This is week 2 of the sermon series, Three Simple Truths, based on the book by Rev. Adolf Hansen. References to page numbers are included below.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Just the other day, I stumbled upon the story of Catherine Violet Hubbard, six years old, who died tragically in the Sandy Hook school shooting in December of 2012. Her parents shared their story of grieving for their daughter and the excruciating pain of writing her obituary, holding onto each other and their faith in God for support. In the midst of their pain and heartache, Catherine’s parents decided that people should send donations to a local animal shelter since their daughter was a lover and caretaker of animals. A few days after Catherine’s funeral, the father went to the address of the shelter to talk with them about the memorial donations, but he ended up at someone’s house, not an actual shelter. So they called the phone number and found out that the organization was for animal rescue volunteers- they didn’t have an actual building. They wanted to meet with Catherine’s family in person to talk about the donations. Come to find out, the organization, called the Animal Center, had received over $175,000 in donations for Catherine.
The Animal Center, with the help of Catherine’s family, decided to build a wildlife sanctuary- a place where both humans and animals could find healing and peace. Today, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary is well under way. Catherine’s parents said, “We want it to be a place of peace, peace born of terrible, incomprehensible violence. Peace, like the peace of Christ, that is the only answer to evil. Because no amount of hate , nor gun or bullets, can kill love. Especially the love of a child like our daughter, Catherine Hubbard.” (Guidepost Online).
God works for good, in everything. God is at work within us to bring life out of death, peace and healing out of heartache. This is the second simple truth in our series that we will explore this week. Last week, we learned about the first simple truth: God is good, all the time….all the time God is good. We learned that God’s goodness can be equated with the Hebrew word, chesed, or steadfast love, and when we say that God is good, we are expressing the deep and merciful love of God. When we say that God works for good in everything, we are exploring how God works in the world to express that steadfast love, even in the midst of tragedy, suffering, pain, and loss.
There are many ways that God expresses steadfast love, but one way to consider is how God exercises power (30). There are many references in scripture to God’s power, and not many people of faith would doubt that God is powerful. However, the way that God uses power in our world is less clear. We often ask questions like, “If God is so powerful, why couldn’t God stop that drunk driver from hitting the car with the family inside?” “If God is so powerful, why couldn’t God prevent that school shooting?” These are good and valid questions about our powerful God. However, though we may believe God is powerful, we also have to remember that God is powerful in that God limits himself in power because we are given free will and freedom to make our own choices in life. This is our blessing and our curse. God wants us to have freedom of choice, but we are challenged with making choices that are the best expression of what God wants for us and are the highest expression of what God wants. When we use our freedom to make bad choices to harm one another or harm ourselves, we go against what God wants for each of us. We must choose to love God, we must choose to do good, we must choose how to respond when the world goes against what God would want or when we find ourselves in bad situations.
When speaking of God’s power and how God acts in the world, we often times hear people say, “Well, God is in control!” Why do people say this? I think that it might bring comfort to some to think that at the end of the day, someone or something is in control of our lives when we are not. But, I have a hard time with this thinking because it limits our freedom of choice and free will. Also, if we firmly believe that God is in control, how do we explain horrendous occurrences in the world? Bad things happen every day, and God does not cause them to happen. If we say that God is in control, it’s easy to place blame on God for everything- the good and bad- we end up blaming God for a lot of evil in the world. For better or worse, we are in control of our own lives. Because we are given free will, “with a broken heart God allows persons to expend energy in activities that are not focused on what God is attempting to do” (33).
Neither can we assume that “everything happens for a reason,” because then we are again placing the blame in God’s hands. Not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, as we talked about last week, STUFF happens- bad stuff, good stuff, horrible stuff. And it just happens. For no reason. And there’s no sense in trying to explain some of the things that occur in this world. What we can do is profess that God is good, all the time, and trust that God is working for good, in everything…even in the “stuff” that happens, to seek evidence of God’s working for good, and ask how we can be a part of bringing about that goodness.
Are these things part of a plan? Are they part of God’s plan? Does God have a plan? It seems to make more sense to say that instead of having a plan for our lives, that God leads us to understand what God is doing or what God would want (35). If we say that God has a wonderful plan for our lives, where does that leave people who do not have wonderful lives? We must stop and ask ourselves, “is that what God wants for them?” If something terrible happens to you or someone you love, do you want to believe that this was part of God’s plan? Saying that God has a wonderful plan for everyone’s life is misleading and does not point to the true character of God- that God is good and works for good in everything. If we point to Jeremiah 29:11 (“for surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…”) which many people do, to support this idea that God has a plan for our life, we must be willing to understand it for its context and what the translation says. In this text, “God is expressing his supportive thoughts for Israel during a time of judgment, punishment, and suffering during a time of exile that Jeremiah warns will last a lifetime” (36). The Hebrew word for plan (machshavot) is plural, and is translated as “thoughts.” A more accurate translation says this, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” So, rather than thinking that God has a detailed plan for our lives, what if we think instead that God has a purpose for our lives? This can be even more meaningful than God having a plan. When we feel that God has a purpose for our lives, we feel guided along by our faith to do good in this world- to do the best that we can to achieve God’s purpose and to help God to work for good in everything. Because this simple truth speaks to the way God works in the world, and that God does not work alone.
God is at work through people who work to bring about the kingdom, who work to bring about justice, who are working to heal the world. There is a Hebrew phrase (tikkun olam), that means, “healing or repairing the world.” It is something that each of us are responsible for as we seek to participate with God in bringing about a better world, seeking this truth that God works for good, in everything, and we are a part of that working for good. That is our purpose. That is God’s hope for each of us. When we say that God works for good in everything, we acknowledge that “works” is synonymous with “carrying out activities” (39). God works for good in our personal lives, yes, but perhaps more importantly in the lives of a community of believers. God is at work within us, enabling us to bring about what is good and right and pleasing. To work for good involves individual lives, as well as the life of the community. We are challenged to work together for good, opening ourselves to God who is at work in us.
If God works “for good,” what does that really mean? Is it another expression of steadfast love, or is it something else? (41). In Genesis 1, we are told that God looks at creation and says it is good (the Hebrew word, tov), which means that “creation fulfilled the purpose that God had in mind” (41). “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” In other words, “God gave a word of approval to what God saw because all creation fulfilled the purpose that God had in mind. When we say that God works for good, in everything, we trust that God is at work in the world, working for good, even in the midst of tragedy and heartache, disease, pain, and hardship…and yes, in everything. After all, the heart of the Christian faith is that life came, even out of death. That is God working for good, in everything…even in death. God does not work to bring harm, pain, and tragedy. (As Adolf put it, “God doesn’t cause tragedy to happen so God can bring good of it. No! God works in and through tragedy so God can accomplish his purpose even in the midst of tragedy” 42).
This simple truth is not always so simple to say and believe when bad things happen or we are suffering ourselves. When I hear of a tragic accident, I find myself sometimes asking, “What good can come of this?” and I could drive myself crazy looking for any sign of good- but if we hold fast to the truth we learned last week, that God is good, all the time, and this week’s God works for good, in everything, once again we are putting our faith in a God who truly works for good, no matter the situation. The character of God is that God works for good in everything, whether we can see this goodness right away or not. The ability that we have to state this truth, that God works for good, in everything, is a step in the right direction of truly understanding and living it.
When we encounter a tragic situation, we can take steps to acknowledging this truth for ourselves. We begin by stating our belief: “God, I believe you are working for good in the midst of this tragedy.” We then ask for understanding: “Help me, O God, to understand how you are working in these situations.” And finally, we may conclude by seeking a way to participate in God’s work: “Help me, O Lord, to find some way to participate with you in the work you are doing” (43).
I leave you with another true story and a real life example of how God works for good, in everything. Let’s take a look
Even from the heart of a young girl dying of cancer, we heard these words: “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” Isn’t that the truth? When we say that God works for good, in everything, we might also say that God is helping us make lemonade when we are handed the lemons. May we experience this truth again and again in our lives. And may we help in making it be so, that the world may know the goodness of God.
God works for good, in everything….in everything, God works for good.
Gracious God, we thank you that you work for good, with those who love you, and with those who do not. Loving God, we thank you that you work for good in everything, when life is going reasonably well, and when life is going horribly wrong. Help us, O God, to participate in your work as we think about it, as we talk about it with you and with others, and as we show it in our lives…in everything we do. Through Jesus Christ we pray, Amen. (49)