My daughter received some discouraging news yesterday. The friend she was hoping to room with is having second thoughts about where she wants to live for the next year. Which is fine, except Katherine was making her plans around community and friendship, and, well, it’s just another setback…disappointment.
Seems like there are just so many of those. Disappointments.
Don’t I know it. I remember throwing away about ten to fifteen prayer journals that went back YEARS because they were horrifyingly filled with the exact same prayer requests over and over again that were not answered. It was embarrassing! It was frightening.
Sitting at the kitchen table, I tried to lead my daughter in another brainstorming exercise of other possible job opportunities she could seek. Other locations. Other communities. But it came down to this: she was afraid. Afraid that once again it wasn’t going to work out. Afraid to be alone.
And I’m afraid for her and with her. Just so many prayer journals….
We moved to the couch, because this might take a while.
I wanted to stop and pray with her about the specifics: future job, good community, better health –oh, that was another thing. But it occurred to me that maybe the “specifics” would have to wait. Maybe there was something more basic she needed – a kind of bullet proof vest that keeps one alive through the disappointments.
“Katherine, do you trust God?” I ask.
“Well, sure. I know that he exists. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that he’s all powerful. All that stuff.” She knows all that and more.
“But do you trust that he is good, that he is good toward you?”
“Do you?” she asks, looking directly into my eyes.
Hmm. Do I? I want to…. I want to believe that God is really good and has a grand plan for making all these hurts and crazy impossibilities of my life okay.
So we have this long, several hour conversation, and it turns out that we first need to decide whether or not the Bible really teaches that God promises his people any good in this life.
We figure that if we can be certain that the Bible definitely teaches that God is good toward us, maybe that’s the bullet-proof vest. Maybe then we can live life believing it. We can live life with one foot in the trenches, and one foot in the absolute certainty that good is on its way.
And then we need to define “good” because Katherine points out that it seems like God’s “good” may be of the twisted variety that goes something like this: I know this feels really sad and horrible and would be considered awful by any normal human being, but ultimately it will make you a better person, so it’s “good.”
Oh, dear. That is a bit daunting.
But wait! If we can’t even trust the simple vocabulary of the Bible…if “good” doesn’t mean “good” in the ordinary sense, well, all is lost!
Then she says, “A tiny part of me believes God is good toward me, and this is how I get there. I hate spiders, as you know. But when I see a spider in the house, and I’m about to kill it – I often stop. I stop because on some unreasonable level, I feel sorry for this little spider. Crazy, I know. But I actually do. So I figure, if I can feel compassion for a spider I hate, then maybe God can feel compassion for me, someone he likes.”
“Oh, so natural theology gets you there,” I muse.
“Well, no, not exactly. I think it’s rooted in the Bible,” she continues. “What about the scripture that says if even sinful fathers give their sons bread instead of stones, will God give us bad things when we ask for good?”
Astonished, I gasp, “Why haven’t we thought of that verse before? Of course! That’s it!”
We look it up in Luke. It ends with, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
We turn to a parallel passage in Matthew. “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks, finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:8-11)
So there it is. The scriptures directly teach that God does promise good toward us. The “good” of the ordinary variety.
“Katherine, do you think we can live like this? Like this is really true? Like good is really on the way?”
“Maybe,” she answers slowly. “I want to….”
“Maybe that’s why the Luke passage promises the Holy Spirit, and the Matthew, good things. I think we need the Holy Spirit to get there. To trust.”
So that’s where we land. We’re not praying for miracles yet. We’re praying for The Miracle. The miracle to believe that God is good. That God is good toward Me.
Today we are praying for the miracle to trust God. Day one.