Wednesday, May 23, 2012

all things together for good?

Ebenezer Parry 1877 - photo: Waen

I became a Christian in 1996 at the age of 12.  Since that time, I spent many hours in youth group and church.  I studied the Bible for four years at Nebraska Christian College, and I have worked in full-time ministry off and on for the last five years.

Sadly, it wasn't until about four years ago that I really started to wrestle with my unbelief.  I had a general belief in God that was unshakable - too many unexplained things out there (i.e. even if there was a big bang, where did that come from?, etc.).  Also, I believed that the God of the Hebrew Bible and subsequently the New Testament was most likely the true God (based on archaeology, history, etc.).

What I doubted about God was His goodness.  You know that verse that annoying Christians like to trot out when you're going through something difficult, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28 ESV)?  That never seemed to happen to me, and it only made me want to choke people who brought it up - in Christian love, of course.

I committed my life to Jesus in junior high and apparently all things working together for good looked a heck of a lot like me still being a chubby loser, sporting a Pedro-from-Napoleon-Dynamite "mustache," and being ignored by girls like I was a math textbook.

But it got better.  I felt called to full-time ministry in high school, so I committed that I would do it.  This decision met patronizing, "That's so great (for you)!" comments from nearly every friend and teacher.  I got my heart broken my freshman year of college by a girl whose main reasoning was that she couldn't "be a pastor's wife."  (This ended up being fair reasoning because she enjoyed smoking pot much more than is usually acceptable for the woman occupying the front pew.)

Thankfully, it got even better.  My first ministry position out of college required me to move 1500 miles from my hometown, which I loved, to Riverside, California, which misery loves (sorry, Riverside friends, I couldn't resist).  That position lasted nine months.  In fact, had it been a gestation, I would've been a preemie on the way out.

It seemed to me that the God who was supposed to be working all things together for good in my life was sleeping on the job.  The more I followed Him, the less attainable good (i.e. girls and a couple of dollars in my pocket) became.

It was almost as if His definition of good and mine were different.

Now, as I look back, I see that His "good" was actually good, and mine, well, was not.

I see that in junior high, He wanted me to start learning to be content with who He created me to be, even if I didn't look like one of the boys from that @%$ band Hanson.

I see that through broken relationships He wanted me to learn that He desired better for me than I even wanted for myself.

I see that in failure He wanted me to learn humility, diligence, forgiveness, and resilience.

Since then . . .

I've seen in the heartbreak of miscarriage that we live in a broken world that highlights the joy of the one to come.

I've seen in job loss that I am not really the Provider.

I've seen in the tragic loss of a loved one that second chances are sometimes born out of grief.

I've seen that He is good but that my heart must be tuned to sing His grace.

8 comments:

  1. Raj this is amazing and so timely. Thank you so much.

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  2. Why do you have to hate on Hanson? What did Hanson ever do to you?! Huh?! HUH?!?!?? :)

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    1. The fact that you liked them enough to still defend them justifies my animosity towards them.

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  3. You hit the nail on the head with your comment about perspective. I completely agree that most of the time I don't see things as "good" in the moment, but in hindsight it is much easier to see them as the good they always were. We all too often define something as "not good" when it hurts because deep down we want an easy life. From what I've seen, the things that hurt the worst are the same things that spur the most dramatic opportunities for growth in our lives.

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    1. Thanks, Dan. I totally agree. I used to worry that God was shocked at each new failure or crisis that I got myself into. In college, I began to realize that God knows my sin and weakness exactly and allows moments of crisis or failure in order to show me that His grace covers the depths of sin I didn't even know I had.

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  4. This is one of my big 'issues'.

    It's one thing to grumble about not getting a job you wanted, or the girl, or the car, or the raise, or ........

    What I have a really hard time explaining to myself are the injustices put upon children, the abuse, the neglect, the hurt (physical and emotional). These are the hard questions I get from my non-believing friends where I can only really shrug my shoulders. How do you justify "all things working together for his good" in the light of the very real child sex slavery brothels, the murderers that 'get away with it', genocide, wealthy hedge fund managers who destroy peoples lives for their own gain, and every other terrible thing you can think of.

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    1. Eric, I think this is one of the hardest questions in Christianity to answer because the theological answer is fairly straightforward, but it barely scratches the surface of taking away the hurt.

      Something I've thought about in recent years is that if James 1:17 is true (Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.), then rebelling against God forfeits our right to every good thing on this planet. God shows us all grace by limiting the extent to which we experience His wrath on earth and giving His Spirit to believers to fight the injustices we see.

      I know this intellectual assertion doesn't take away the pain, but it does help us gain some perspective on how bad the problem of sin is and how great the sacrifice of Jesus is. Call me if you ever want to grab a cup of coffee (that we will surely both need) and wrestle with some of this stuff together.

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