I am writing this only a few hours out from our first miscarriage as my wife and I make our way to my dad’s wedding. My mom died from cancer in 2014, and now my Dad has found love again. He has been an excellent example of savoring the goodness of God in the midst of trial, and when I called him this morning to inform him of the miscarriage he didn’t have any words of his own to say. He simply read from Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those that love God, to those that are called according to His purpose.” As I was growing up, my parents often led AWANA at our church, a ministry to children. In order to get the kids attention, one of them would yell out, “God is Good!” and the kids would reply, “All the time!” and then, “And all the time” kids, “God is good.” Little did my parents know this mnemonic to get the attention of rambunctious children would become a heavenly mantra in my life. As I have encountered various trials in my life, I have found this to be true: God is good all of the time, and all of the time God is good. Below are my thoughts concerning the goodness of God, and how that goodness is displayed in the midst of suffering.
Death of my mother, my child, and my imagination
In mourning my mom, I found my deepest sorrow stemmed from thoughts of what would never happen now that she was gone. I wept as I realized she would not see my sisters get married, my youngest sister graduate, or hold any of my children. My youngest sister (14) would have to go through high school without her mom, and I struggled to see the hope of Christ in my situation. How could this be good?
My wife and I struggled for 18 months to conceive, and we had to face the reality we may never be able to have biological children. I wept again as I thought about not having a son that looked like me the way I look like my Dad, or the reality that I may never be able to name my own children. Again, how could this be good?
And now today as I deal with the reality that our baby is gone, I weep as I think about the fact that I won’t get to hold my child this side of Heaven. All I have been imagining for the past couple weeks will not come to pass. How is this good?
The reality is this: I am not God. The things that I imagine in my mind do not materialize. I cannot speak and say “Let there be”, and expect anything to actually happen. But the Sovereign of the universe can. What He says and imagines manifests itself in reality, and the world in which we live is a product of His imagination. It seems that many people live as if life is a stream of endless possibilities. As if what we imagine is not only the best thing, but somehow we think that it will become the real thing; however, this is not true. Life is not an endless stream of possible scenarios that may or may not happen, but rather there is one reality. The one which the Sovereign Lord has ordained and declared to be. The reality that we experience is the only reality that can ever be. Psalm 139:16 summarizes it in this way: “… And in your book were written all the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Your story has been written, and that which we experience is exactly what God intends for us to experience – including our suffering.
Am I saying that God allowed my mom to die, my wife and I to struggle to conceive, and ultimately allowed us to have a miscarriage? No, I am saying something far more extreme. I am saying that He willed it; God ordained my suffering, and He ordained yours as well. Our imagined concept of what should be is simply a figment of our imagination. But I am also saying the reality that we experience is the best version of reality possible. That somehow hidden in the infinite knowledge of God, the suffering of this world is producing within us the best possible circumstances; this lead to a deeper relationship with God, which is the best thing possible in this life. The desires of my heart, even the good ones, cannot do that.
So how can the truth that my suffering is planned by God be a good thing? Because it means that there actually is a plan. It means that my story and your story has a purposeful ending. It means that while we are suffering, we can believe that Romans 8:28 is true. God is at work in my present circumstance, and He is working things together for my good. There is an author to this story called life and He is good, kind, and perfect in all of His ways. I can look at my present circumstance and know that God will bring something good out of it.
Life Isn’t Fair but God Always Is
God wills and decrees suffering, but does this mean suffering is His desire for us? Does He desire that bad things happen to us? I do not believe that is the case. I believe God desires for us to flourish in this life. However, that is not His greatest desire. Just as we often have to prioritize matters of importance in our lives, so God prioritizes that which is most good, and that which is most good is God being proclaimed glorious. Therefore, whatever will accomplish the most glory for God in your life is what will come to pass. God will lay aside our flourishing in areas such as health, wealth, attaining dreams etc. if it increases our flourishing in holiness. However, this does not mean that God takes pleasure in our pain.
I believe we can see this concept in Scripture by analyzing passages like Ezekiel 33:11 and 1 Timothy 2:4. Both of these passages discuss desires of God that will not come to pass. God does not delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He will punish evil and those that do not love Him (Ezk 33:11). God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and yet we know that this will not happen. So here we have God desiring human flourishing, and yet not just withholding it but being the One that gives out the punishment of Hell. This is because in judging evil God will receive the most amount of glory, though He does not delight in the death of the wicked. God is prioritizing His own glory over His desire for all to be saved.
In this same way, God prioritizes His own glory in our lives as we experience suffering. He does not delight in our suffering, as the Bible tells us that God is empathetic toward our pain. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Psalm 56 tells us that He keeps our tears in a bottle and keeps an account of our wanderings. He gives us passages like Psalm 42 and 43 which resonate with our hearts as they cry out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul!” There is an entire book called Lamentations. A book written about lamenting and mourning, and in chapter 3 we find this: “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. 20 Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. 21 This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. 22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”
God will always be faithful to give you grace for the moment. In those moments of pain and suffering He will sustain you, and I have found in these moments we are able to best taste the goodness of God; it is in these times we are able to find our refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8).
Our Sense of what Ought to Be and the Promise of Heaven
We live in a world that has been broken by sin. Suffering exists because sin entered the world through the sin of Adam, and therefore man has been separated from God. Yet even this did not occur outside of God’s plan. I believe that a world in which sin entered through man is the best world possible. For it is in this world that God’s goodness and glory are put on display as He redeems that which has been broken. Man being created in the image of God apart from sin allows us to imagine what the world would be like should sin never entered. In fact, it allows us to imagine what the world ought to be like.
Now this sense of oughtness, of how things ought to be is a good gift from God that allows us to long for heaven. We know this place is not perfect, and we all long for pain and sorrow to end. Our imagination as image bearers allows us to look forward to the reality of a new heaven and new earth where every tear is wiped away and there is no more sorrow. It is in this victory where Christ is most glorified.
Revelation 19:11-16 depicts Jesus as a conquering king riding a horse of war with armies following Him. In this passage He is called Faithful and True and his name is called the Word of God. Then in Revelation 21:1-7 we see the new heaven and new earth descending from heaven as a bride for her groom. God is said to dwell among His people, and the text tells us that every tear is wiped away and there will be no more mourning or crying. Toward the end of this beautiful scene, John is told, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (verse 5)
Now, sandwiched between these statements of God’s Word/Christ being Faithful and True is the account of the binding up of Satan and the judgement of evil in the world. This passage is a promise that all suffering will end, and that Jesus will be the one who brings it to an end. So what does the sufferer need? He needs the one who is Faithful and True. These passages are beautifully crafted with images that display the grandeur of God. They depict what our hearts so desperately long for… the end of suffering, pain, and mourning. But the end of suffering comes through the glory of God. This is the greatest reality that can exist, and our ability to imagine different circumstances is to be used to imagine the day when Christ returns. Too often our imaginations simply do not reach far enough into the future. I imagine what life would be like now if my mom had lived or if my wife and I would have carried our baby to term. I feel the pain that sin has brought into this fallen world. Yet I often fail to look and imagine the day when Christ will come to set all things right. When I compare the scenes depicted in the book of Revelation with the scenes of my own imagination, I resonate with the Apostle Paul as he writes, “18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).” This should be the purpose of our imagination.
However, our imaginations can become harmful the moment we begin to believe that they have any true affect upon reality. The moment that we begin to believe our imagined version of reality is truly better for us than the reality we are actually experiencing is to deny that Christ is Faithful and True. We become deceived by sin, and we no longer see Christ as He actually is.
Remembering What is Good
So what has suffering taught me about God’s goodness? It has forced me to realize what is truly good in this life. As I have lost my family to death and struggle to start one of my own, I am reminded that not even the precious gift of family is the ultimate gift in my life. My prayer is that you will come to see what I now see: that which is best for me is to be holy like God is holy. There is a purpose to our suffering and it is this: God will use it to make us look more like His Son. It is important that we remember what comes on the heels of Romans 8:28. Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” It is crucial that I see what God desires for me and that which is most good for me is to become more like Him.
When left to my own imagination, I cannot imagine how my little sister going through high school without her mother could ever be a good thing. Who will help her get ready for prom, console her the first time her heart is broken, or guide her through the pitfalls of her life? When left to my own version of the story, I cannot see any form of redemption. Yet God sees it differently. The point of life and the point of my sister’s life is not prom dresses and good experiences. Rather, what God desires for my sister is to make her holy. He longs to make her look like Jesus, so that she might bring honor and glory to His name. He will accomplish this through suffering. My imagined good for my wife to be able to hold our biological child and experience the joy of motherhood is nothing compared to God’s greatest good to make her holy. Suffering has brought me to the point where I can believe that bringing God glory is better than anything else. If my deepest treasure and comfort in life is God’s glory, I can echo the apostle Paul as he says, “… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am… I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).” The secret is treasuring the glory of God above all other things, understanding that God is glorified as His story of redemption is put on display in my life.
The Story of Redemption
When it comes to our struggle with having a child, the story is not yet finished. The Lord has used it to raise an awareness for children in need of a home, and my wife and I hope to one day care for orphans through foster care and adoption. Though we do not yet know how God will bring glory from our situation, I am confident that He will.
In the case of my mother’s death however, I have seen God’s story of redemption unfold before me. My Dad married a woman that is also a widow. She has four children, the youngest being a 9-year-old girl. My mother grew up without a father, but now this little girl will not have to endure that same childhood. This can only happen if my mom dies. Her death means this little girl and her older brothers can have a father figure again. It won’t be the same, but I believe that with the grace of God it can be glorious.
As I contemplate God’s plan of suffering and how He uses it for our good, I cannot help but think about the cross of Christ. That terrible day at Golgotha, when God the Father put His Son through immense suffering wrought about the most glorious of outcomes. He reconciled His people, and He did it through death and suffering. It was through the death of Christ that we were made holy. It is through suffering that we have been saved. God is good, all of the time; and all of time, God is good.