There is a heartbreaking story of a man named Nathan Johnson, a Christian musician whose wife unexpectedly died last year just hours after the birth of their firstborn child. The story goes that as he went into the room to see her body before they took it away, he cried out in agony, “Always good! Always good! God is always good.”
Reflecting on the tragedies I’ve experienced in my life, I realize that in order to be able to utter these words in the midst of such pain, one has to have an immeasurably intimate relationship with the Father. One has to grasp with deep conviction that death is not the result of God’s punishment, His sense of apathy, or necessarily even His plan. Such conviction is profound, and dare I say, extraordinary.
Death is generally incomprehensible to us. We rarely expect its coming. And when it does come, especially if it’s borne out of tragedy, we often feel the need to blame someone. It’s human nature. Unfortunately for Him, our all-knowing, all-powerful God tends to be the most obvious scapegoat. I’ve done it. I know from past history that I’m good at praising the God who gives, but I’m more inclined to curse at the God who takes away. In times of deep sorrow I’ve retreated from the One who can bring me comfort, rather than run toward Him.
Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson wrote a song about the introductory story, as his sons were among the ones who witnessed Johnson’s lament for his wife. In it he says,
My God, my God, be near me.
There’s nowhere else to go.
And Lord, if you can hear me,
Please help your child to know
That you’re always good, always good.
This song and this story have been heavy on my heart this past week. My daughter’s former classmate, just nine years old, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and has maybe a year to live. As I have been processing this news and praying for this precious boy and his family, I find myself repeatedly saying those words in my mind – “There’s nowhere else to go. You’re always good. There’s nowhere else to go. Please help me to trust that You’re always good, because there’s nowhere else to go.” I’m praying these words not only on behalf of my own heart, but also for this little boy’s parents. Because today I have the strength to. Because it’s not my child who’s dying.
What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband? Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good”? I honestly don’t know. But I know that I am vowing now to set my heart toward that goal. It requires the same faith that Job had, to be able to say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It requires the same faith that Abraham had, to be able to lay his only son on a sacrificial altar before the Lord and trust Him beyond what his eyes could see. I believe it requires setting our hearts on fully trusting in His goodness long before we are in a position to have to prove it.
What would I say, though, if it were my child? Or my husband? Is my relationship with my God built on so firm a foundation that if I were in the depths of such unspeakable pain, I could cry out, “You’re always good!”? I honestly don’t know.
The best news of all, though, is this: regardless of how we react to unspeakable pain, we serve a God who is gentle, kind, and understanding. Even when we come at Him with our worst, He responds to our grief, however it may look, as only a loving Father would. He doesn’t punish our emotional attacks. He lets us cry, lets us scream, lets us wave our fists in the air, lets us ask the hard questions, lets us even curse at Him. He knows how dark this world can be, and He sympathizes with our pain. But He always, always welcomes us back into His loving arms with grace and tenderness when we’re ready. He always longs to draw near to us and wipe away our tears, or even weep with us. He is always there to comfort us and restore our hearts back to a place of peace once more. He always brings forth beauty from the ashes. Because He is always good.