Here’s an interesting follow up to what we talked about last time. A listener writes in to ask: “Pastor John, my beautiful girlfriend is questioning God’s goodness. She is a religion major and understands that God can do whatever he wants and that goodness to him is whatever he wants it to be. Just like how he saw it good to see his son on the cross or have Stephen killed. She lives in constant fear that God will have her injured or disabled and count it as ‘good.’ I don’t know what exactly to say, but I thought you could help.”
She is not irrational to tremble at the absolute sovereignty of God over her life. It is true, as she says, that God can do whatever he wants. Indeed, he does do whatever he wants. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” The person who does not tremble at this has simply not faced up to the power of God, greater than a billion hydrogen bombs, or the holiness of God, a purity burning like a million galaxies, or the mystery of God acting in ways that none but he can fathom. She is not irrational to tremble before such a God. She would be crazy if she didn’t.
Maybe one fruitful place to start would be with her statement: Goodness to God is whatever he wants it to be. Now I know this is coming through her boyfriend and may not be precisely what she thinks. But then again, maybe it is. What I hear in those words—what is goodness to God is whatever he wants it to be—what I hear in those words is a heavy emphasis on God’s sovereign freedom seen as a divine arbitrariness. And there seems to be, perhaps, a tinge of cynicism. This may be what he is concerned about.
Here is one piece of counsel that I would offer when dealing with the various attributes of God, like his freedom and sovereignty and power and goodness and wisdom and grace and patience and justice and wrath and so on. The counsel is: Keep God’s attributes in living, dynamic relation to each other. Let each one have its emotional and intellectual effect on each of the others. And the best way to do this is to keep our hands on the texture of Scripture itself. If all these feel rough and sand papery under our fingers, make sure we move our hands around the Scriptures to feel the smooth parts or the moist parts or the soft and tender parts or the jagged parts. It is the mixture of the sensations that creates the truest feeling for God.