Is God Really Good?

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

This has been a tough verse to swallow in the last ten days for my kids at school. There is no goodness in death itself, and it is hard to reconcile an untimely death and a sovereign and omnipotent God. “If God is good then why…” has echoed in their words and in their tears. And, to be honest, it has echoed in my own thoughts and tears as I have pulled together faith and love and steadiness; we must walk our talk, show our faith to those who desperately need to see what faith looks like when they can’t feel it. This means overcoming our feelings with truth.

Though our feelings come and go, his love for us does not… CS Lewis

I pulled out some old notes for a class I am teaching at school, and in the folder there was a small collection of notes dated October 6, 1999. The notes were in my Church History notes from 2006; seminary in Wake Forest is a lifetime away from college at UTC, so I have no doubt these notes were divinely “misplaced” so I would find them today.

I have no idea where I was or who was speaking (which is why I have since become obsessive about documenting notes. The historian in me believes this to be a requirement, and now I know why), but we were apparently discussing the characteristics of God. At this particular time we were discussing God’s goodness, and this one statement, written in my own hand, jumped off the page at me this morning:

“We would never willingly give up our son, but we praise God for the lives changed through his death.” This is a particularly jarring statement at this point in life, considering this anonymous statement echoes the cries of our hearts in the loss of a son, brother, teammate, classmate, friend and student last week.

We can’t understand God’s goodness because we’ve changed good to mean “something that pleases our senses.” But in reality, God and His characteristics are the only things that can define good.

In other words, God is the standard of good, not our desires. If God brings it, it is good, indeed it is best, regardless of our feelings toward the situation.

In the remainder of my notes from this event, there are many verses quoted, followed by one line observations I wrote then and have considered quite a bit today. I do not believe this will be the last day of my life that my heart will need to be reminded of the goodness of God. The italicized portions are the verses and quotes provided by the speaker, the bold statements are the questions and observations I jotted down in 1999.

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power; To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD sustains all who fall And raises up all who are bowed down. Psalm 145:8-14

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good ? No one is good except God alone.” Luke 18:18-19

If God is good, then what he really wants is what’s best for me, right? Can I trust you with my life?

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:16-17

God wants what’s best for me, but not necessarily what’s easy for me.

Those who dive in a sea of affliction bring up a rear pearl. Charles Spurgeon

When we truly trust God, we will not have anxiety or worry.

Now my last observation about trust and worry is much more cut and dry in the mind of the 19 year old who wrote the words than it is in the mind of the 32 year who read the same words today. It’s not either/or; sometimes trust and anxiety occur in overwhelming doses of both/and. But I know that anxiety causes me to either lean more and more on him or more and more on my own devices to relieve the situation. And I also know that the more I cast my anxieties on him, they are lessened, while the more I carry my anxieties on myself, the more they seem to multiply. And sometimes “casting” is a continuous action throughout a day.

Is it your whole life? Do you have a relationship? Trust that God wants what’s good for your life.

THAT is the key. That question: do you trust God? Do you trust that He wants what’s best for you? Do you trust that HE is what’s best for you?

The words, spoken to the ears of an 19 year old in 1999, heard today by the heart of a 32 year old, were delivered by the Spirit at just the right time. May they speak to your heart at just the right time.

Encouragement for the Weary Soul

The two disciples who walked to Emmaus and conversed together, and were sad, were true believers. We may not judge men by their occasional feelings. The possession of gladness is no clear evidence of grace; and the existence of depression is no sure sign of insincerity. The brightest eyes that look for heaven have sometimes been holden so that they could not see their heart’s true joy. Be not cast down, my brethren and sisters, if occasionally the tears of sadness bathe your cheeks. Jesus may be drawing near to you, and yet you may be troubled by mysteries of grief.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to the two disciples, and took a walk of some seven miles with them to remove their sadness; for it is not the will of our Lord that his people should be cast down. The Savior does himself that which he commanded the ancient prophet to do. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” Thus he spake and thus he acts. He was pleased when he went away to send us another Comforter, because he wishes us to abound in comfort; but that promise proves that he was, and is, himself a Comforter. Do not dream, when in sadness, that your Lord has deserted you; rather reckon that for this very reason he will come to you. As her babe’s cry quickens the mother’s footsteps to come to it more speedily, So shall your griefs hasten the visits of your Lord. He hears your groanings; he sees your tears—are they not in his bottle? He will come to you as the God of all consolation.

Observe that, when the Savior did come to these mourning ones, he acted very wisely towards them. He did not at once begin by saying, “I know why you are sad.” No; he waited for them to speak, and in his patience drew forth from them the items and particulars of their trouble. You that deal with mourners, learn hence the way of wisdom. Do not talk too much yourselves. Let the swelling heart relieve itself. Jeremiah derives a measure of help from his own lamentations: even Job feels a little the better from pouring out his complaint. Those griefs which are silent run very deep, and drown the soul in misery. It is good to let sorrow have a tongue where sympathy hath an ear. Allow those who are seeking the Lord to tell you their difficulties: do not discourse much with them till they have done so. You will be the better able to deal with them, and they will be the better prepared to receive your words of cheer. Often, by facing the disease of sorrow the cure is half effected; for many doubts and fears vanish when described. Mystery gives a tooth to misery, and when that mystery is extracted by a clear description, the sharpness of the woe is over. Learn, then, ye who would be comforters, to let mourners hold forth their wound before you pour in the oil and wine.
                                                                                                                –Charles Spurgeon, “Folly of Unbelief”, August 28, 1887

The entire sermon is well worth reading, both for those who need encouragement and for those love to encourage.

Depression and Psalm 102

in Bible study last week I taught on Psalm 102, and our conversation drifted quickly to the struggle of depression and suffering. The following is an article I wrote to follow up our conversation. I hope it may be a helpful reminder and encouragement to those who suffer from times of depression.

First of all, there are many causes for seasons of depression. Whenever I experience a time of isolation or depression I ask myself four questions to evaluate it.

These are four reasons for suffering in the life of a believer (and I would qualify extended periods of depression as a form of suffering):

  1. Is this caused by sin in my own life? Is there something God wants me to do that I am not doing? Is there something God wants me to quit doing and I refuse? Is my depression caused by unrepentance and I am just far from God? Maybe you are depressed because life if not working out according to your plan. Maybe you are suffering because of poor choices you have made. If the cause of your circumstance is something you’ve done, is there anything you can do to improve the situation or do you just need to humbly accept the consequences of your choices and adjust your life accordingly?
  2. Is this caused by the sin of someone else? Am I suffering because of the actions of another? If so, what do I need to do to prevent resentment and bitterness from leading to sustained depression? Examples would be suffering abuse at the hand of someone else, suffering the consequences of someone else’s bad choice, like a spouse that chooses to leave the family or financial hardship brought about by poor decisions of another person.
  3. Is this caused by the presence of sin in this fallen world (natural disaster, disease)? If so, what can I do to lessen the suffering brought on by this situation? Maybe you experience seasonal depression that is triggered by a traumatic event in your life, or the death of a loved one or some other event. If you begin to recognize a pattern to your times of depression, talk with someone who may be able to help you identify a trigger and help you set up some preventative measures to lessen or end your times of depression.
  4. Is this a time of suffering with an unknown cause? If so, am I living in the truth that God is sovereign even when I don’t understand? Many times we overlook the things we can do to help improve our situations and our emotions; we have more control over our minds and our emotions than I think we realize sometimes. But when we take an honest look at our lives and we can find no reason or “trigger”, it may be that God is allowing a time of depression and suffering to prepare us for a time later down the road or maybe it’s to teach us something about Him or about ourselves. Or maybe we could be like Job and our suffering isn’t actually about us at all.

Second, I hope that no one thinks this post is intended to offer a quick fix to depression or other forms of suffering we experience. The truth is that there is no 3 step program to end suffering; sometimes we do all of the “right things” and we continue to suffer. Ultimately, we are to turn to God and worship Him because He is worthy to be worshiped and praised— whether we are freed from our suffering or not. This Psalm is not about how to end depression; the point of Psalm 102 is that we should focus our thoughts and our worship on God in spite of our depression. Job said, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” If anyone had a reason to be depressed, it was Job! And depressed he was; he sat in his underwear, outside, in an ash heap, covered in boils, grieving the death of all of his children and the loss of all of his possessions. Yet through all of that he still praised God.

In his commentary on this Psalm, Spurgeon gives two lists for us to keep in mind.

First is the relationship between the afflicted man and prayer (Spurgeon’s words are in bold):

  1. Afflicted men may pray. Being in a time of depression does not somehow disqualify us from praying.
  2. Afflicted men should pray even when overwhelmed. In fact, I can’t think of a time when we need to pray more!
  3. Afflicted men can pray—for what is wanted is a pouring out of their complaint, not an oratorical display. God knows your heart, but He still desires you share it with Him!
  4. Afflicted men are accepted in prayer—for this prayer is on record. If God did not want us to pray in times of depression, He would not have recorded a lesson in how to pray when we are depressed.  

Second is a reminder of the things “unbelieving sorrow” makes us forget. Unbelieving sorrow describes those times of depression that are brought about (or sustained longer than they need be) by unrepentant sin in our own lives:

  1. We forget the promises of God.
  2. We forget the past and its experiences. Sometimes we are so focused on the present suffering we forget the healing and saving work God has done in our lives in the past.
  3. We forget the Lord Jesus, our life.
  4. We forget the everlasting love of God. This leads to weakness, faintness, etc., and is to be avoided.

Sometimes we have legitimate reasons to be depressed for a time: grief, chemical imbalances, trauma, stress. But by not working to combat the depression, we stay in it longer that we need to. Sometimes depression becomes our identity and then it becomes an idol. To prevent this from happening, we must continue to remember the things listed above so that the times of depression we cannot control to not last longer than they should.

The point of this post is to remind us (remind me) that we are to continue to praise God through our times of suffering just like we praise Him in our times of joy. Sometimes, the truest worship comes in the times of sorrow and pain and depression. It’s easy for people to worship in the good times; even Judas Iscariot appeared to worship Jesus when the money bags were full and the multitudes crowded around to see and hear Him. But to worship in the bad times, to praise Him in the midst of the storms of life, is to show the depth of your devotion and love for Him. And sometimes, just keeping the focus off of us and on Him, the times of depression just may not be as bad as they could have been. 

I hope this clears some questions people may have concerning depression. I have been known to overclarify things in the past, but I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I do not discount depression or the experience of depression. The Lord created us capable of having the emotional experience of depression which means we must learn how to use it for our growth and for His glory, and I hope conversations like the ones this hopefully begins will allow us to learn how to do that better!

What kind of cake are you?

It seems like the social networking site Facebook has become overrun in recent days with various quizzes wanting to know what you are. What 80’s song are you? What kind of dog are you? What kind of shoes are you? What childhood toy are you?

While I am sure my life would be complete if I finally found out if I am really Strawberry Shortcake or Rainbow Brite, there are other quizzes and standards I would rather judge myself against. For instance, Charles Spurgeon asked this question, “What kind of cake are you?” over 100 years ago. I’ve been trying to tell people for years that Spurgeon was one cool man, and he proved it this morning by being relevant to the Facebook crowd.

I encourage you to read his words, spend some time in prayer with the heavenly Father, and ask Him to show you what kind of cake you are.

“Ephraim is a cake not turned.”

Hosea 7:8

“A CAKE not turned is uncooked on one side;; and so Ephraim was, in many respects, untouched by divine grace; though there was partial obedience, there was too much rebellion left. My soul, I charge you to see whether this is true of you. Are you thorough in the things of God? Has grace gone to the very center of your being so that its divine operation is felt in all your powers, your actions, your words, and your thoughts? To be sanctified, spirit, soul, and body, should be your aim and prayer; and although sanctification may not be complete in you, still it must be at work in you. There must not be the appearance of holiness in one place and reigning sin in another, otherwise you also will be a cake not turned.

A cake not turned is soon burned on the side nearest the fire; and although no man can have too much religion, there are some who seem burnt black with bigoted zeal for that part of truth that they overemphasize; others are charred to a cinder with a self-congratulatory Pharisaic performance of those religious activities that suit their mood. The assumed appearance of superior sanctity frequently accompanies a total absence of all vital godliness, and the saint in public is a devil in private. He deals in flour by day and in soot by night. The cake which is burned on one side, is dough on the other.

If it be so with me, O Lord, turn me! Turn my unsanctified nature to the fire of your love, and let it feel the sacred glow; and let my burned side cool a little, while I learn my own weakness and lack of heat when I am removed from your heavenly flame. Let me not be a double-minded man, but one who is entirely under the powerful influence of reigning grace. For I know only too well that if I am left like a cake unturned, and am not on both sides the subject of Thy grace, I must be consumed forever in everlasting burnings.” —  The June 23 entry for Morning and Evening, by Charles Spurgeon; from the updated edition, revised by Alistair Begg.