My PA (and friend) Brandie is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. A cancer diagnosis is always a surprise, but this one was particularly so as she had a normal mammogram just 6 months earlier (she found it by chance when she scratched an itch!). She underwent the standard tests, including an MRI which revealed two separate areas of cancer and an involved lymph node. Her expectations went from simple lump removal and radiation to 6 courses of chemotherapy followed by surgery and then radiation. Since hearing the news we have been concerned but hopeful.
This week she received some surprisingly good news. Her oncologist had ordered a repeat MRI two days before chemo treatment number 3. Everyone was hoping that the MRI would show at least some degree of tumor shrinkage, some evidence of response. None of us expected the cancer to be gone, yet that was what the MRI showed! There was no evidence at all of the tumors that had been there just 2 months earlier. I rejoiced with her at the results and the news that she would now need only a total of 4 rounds of chemo before the next stages of her treatment.
I could not help but thank God at her report, and found myself joyfully thinking, “God is good!”
I have been chewing on that thought about God’s goodness for the last few days. Why do I only say, “God is good” when things work out the way I want? Why are my declarations of God’s goodness so often dependent on the circumstances in which I find myself?
I think it reflects a common error in our understanding of God’s purposes and work. Without even realizing it we sometimes act as if God’s primary responsibility and concern is to make our earthly lives better. We correctly declare His goodness and righteousness and love for us when things go well but remain silent about His nature when things go poorly.
It is as if we see God as less than God, as if he is a benevolent heavenly grandfather who wants to give us things. Like all grandpas, he wants us to be happy so he of course gives us things we want and desires to make us happy. Sick? Grandpa God will kiss it and make it better. Struggling financially? Grandpa God will withdraw money from his account and send it our way. Hurting? Never worry, go to Grandpa God because he gives the best hugs and we will feel better.
We know he will do these things, because he is good.
But God doesn’t always do these things. I have an amazingly devout friend who has been in a wheelchair for years with no hope of ever walking again. I have another Christian friend who is slowly dying from ALS. Is God being good to them?
When the one friend gets hospitalized again from a kidney infection will I say, “God is good?” When the other loses the ability to talk and is choking on his own saliva, will I tell him how wonderful God is? If Brandie’s cancer returns, will I still praise God for the outcome?
If I understand God’s nature correctly I think the answer must be “Yes!”
Goodness is part of God’s eternal nature. God is eternal and unchanging. His nature never changes, which means his goodness never changes. It never increases or decreases in intensity. It is forever constant.
How can we understand and praise the eternal nature of God’s goodness, when things are going terribly, painfully wrong? I believe we need to turn to God’s eternal plan to help us understand. The bible tells us that God’s plan is to redeem sinful men through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Out of God’s goodness, he sent his Son to die for us. Out of his goodness he works and moves to draw people to himself, and to change us into the people he wants us to be. This goodness never stops.
Whether we experience victory or defeat, joy or sorrow, health or sickness, God is working for our eternal good. This means that if we wish to truly see God’s goodness, we should look to his eternal work and never to our earthly circumstances.
This is difficult to grasp but essential to understand. It is because of this Christians can confidently say, “God is good, ALL the time.”
I thank God for Brandie’s response to treatment, grateful that He has answered these prayers. I do so confident that in his goodness he will work his will in her life, regardless of the outcome.
I am clinging to this knowledge as I prepare for my upcoming surgery. I am doing my best to be prepared to thank Him for his goodness whatever the outcome. If the surgery is successful and my chronic pain resolves, I will be grateful that I will be better able to serve Him, but more so for the fact that I am his child. If the surgery does not work and I end up facing lasting pain, I will be thankful for the promise of grace and strength to endure the pain, but more so for that fact that I am his child.
Nothing about the surgery or its outcome will in anyway impact God’s eternal plan for me. I know this because God is good.
PS: For those who have not heard, I am scheduled to have my right first rib removed at UCLA on August 8th. The nerves to the arm pass through a triangle that has the first rib at the bottom and two muscles from the neck as the sides. The doctor believes that it is there that the nerves are being pinched, causing the chronic pain and numbness I have had for the last few years. (Any repetitive use of the arm, from using a mouse to driving, causes significant pain flares).