This post is going to make me look petty. About midway through, you’re going to scratch your head or your chin or maybe an appendage and think to yourself, “Gee whiz, that Jon Acuff sure is petty.” (Or maybe you’ll say “Gee willikers.” Who am I to tell you what “Gee” modifier you have to use?)
And the only reason you’ll think this post makes me look petty is because I am petty.
There’s a great temptation as a Christian blogger to only write things that make you look good. Or holy. Or put together. Or done with an issue. My friend John Crist challenged me one day about that. He said, “Did you ever notice pastors always ‘used to’ struggle with things? Whenever you confess something to them, they say, ‘Oh yeah, I used to struggle with that too.’ No one is ever currently struggling with issues.”
So here’s something I’m currently struggling with, a current affair if you will, like Connie Chung’s husband Maury.
Two weeks ago, my friend’s book hit number 2 on the New York Times Bestseller list. And I was excited for him because he hustled like few people on the planet to make that happen. But as I was driving to my men’s Bible study, a thought popped into my head, “Hey, wait a second, Quitter didn’t hit the New York Times Bestseller List.”
So, I said, “Hey God, how come Quitter didn’t hit the list?”
(I called it the “list” with God, because he’s God and knew exactly what I was referring to.)
I felt like his response was,
“Because I didn’t put it on the New York Times list.”
Huh, that’s a curious response, and not the one I was expecting. So I said, “Really, why not?”
To which I felt like God said, “All things work for the good of those who love me.”
“Ahhh, OK,” I said, “I don’t see how me not making the New York Times list is good. You and I seem to have a very different definition of the word ‘good.’”
To which God responded, “We sure do.”
Now granted, I did not receive this on a scroll or hear this from a burning bush. But as I prayed, this is what I felt inside. And to be honest, I wasn’t super happy with that. Why? Because sometimes I don’t read the Bible the way it’s written.
Here is what Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Here is how I read that verse though:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of Jon, according to Jon’s purpose.
Is that how your Bible reads? I could have sworn that’s how mine is written.
Which is why when I run into something unfortunate, whether it’s small and petty like a book not hitting the NYT list or something major like illness, I am so often frustrated at God.
Why did this happen? How can this thing possibly work for the good? Why do bad things happen to good people? You promised good, God, and this isn’t good.
But we’re not promised our purpose. We’re promised God’s purpose. We’re not promised our definition of good. We’re promised God’s definition of good. And in the moment when life crashes down, and our own expectations of what “good” should look like fall apart to ashes, we tend to think God has failed us. Or does not love us. Or that “all things” don’t work for the good, just some things.
The truth, though, is that all things do. How? Because his purpose is exponentially bigger and more beautiful than mine could ever be. He is painting pictures with the universe as his backdrop. He is unraveling stories with generations as his paper. His vision and his ability to define good is so much grander than mine. So when I get his purpose, when whatever situation I’m in works toward his purpose, I don’t get my small definition of good. I get his massive definition of great.
That doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t make the Christian life carefree or painless. That doesn’t mean you won’t have nights or even years when you don’t doubt and say to God, “You promised me good, and this is not good!” You will. I will too. But my hope is that, when we hold up our broken definition of good to God and ask him what’s going on, we will remember what Christ said about the father in Luke 11:
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Today might feel like a snake, but it is not. Tomorrow might feel like a scorpion, but it is not. Our great God always works toward a good greater than we can possibly imagine.