[This is another question received during the "Stump the Pastors" portion of our college retreat.]
When you're doubting God's goodness, what would you recommend doing to help you stop?
On Sunday night a man stopped by our church to get some information about us. After some time in conversation, it became clear he was in extreme despair and was angry at most people in his life. We asked about his relationship to God and, to my surprise, he claimed to be a Christian. But when we tried to explore the nature of his faith, he said nothing about love for God or trust in God but simply resigned himself to the fact that "God can do whatever he wants." If he had ever had a sense of God's goodness, he had obviously lost it. What would you have said to him?
To some extent, this is a struggle faced by every single person, Christian or not: Is God good? The harsh realities of this broken world will beat down even the most optimistic soul at some point. While the path to regaining or building trust in God's goodness can be complex and hard-won, here are some of the basic lessons I've learned from others and also in my own life.
- Understand this is a common temptation. Psalm four puts it simply, "There are many who say, 'Who will show us some good?'" (Ps. 4:6) Jesus faced the same faith-shaking questions on the cross: "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him." (Mt. 27:43) If you are struggling to believe God's goodness, you are not alone. Every follower of Christ will suffer the temptation to doubt. You are not alone, but understand that you are under attack. Flee to Christ, who alone can protect our hearts from despair.
- Challenge your perception. More often than not, it is the personal and bitter problems we face that raise our doubts about God's goodness. In such times, it is likely we have begun to make our problems our highest reality rather than God's Word. Rather, we must call ourselves to view our problems through the lens of Scripture rather than vice versa. We need to call ourselves by faith back to God's Word, so God can help us read our problems in light of His great promises and plans. In fact, without those problems, it's likely we would never come to fully appreciate and adore the promises He's given.
- Know your place. Implicit in doubting God's goodness is the reality that we don't like something that's happened and that, if we were in charge, things would be much different and better. Except that we're not in charge. And while it is good and fine to struggle and seek to understand the "why?" behind God's providence in your life, it's neither good nor fine to arrive at the conclusion that God isn't good because He didn't live up to your standard or make decisions the way you would. Yes, people who are doubting God's goodness are often in a spiritually precarious place, but this rebuke still needs to be heard: God is God. When Job finally broke down into this doubt, God didn't explain those tragedies to him but rather simply and powerfully reminded Job who was God and who wasn't. Knowing our place isn't resignation to fatalism but glad submission to a good God. It's okay to ask why but only if you can say with Psalm 131, "I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother..."
- Flee to the cross. Without this step, everything else is a band-aid. Without the cross of Christ, we could never be assured that the worst things are planned by God to do the best things. Without the crucifixion, we would not have ongoing and eternal proof that our God is a good God, who gave His only Son that we might have life in Him. So when you doubt the goodness of God, stare long and hard at the cross of Jesus. Here is the clearest, irrevocable proof that God is deeply good. Here is the constant reminder of God's ability to use tragedy in His plan for victory. Here is the God who cares so much for you that He joined in your suffering in order to bring you out of it. In the end, we can only doubt God's goodness to the extent that we've lost sight of Jesus' sacrifice.
This article is not a simple recipe out of doubt but more of a faithful map of a long road. If you are struggling with this doubt, please don't struggle alone. Come to worship, hear testimonies of God's goodness, sing Psalms that take doubt seriously and help you wrestle for true hope. Whatever you do, don't lose sight of Jesus.