If you have ever been to an evangelical church, you have probably heard the following phrase belted out at some random time. Usually, it happens when the pastor is strolling up to the stage. On those occasions, you might hear this little back-and-forth exchange in churches all over the world.
Pastor: “God is good!”
Congregation “All the time!”
Pastor: “And all the time…”
Congregation: “God is good!”
Even at a more reserved church, you might hear some applause as the congregation looks around as if to say, “And we’re pretty good too!’ Warm thoughts of denominational-ism and maybe even nationalism spread throughout the room as everyone thinks “It’s good to be us…God is good, and God is for us!”
I even saw a t-shirt today that included the words, “God is good.” In the past few months, I’ve heard the phrase a lot–usually after someone gets through a hospital visit, survived an illness, or made some money. To put it simply, it was usually when things go the way the person wanted them to.
Any more when I hear the phrase, I am more apt to think, “Really, why do you think that?” Is it because you believe God rewarded you for something you did or because you prayed in a certain way or is it just because you are special people that get what you want from God? What if the person didn’t make it through the surgery or failed the test or didn’t get the promotion? Is God still good? Or, do we question God and ourselves when things don’t go the way we want?
My children taught me something about this.
When our children were infants, they depended on us for everything. I’m sure there is physical chemistry between mom and child, but to be honest, our infant children only liked me to the extent that I could provide for their basic needs. Laura and I (mostly Laura) could make the hunger pains go away or clean up the discomfort of a messy diaper or just put them in a warm, comfortable place to sleep. They couldn’t verbalize it yet, but mom and dad were “good!”
As toddlers and small children, I was good because I could amuse them for brief periods of time with toys and funny faces. I was their ticket to the magical places like the park and the ice cream shop. Although they were learning to feed themselves, they still relied on me and trusted me to bring them food that tasted good and made them healthy. Laura and I were the trusted providers of sickness relief and “ouchie” comfort. Life was evolving, but the theme continued.
Even as teenagers, I received a similar response. In some ways, it got more pronounced because then they knew what they were doing. Their lives were becoming less dependent on me, and occasionally they humbled themselves enough to come out of their bedroom and acknowledge me – it was when they asked for money! If you are a young parent, just let me assure you about the teenage years. There will be a few times that teenagers will admit that you are “good!” The bad news, it will only be when they want money or the keys to car. You will in fact be “the greatest,” but only for an instant.
There is an early adult period where my kids didn’t need me at all. I always dreamed that they would write me letters to think me for all the lessons I taught them and the thousands of dollars I was “investing” in their education. Just so you know, I’m still waiting by the mail box — the letters never came. Some of their friends have said they thought we were “great” or “cool,” but our kids were not the spontaneous note-writing type. I take credit for that – Laura is great at it, but I’m not.
As they got a little older — let’s just round it off to 21 for good measure — It happened a little sooner for some than the others. That was the time they acknowledged (in their own individual ways) that they thought we were “good” in their eyes. Since they are at least partially like me, it wasn’t a big emotional event. It was just a little moment of weakness when they slipped and let it be known that we were at least okay (good) in their eyes. It wasn’t when we gave them something or let them do something or helped them get something they wanted–it was just because they took some reflection and recognized what was “good” about us was the relationship that somehow survived the middle school years (affectionately known as hell).
You see, there it is! God isn’t just good for what he gives us. God is not just good because he makes things go the way we want them to go. What’s good about God is what’s good about family—it’s the relationship. In my mind, God is not just good, God is better (for me) when things are going the worst. Sometimes, I wonder if doctors and nurses and hospitals resent God for getting all the credit when they worked hard to provide that world class care. Often, I want to say thanks to the medical community as I thank God for his relationship with me as I went through the thing that caused me to say, “God is good.”
I think that if we only point up to the sky only when we score a touchdown, we’re going to remain spiritual teenagers. And if we shout “God is good” only when our bellies are full, and our diapers are clean (symbolically speaking), we should admit that we’re still infants and not look around the church to congratulate ourselves.
This past weekend, I had an unusually rich experience at something called Souljourners. The “good”ness of God was most evident when I wondered around a place called the Forest of Friendship and then sat and listened to the Cherokee Morning Song. I thought “I am a part of this” wonderful creation that God hand-crafted. I thought “God is good” when I listened to a spiritual director meticulously apply her 30 plus years of experience to people seeking wisdom and discernment. When I saw people care for each other, it reminded me that God IS good- but not because he made my path easier or gave me something that made me feel better. God is good–in relationship. It’s more like an embrace than a handout.
God is good when two people pray together in relationship – not just when it turns out the way they prayed. God is good when two people hold each other in turmoil-not just when the turmoil goes away. God is good because of and through relationship.
I don’t know what my children say to their friends. Maybe they say, “our parents are good” and their friends say, “all the time…” Probably not. But occasionally, when we get together, I feel it in their hug, “this is good!” Next time we hug, I’m going to say, “All the time!”