I don’t know how to speak this well enough. It would take a poet. God is good, and his way is good. It’s very good. It’s rich, it’s beautiful, it’s mulit-dimensional, it’s mysterious where it ought to be, and it’s plain where it should be. It’s dizzyingly satisfying. It’s glorious. It’s right.
I don’t know how to say that well enough, partly because there’s an aspect in it of “you had to be there.” You could go there, actually, because what I’m talking about is the long conversation with Bill L on the post, The Range Master and the Doctor: A Parable About Abortion.
More than anything else there we’ve talked about suffering in relation to abortion. Bill L’s view is that a fetus cannot suffer before 21 weeks in the womb, so there’s no moral harm in taking its life:
I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of thoughts that allow any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.
He balances this against other suffering:
I hate to say it but I’m not surprised that you’re not aware of the suffering you want to cause. Unwanted children cause many people suffering. Disabled children cause many people suffering. I suggest you start talking to people who have had abortions and actually listen to them.
I’ve already spoken a very passionate opinion about disabled children causing suffering. I left out the most important part there, though, and I want to spend some time on it here. It’s about God’s eternal and essential goodness.
God is good, and his goodness is far better than just wanting us to escape suffering. His goodness is of the sort that wants to build us up in our goodness. He’s a soul-tester and a soul-builder, not a comfort-manager.
On one level everyone know this. Though suffering is not good in itself, still God produces good through it. Suffering amplifies souls. There’s a rather cryptic saying of Jesus that comes in here, I think. It’s in Matthew 25:29; and I hope I’m not violating the context too badly by using it in this way. Jesus says,
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
What we are is amplified in suffering. Those who are growing grow even stronger. Those who are shrinking shrink all the more.
The most beautiful souls I know are those who have stood the test. Years ago I knew Bill McDowell, one of the scholars on the translation team for the New King James Version of the Bible (no relation to Josh or Sean McDowell). He had lost his first wife to breast cancer. Around the time I first met him his second wife was also diagnosed with breast cancer, and she too passed away, slowly and painfully.
I didn’t know her well enough to see her heart, but I knew Bill, and I’ll never forget what he said at the time of her death: “I am so grateful for the love of God and of this church for me.” Sure, he was a world-class scholar, yet what really stood out to me was that he was a man of grace, love, and humility, in ways that were both enlarged and revealed through his suffering.
Above all—and he would have been very quick to say this!—he was a man who knew the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Before a soul can grow it must become fully alive. This fullness of life is possible only through Christ, who died for us so that we could live in him forever.
We need Jesus Christ, even to get started in soul-building. Suffering can play a part in getting us started on the way of Christ. It reveals to us that the world is bigger than we are. There are evils we cannot control. Some of them come from within. When we discover this we have a choice. We can fight for the right to be who we are–a self-centered act right from the start; or we can recognize we need outside help to be rescued, mostly from ourselves.
He rescues us through forgiveness, for one thing. Back to the topic of abortion, I think Christians may be too slow to say that although it’s really wrong, God can really forgive that wrong.
He rescues us through reconciling us to himself. We don’t just get a clean slate, we get a new life and a new relationship with him.
When God accomplishes that rescue for us he reveals a world of goodness we had never dreamed of. It’s goodness like Bill McDowell’s; goodness like the fruit of the Spirit of God, highlighted in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. These virtues grow in us best when we face and pass the test of suffering. Some of them would be meaningless without it.
To grow in such things is far better than to grow in comfort and ease! Again, everyone knows this on some level. Though everyone would like to live in easy comfort, few of us would love being friends with someone whose life had always been that way. Their souls are small.
Everyone knows this on some level, but some people would still rather have life their own way. They want to define “goodness” for themselves. To want this is to fail the test at the very beginning; for goodness is God’s domain. We can approach it, and we can experience it, on his terms only. To try to define it on our own terms is to put ourselves in the place of God.
God is good. He is good in his way, not in ours; but his way of goodness is our best way of goodness. He’s offering us all life in his goodness, for now and forever. Why would anyone settle for mere comfort?
I fear I’ve been rambling. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: I said at the beginning, I don’t know how to speak this well enough. With my heart overflowing this way I’m finding it hard to connect everything in a strictly logical sequence. I just want you to understand that true goodness—God’s goodness—is more multi-dimensional, more beautiful, sometimes mysterious, yet in every way better than mere human comfort.
Pursue it. Look to Jesus Christ as your way, truth, and life (from John 14:6) Seek God, and you will find him, and you will know that he is good.