In his new book, "What Good Is God?" evangelical author Philip Yancey asks, "Does belief in God really matter when life gets tough?" These and other questions and answers form the basis of his book and are the result of a near-fatal traffic accident Yancey experienced. Doctors told him he would not recover from his injuries and that he should say goodbye to his family and friends. Although Yancey survived, he continued to ask himself those same questions. For his book, he posed these questions to people who had undergone a similar experience of being "broken in body and in spirit," according to an interview with CNN, from former prostitutes in Thailand to members of an underground church in China.
What do you think? What good is God? Does belief in him really matter when life gets tough? Or does it take more than just God to make things right?
With all due respect to Mr. Yancey and the challenges he's faced during his life's journey, the provocative title of his book implies that he may have misunderstood one of the fine points of spirituality. It seems like he expected manna to fall from heaven — and when it did not, he understandably became disappointed.
If we perceive God to be like a rich uncle who continually distributes gifts to us, when we then encounter difficulties a natural response would be to ask, "What good is God?"
However, a more mature understanding of religion enables us to realize that spirituality is a way of life that guides us through good and, more importantly, difficult times.
We are expected to partner with God in making this world a more hospitable place. At times we inspire others who are in need, and when we are facing hardship ourselves, we turn to others for inspiration. At all times, we rely on God and have faith that he will guide us appropriately and lead us down the proper path. Truth be told, not always is that path paved in gold and lined with rose petals. Sometimes we trip and fall and, although this is far from easy, it is important for us to recognize, and even appreciate, the positive aspects of life's problems. It is during these difficult times that we draw from the well of divine inspiration and turn to him for the support necessary to persevere.
Ultimately, embracing a constructive attitude during the most demanding moments of life makes us stronger, defines our character, and provides guidance and leadership to the next generation. Combining a deep faith in God's wisdom with a proactive, upbeat approach can help each one of us to endure and overcome the setbacks that are an inevitable part of life. While I have not read Philip Yancey's book, the reviews I've seen indicate that he ultimately does find grace shining through the darkness and celebrates the abundant goodness of both God and humankind.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center,
What good is God?
Of what use is the creator and sustainer of all things to us?
Is this the question?
He might well turn the tables and ask of what use are we.
This is God's world, after all, and most people don't serve his purposes by following his lead; they do just the opposite. This is the reason for the Christmas event. Mankind is lost in a sea of selfishness, disregarding God at every opportunity. And human beings imaginatively make up alternate gods and religions to satisfy spiritual needs like sailors drinking seawater to satisfy thirst. So God stepped into the realm of wayward material affairs, took on flesh (at Bethlehem) like the creatures he made, and personally led us. He did perfectly as a man what we all fail to: he lived a sinless life. He then satisfied our spiritual debt on the cross and personally and perpetually absolves every repentant person of all wrongdoing, after which he spiritually guides us for the rest of our lives with the reward of everlasting heaven at life's conclusion.
What good is God?
God never promised us a rose garden, at least not in this life, since we screwed up the first one he gave us. What he promises us is that he will be with us always (Matthew 28:20); that he'll never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5); and that all things, good or bad, will be made to work toward our benefit (Romans 8:28), even though we may not immediately perceive that to be the case. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45), but the righteous look up in faith while the unbelievers shake their fist at heaven and deny God's throne.
This world is hard, but it's where we learn humility, compassion, love, forgiveness and, of course, faith. What good will come from tragedy? Goodwill. And that comes from God.
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church,
God is creator, redeemer and sanctifier. As creator, he brings us into existence and continues us in existence. He keeps us in existence through his constant presence to us and our presence to him. If he were not present to us for one millisecond, we would go into nothingness.
As redeemer, God forgives us. He has conquered sin and death for our salvation; and thus sin has no power over us and death can never be victorious. We have already died with him and have risen with him to eternal life. We can never die again.
As sanctifier, his power at work within us can do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine. He fills us with the power of his Son's presence and we become ministers of the spirit. We are filled with the spirit, empowered by the spirit and led by the spirit.
All of this is the theology concerning the importance of God in our lives at all times and in every experience. Theologians have taught this since the early days of the church.
But there is an even earlier teaching from the early Christian community that is the foundation for all of the theology. That teaching is that God is love. The most important aspect of our relationship with God is that he loves us unequivocally. He loved us into being. He died for love of us. He loves us by filling us with his spirit.
And his love for us is not a silent love. As an old sage once said: "Not only to be loved, but to be told that I am loved: the realm of silence is long enough beyond the grave!"
God constantly tells us of his love every moment of our existence. All we need do is open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to him.
The Rev. Richard Alvarado
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church,
The Indian poet Jabir wrote that the litmus test for a truly holy person is to "hold them upside down over a cliff for a few hours. If they don't wet their pants, maybe you found a real one." That would not be me. I'd wet myself for sure.
Despite all my bedside witnessing of the God-graced death of others — when in those seconds at the threshold, they are clearly met and enveloped by mercy, love and holiness — despite the comfort those experiences give me when in safety I contemplate death, I am still scared of death whenever it suddenly rises up for real. In a clutch — when I'm waiting for test results from the doctor, when I'm in the bad car accident or near-miss, when suddenly death takes a run at me — all I am is terrified, my stomach sick with horror. Later, sheepishly, I wonder why I didn't pray in the panic; why, as a professional religious person, I didn't have more trust.
The greatest value of my faith is what it does for me now — the ways in which it shapes my soul and my whole personhood to live by the lights of compassion and forgiveness and unconditional love, to learn the ways of inner healing and wholeness, to acquire habits of trust and humility and deep connection to the unseen sacredness of life. I can't pretend that I am perfect in any of those habits, but the quest toward them enriches my life immeasurably.
Death could come at any time; it will be too late, in the moment it comes at me, to start thinking about God. Experience proves, in fact, that I probably won't think about God, as the truck careens toward me on the freeway. But perhaps, lying on the side of the road and taking my last look at the sky, my life of prayer will mean that I'll recognize the dawning light of mercy, love and holiness as they come to meet and envelop me.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church,
There is something backward about the question. It seems to assume that one is going to believe in God when things are good, but then maybe lose belief when things are not so good.
Personally, I believe that the knowledge of God is a gift from God, that one does not suddenly lose one's faith simply because the road gets bumpy. True, there have been people who have lost their faith for whatever reason; and who knows whether this preacher might lose his faith if things got unbearably rough. Deep down inside of me is the hope that I never am tested in, say, the manner in which Job was in the Hebrew scriptures.
But "What Good is God?"
For the believer, God is everything. St. Paul said that in God we live and move and have our being. Twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich called God, "the ground of our being." For the believer, the fact of God is the starting point. I love that passage in Exodus when God calls to Moses from the Burning Bush. When Moses asks God who should he say sent him to deliver the Israelites from slavery, God says, "Tell them I Am sent you." That's all we need to know: I Am. And if the one whose name is I Am does not exist, then (to paraphrase the apostle Paul), we are, of all people, most to be pitied.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Canada Congregational Church,
I was immediately relieved that Philip Yancey wasn't a pedestrian having a near-death experience courtesy of a Glendale driver, and am happy for his good book sales, since the medical care couldn't have been inexpensive.
The notion that a single entity, supernatural or human, or that any one belief system can make things right seems to me to belong in the realm of cults, the impossibly romantic, the too-good-to-be-true diet, or stock tips.
Does any religion offer to be all to its followers?
Certainly secular humanism and atheism don't. It takes a village, it takes two to tango, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry — it takes more than just any one thing to make things right in this life.
What good is God indeed if she lets my paragraph breaks be changed willy-nilly and my jokes blue-penciled? I kid, but seriously, what in life doesn't get shaken or at least stirred, including our most cherished beliefs? Maybe as the bumper sticker says, if you're not outraged (or doubtful or fill in the blank), you aren't paying attention.
An even more fundamental question, "Is God?" has been asked and answered by atheists. Then in my experience we press on, seeking to live a moral, rational and meaningful life.
Here's the thing: If you believe in God and then something happens to you and that makes you decide not to believe in God, where does that leave you?
Without hope for healing or reconciliation or light at the end of the tunnel or any inkling that the creator even wants these things for you, your struggle is reduced to just you — in your diminished state — against the world. Those are bad odds.
Worse, if you conclude that God is capriciously punishing you for real or alleged sins, then your struggle becomes you — in your diminished state — against the world and God. Those are really bad odds.
What if, instead, we understood our reality as broken by selfishness, greed, violence, hate and negligence — evil in all of its forms? And because of that brokenness terrible things happen, not just to people who may deserve it, but to anyone in the way of its destructive force?
And what if we understood God and the power of the Holy Spirit as fighting against that destruction for creation and for life — my life and your life?
And what if we could see that movement toward life and light made real in the hands of our healers, the prayers and hugs of our friends, and the moments of peace and possibility that come as we stare into future, wondering how to go on?
In this season, when cheer is expected and pouting is forbidden, we who follow Jesus should be aware of how many among us are waiting expectantly for signs of life and light in the midst of pain and weariness.
Let's let God be with us.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescent Valley United Methodist Church,
I have not had the opportunity to read Philip Yancey's "What Good Is God?" so I cannot comment directly on it.
On his website, the author said this about the reason for the book: "In my travels I have found a deep longing in almost everyone: the desire for change, the hope that somehow God can wrest permanent good out of this flawed planet and us its flawed inhabitants. Dare we entertain such a hope? This book is my attempt to answer the question."
Rethink Monthly magazine made the following observation about this book: "What Good Is God? is a beautiful exploration of one man's journey to show a lost and dying world that faith really does work, especially when it's tested to the extreme."
In a world with so much commotion and turmoil, hope provides a shining light in the darkness. That hope is found in Jesus Christ; and yes, God does matter.
On Jan. 1, 2000, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a declaration titled, "The Living Christ." It states, in part: "As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of his matchless life and the infinite virtue of his great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth. …
"Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal son of God. He is the great king Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of his father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of his divine son"
At this holiday season, may we remember the one who provides hope to the world, even Jesus Christ, our lord and savior.
May I wish all a happy and peaceful holiday, and may 2011 be better than 2010.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints La Canada II Ward,
Most of us instinctively cry out to God when we're in serious trouble with the hope that he will be good to us. If we expected evil from him, he'd be the last person we'd turn to.
Is God really good? Will he do good things for us? "The Lord is good to all," says Psalm 145:9. He is good and he never changes. Perhaps it's better to ask if we're really seeking him and not self-made idols — our preferences as to what we think he should be. Psalm 145:18 tells us that "The lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth." God gave us the Bible, his true word, so that we might know him and call upon him in truth and receive his goodness to the fullest measure.
What good does God do for us when we're in trouble? He assures us that we have an eternal, irrevocable relationship with him as his own beloved children through faith in Jesus Christ, his son. He assures us that he works all things to our good because we love him and are called according to his purpose. He hears and delights in our prayers and promises that even when his answer is "no," he has a better answer for us than we ever imagined. He gives us practical wisdom when we ask and trust him for it. He promises to supply all of our needs and he promises that, through Christ, we will ultimately spend eternity with him, where "He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and he will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth" (Isaiah 25:8).
God is the source of every good thing in our lives. But we must draw near to Him in order to receive His goodness in full: "Taste and see that the lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8).
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church,