We know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."15 The Spirit resides in us and gives us spiritual gifts that allow us to grow in our faith and encourage others in theirs. "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all."16
But the most wonderful good gift of all is the gift of eternal life in Christ. The Bible tells us that in the end, the only thing the world will leave us is the finality of death, but God has given us the ultimate gift. The world gives us only what we have earned, but God gives us the free gift of life everlasting in Christ!17
These are God's definitions of good things! To believe in the goodness of God means believing that everything from Him is good, regardless of how it feels to us at the moment. It means we can resist the world's temptations because we know He has something better. It even means we can face the consequences of our wrong choices with courage and conviction because He will give us the power and guidance to persevere. It means we can withstand the difficult circumstances that come from living in an imperfect and deteriorating world because we know that He will sustain us and provide for us during our hard times. And though not everything we experience in this life may be good, it means we can trust that God desires to give us the things that will ultimately empower us to live lives that give testimony to His goodness. For how would it glorify God to give His children anything but the best?
THE GOODNESS OF WHAT GOD DOES
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. . . . So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, Believe in God's Goodness 13 "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground." Then God said, "Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.everything that has life." And that is what happened. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!18
The opening words of the Bible begin with a description of what God considers good. He created humans in His own pattern so that we could have a relationship with Him. He also created every form of sustenance and provision that His creation would need to survive. Everything that flows from God is good. From His creation to His plan of redemption to the eventual total reconciliation of His creation to Himself, everything God does represents His goodness. Although it was humans who broke relationship with God, it was God who planned and provided the means of reconciliation.
God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.19
By God's goodness we were restored to a relationship with Him in this lifetime and spared from His judgment in the next! The goodness of God the Father provided the way for this relationship, and the goodness of God the Son achieved it: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."20 The goodness of God the Spirit allows us to be transformed by it. "The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"21 Restoration, reconciliation, transformation: the goodness of what God does! How does God define good? By who He is, by what He gives, and by what He does. "The LORD is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!"22
When we genuinely believe in God's goodness, we begin to trust Him. We desire His will for our lives because we realize that His will is better than anything we could want for ourselves. We want to do things His way because we trust that His way is best, that His way will bring deeper joy and significance to our lives. We trust that what He has told us is good and that He will bring good into our lives and the lives of those we love.
Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.23
When we know deep in our hearts that we can rely on God to provide the good things we need, when we need them, we are able to live our lives with courage, confidence, and conviction!
The LORD is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him.24
When we trust in the goodness of God, we are free to live with greater courage. Our fears fade. Our worries about the future begin to dissipate when we realize that our future is in the hands of a good and almighty God. Our fear of rejection begins to diminish when we recognize that we are accepted by a good and loving Father. Our dread of the unknown begins to decrease when we appreciate that we are in the care of our good Protector. Our anxieties of inadequacy are dispelled as we understand that we have access to all the resources of a good and caring Provider.
Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!25
When we trust in the goodness of God, we are free to live with greater confidence. We can trust His direction for our lives because we can count on Him to give us truthful insight, superior wisdom, and beneficial counsel for the choices we have to make on a daily basis. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that we can trust in the Lord with all our heart and that we don't have to depend on our own limited understanding. If we seek His will in all the things we do, He will direct the paths of our lives. When we believe in the goodness of God, we can trust that He will lead us only into good things!
When we trust in the goodness of God, we are free to live with deeper conviction and purpose. Trusting in God's goodness means believing in His constancy, regardless of how momentary events appear. It means we can have the confidence to hold to godly principles and priorities, regardless of their popularity, current cultural "correctness," or what others may think or say. It means having a constant moral compass that we can be completely sure of. It means living a life of significance because we are living with godly purpose. Isaiah 26:4 assures us that we can trust in the Lord always, because He is the eternal Rock!
Scripture not only affirms His goodness but also assures us that He has planned out good lives for us and that He wants good things for us. When we look closely at the Word of God and His definition of what is good, and when we pay close attention to what He is doing in our lives, we will begin to see and trust in the good things He is doing.
The author mentions the despair she felt after all the paths to starting a family seemingly closed. God appeared distant and uncaring. Have you ever felt this way? What circumstances prompted it? How did you deal with it?
What are some of the fears that you struggle with? How would it help you to know that a good God cares about your fears?
What difficult decisions are you facing right now? How would knowing that God's ways always result in good, help you in the decisions you have to make?
Consider the moral and ethical climate of the world today. How does trusting that God's standards are consistent with His goodness change or affect your perception of what is happening in our societies and families?
What beliefs or practices (habits, lifestyle, and attitudes) do you need to address in order to trust God's goodness in your own life?