Minister's Corner: The goodness of God

William Simpson
Supervisor of pastoral/spiritual care

Just over a year ago now, our community entered one of the most difficult periods most of us have ever known. Compounding the weight of the experience was the fact that it wasn’t limited to our community. The COVID crisis, of course, was global in nature. When the pressure seemed too much to bear, there was nowhere to go to escape – COVID was there, too. Schools and businesses were closed. Churches had to stop meeting in person right as Easter arrived.

Now, just a year later, the situation has changed dramatically. COVID isn’t yet gone, of course, but the arrival of vaccines and the relative effectiveness of safety measures have made huge differences. Many schools and businesses are strategically reopening. Many churches are meeting in-person again, and even those that aren’t yet meeting typically offer a greatly improved virtual experience. For most, things are better and continuing to improve.

It’s times like this that lead us to exclaim, “God is good!” And, indeed, God is very good. I whole-heartedly endorse the proclamation of that truth. We can clearly see that God has brought us through so much already. But why is it we can so easily celebrate God’s goodness now, when that sentiment was so hard to come by just a year ago?

Is God any more good – any better – when we get what we want? Is God more loving, more compassionate, more powerful because my desires are met? Or, is God just as good in those circumstances when my desires aren’t met? More to the point, is God more good to those of us emerging from the pandemic than to those still fighting its ravages? Is God more good to those of us who survived COVID than to those who died?

As a child, I asked my mother why the day Jesus was killed was called Good Friday. To a child, anyway, it didn’t seem good at all. I fear too many of us haven’t progressed much beyond that childish understanding. While it’s easy to see God’s goodness in the easy times, it is precisely in the hardest, most painful of times that God’s goodness is most clearly revealed. Too often, though, we don’t recognize it in the moment. It’s only in hindsight that we begin to see the fullness of God’s goodness in the midst of pain and sorrow.

As we look at scripture, it’s clear that Christ’s followers didn’t immediately recognize the goodness of God in Christ’s suffering and death. In fact, the Gospel of John tells us that Christ’s followers hid behind locked doors in fear (John 20:19). They were confused, heartbroken, and afraid. And they didn’t try to pretend otherwise, either. But it was precisely in that moment, in the very midst of it all, that “Jesus came and stood among them” and said, “Peace to you!” He didn’t say, “It’s all going to be OK,” even though, in the long run, it would. No, he brought them what he knew they needed most – Peace.

You see, the very people who walked side-by-side with Christ had lost sight of God’s goodness in the midst of their own pain. Like us, things had gone very differently than they would have wished. They, too, had difficulty recognizing God’s goodness in the moment. But, like them, God offers us what we most need in such a situation – the peace of knowing God’s goodness, even as we endure the pain.

In many congregations, particularly Black congregations, an especially powerful affirmation of this truth is shared regularly. The leader starts by proclaiming, “God is good,” and the congregation responds, “All the time.” The leader then replies, “All the time,” to which the congregation enthusiastically answers, “God is good!”

None of us would have wished for a global pandemic. And, as we begin to move past COVID, we are right to proclaim, “God is good!” As we do, though, let’s be reminded that God is good, “All the time,” not only when he gives us what we want.

May all the blessings of Easter be yours.

William Simpson is supervisor of pastoral/spiritual care at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital — Shawnee.