Inside: The problems with the phrase, “God is good”. Examining the belief systems underneath this common Christian phrase and considering whether omnipotent and good can coexist when evil still exists.
My father-in-law died yesterday. It’s the first death I’ve experienced post-deconstruction.
I’m wrestling with things like making room for my husband and I to explain death differently. He still believes in heaven and being with Jesus when we die, as did his father.
While I’ve let go of the idea of eternal punishment (a.k.a. hell) for good, I haven’t really decided whether or not I can say with certainty that there is a heaven, and we’ll definitely go there when we die. I’m pretty sure evangelicals have permanently damaged my ability to say anything with certainty anymore.
But what’s really bothering me tonight are all the references to God being good.
“God is so good! He answered my prayer that Mike would go to be with Jesus quickly after they took out the breathing tube.”
“I believe that God is good. So even if we don’t understand why this is happening to grandpa, God is good.”
Because what does that even mean?
I’ll break down for you what I think is underneath all the God is good talk, and where I’m at with that whole concept.
What Does “God Is Good” Really Mean?
“Is your top button buttoned? Do you know that God is good?”
I will never ever forget this analogy that was shared over and over again throughout the movement of churches we were a part of for over 15 years.
When you button a shirt, what can happen if you start buttoning from the bottom? You’ll potentially line up the buttons wrong.
You just might not realize it until you reach the top.
So believing God is good is the equivalent to having your top button buttoned. That way, when your world falls apart, everything else…won’t. Your beliefs will stay neatly in place no matter what befalls you (supposedly).
God being good is pretty central to most Christian doctrine. And that doctrine usually says something like “God is good, meaning he cannot do anything evil.”
But here are a few problematic belief systems operating underneath the phrase, “God is good.”
1. God did exactly what I asked him to do: God is good.
This one is probably the most problematic for me, and why I struggle to pray the way I used to. Or at all.
I realized that about 50% of my prayers (or more) were asking for things. Telling God the way I thought things should be, or at the very least, the way I wanted them to be.
I’d pray for parking spots, or my baby to go to sleep (cue: feelings of desperation), or there to be no rain the day of the church picnic. Oh geez.
Sometime the asks were bigger: more money to pay the bills, hurricanes not to hit our house, a child’s eczema flare-up to heal quickly.
But then I realized how much privilege I was operating under, even as a lower middle class American. I didn’t know poverty or abuse or chronic pain.
There were people everywhere on this huge planet – in many countries much worse off than mine – praying for things to happen to them that didn’t.
- Like the child asking for the abuse to stop. It kept happening anyway.
- Or the African asking for her child not to be taken to war. They were taken anyway.
- Or the person living in poverty asking not to lose the job that’s standing in between them and homelessness. They lost the job anyway.
Much bigger problems, without the favorable answers.
Do you see how saying “God is good” when our $900 phone screen didn’t crack when we dropped it can be problematic? A little genie-in-a-bottle-ish?
And sometimes, it’s even more complicated. Like when someone prays for a man to “go home to Jesus quickly” after a breathing tube is pulled.
We’re praying for God to…kill someone? Let them die faster because there will be less pain that way? A mercifully short death?
It just doesn’t sit right when you put it like that.
(Kind of like when my 3-year-old asked me why Grandpa wanted to kill himself. This after I mentioned he specifically asked to have the breathing tube removed and the tube was the only thing keeping him alive. Ummm, when you put it like that…)
The next one is similar, but hear me out.
2. Something awesome happened to me: God is good.
This one is pretty similar to #1, I know, but with some subtle differences that I think are important enough to deserve its own bullet point.
Say you didn’t ask for these good things to happen. Maybe they just happened to you, no pleading required.
- Your child got his sh*t together and started acting like a grown-up (a.k.a. he got a job).
- You were asked to buy a house, when you never thought owning one would be possible for you.
- You got pregnant on the first try.
- You got an unexpected, unasked for raise.
So why do I bring this up if it’s so similar to #1? Because when good things happen to you, immediately saying, “God is good,” is, I don’t know…cliche?
It also implies that God made those things happen to you, that he had a hand in it.
So if God makes the good things happen, then does he make the bad ones happen to you, too? And what about the really bad ones?
No no no! Before you say it, we can’t blame it all on Satan if we’re working in this framework. Because if God is “letting” Satan make bad things happen, then isn’t God still kind of the one making those bad things happen by not preventing Satan from making them happen?
It’s a dizzying, messy line of thought, I know.
But do you see where this belief system has…issues?
3. Something horrible happened to me: God is good.
You would think that the first two would be the hardest for me. But they’re not.
What’s the most difficult to hear on this side of deconstruction is “God is good” in response to pain. The stories below are true, by the way.
- A parent (my dad) drops dead of a heart attack, when they had a cardiac appointment set up the next day. God is good.
- An older child who should know better accidentally hangs themselves while their parent is at work. God is good.
- A woman does the bookkeeping for her husband’s business and is, unbeknownst to him, not paying taxes; the spouse in the dark is left with the (very high) bill. God is good.
- The baby doesn’t come back to life in your womb like you prayed it would – you miscarry, anyway. God is good.
- The cancer comes back when the doctor said there was a 95% chance it wouldn’t, and this time it’s aggressive. God is good.
What bothers me most about this statement applied to these circumstances is that evangelical Christianity also believe God is omnipotent – all powerful. So an all powerful God, who could stop any of these things from happening just…doesn’t.
And we still call him good.
In these circumstances, “God is good” is almost immediately followed up with Isaiah 55:8, which says something like, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.”
Basically, don’t question God. He has reasons for letting things happen and not stopping them.
Who are you to question the God of the universe, after all?
That was the conclusion in Job, was it not? “Where were you when I built the universe?” etc., etc.
Translation: you’ll never understand why bad things happen to you (that God allowed in Job, by the way), but I’m all powerful and good. Ask questions all you want, but you don’t deserve any answers except I am who I am, and I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.
The critical thinking and question-asking bashing aside (another topic for another day), the mixture of omnipotence and goodness in a God, in this world? I can no longer stomach it.
This use of “God is good” is used as a catch-all for, “You’ll never understand why bad things happen, but God’s got this. Stop questioning him because he’s omnipotent, and he’s in control, and he’s good, too.”
But is he really?
Where I’m At Right Now With God And Goodness
I don’t use, “God is good” the way I used to.
I don’t use it much at all anymore because it no longer seems appropriate in 99% of the scenarios I applied it to before.
But here are a few conclusions I’ve come to about God and goodness, which is probably why the phrase rubs me the wrong way.
1. The fundamentalist Christian God isn’t good.
I no longer believe that the God of the Bible – if you take it literally, anyway – is a good God. Because if you say that you’re saying that genocide and slavery and misogyny and rape and infanticide is good.
Go back to the Bible. Read all the way through it.
If you truly believe that God told the Israelites to do all the things the Old Testament says he did? If you believe God did the things the Israelites said he did?
That is not goodness. It’s just not.
And saying it is is how people justify things like hitting their children and calling it good. Or telling gay people they’re abominations and going to hell is good (and even barring them from full church participation). Or stealing land from entire people groups and killing those who don’t convert.
Or so many other horrible things Christians have done in the past or do today. They justify it with this view of the Old Testament God as good.
And if God makes love look harsh and even evil in the Bible, then doing “loving” things today that feel harsh and seem evil must be…good? They must be loving?
2. An omnipotent god cannot also be a good god while evil still rages.
Maybe God is good. But the Christian God is supposed to be omnipotent.
Call me a heretic, but I’ll just come right out and say it: a good, omnipotent, omniscient (all knowing) God who looks on while a child is being raped is.not.good. He cannot be.
Christians defined God’s goodness this way…
“The fact that God is good means that He has no evil in Him, His intentions and motivations are always good, He always does what is right, and the outcome of His plan is always good.”Got Questions Dot Org
Letting a child experience trauma when you have the power to stop it is none of those things.
Yet people continue to link omnipotence with goodness in their god. I call bullshit.
They cannot go together, and the world be filled with the evil that it is. And don’t you dare give me the free will argument. Not having it.
If it was my child, I wouldn’t give a damn about a rapist’s free will. If I had the power to stop it, I would stop it.
That is the right thing to do. And I guess you could call it…goodness.
Think Long And Hard Before You Say, “God is Good”
If you’re a Christian reading this, I used to be where you are. I absolutely get the comfort it brings to believe in a good, omnipotent, omniscient God when you haven’t yet seen the conflicts between those three qualities.
I used to say this phrase, believe it with all my heart and take comfort in it.
But I’d encourage you to think about how you use this phrase in your everyday life.
Is it automatic? Cliche? Every waking minute for every random good thing the happens to you?
How do you use it? When? In front of whom?
And do you really want to use it as a blanket statement anytime something bad happens? Let God off the hook: no questions asks, explanation required? If you don’t get any answers, God is still good?
Because there’s a whole lot of people out there who hear you say, “God is good,” and are living in a completely different reality than you are. A reality where that phrase hits different.
One where desperate prayers for bigger problems aren’t getting answered, a whole lot of bad is happening, and nothing.ever.changes.
Where is your good God in that world?
Just something to think about.