The Good and Beautiful God, Chapter 2 – God is Good

God is Good

False narrative: God is an angry God waiting to punish people for their sins. When something bad happens to you, it is because God is punishing you for your sin.

True narrative: Good things happen to both bad and good people.  It is not true that only sinners are punished and only good people are blessed.  Jesus never said this, and we can see from the lives around us that it is false.

However, God is just and fair.  There are some blessings that are only given to people who try to do good (they are honest and faithful; they love and serve).  (The book calls these “the good things peculiar to the good.”)  For example, on pg 47, the two pastors who are loved by the people that they serve.

God says people who do good will experience joy and peace.  Selfish, mean people may not be punished for their actions, but they will experience deep guilt, loneliness, regret and self-hatred.

We may not see God’s justice in this life, but someday we will understand.

Jesus has experienced suffering, and can understand what we are going through.  When we can’t believe in God because we are suffering so much, Jesus believes for us, and prays for us.  Because we have the promise of heaven, we can have hope.

We should expect to go through suffering and pain and loss, just because we are human.  Also, we grow through suffering.  (James 1:2-4)  Even if we can’t feel joy in our suffering, we can trust God in the midst.

Questions in the chapter:

1) Have you ever been through something that made you doubt God’s goodness?  If you have, describe what happened and how you felt.

2) It is important for us to believe what Jesus believed about God.  Do you think this is true?

3)  “God is an angry judge.  If you do well, you will be blessed.  If you sin, you will be punished.”  Do you agree with this?  Why or why not?

4)  Have you ever wondered when and why God would punish you for a particular sin?  Or have you ever had something bad happen to you and wondered what you did to deserve it?  Explain.

5) When you see someone else suffering, have you ever wondered what they did to deserve it?  Why do you think this is a common response?

6)  Name some of the good consequences (character, feelings, reputation) that are part of the lives of people who do good things.

Soul Training: Silence and Awareness of Creation

1) Find five minutes a day to sit and be quiet.

2) Take a walk outside, hopefully somewhere beautiful and filled with nature .  Think of God as an artist and yourself as an art student, pay attention to everything, and write down what you see and experience.

The Good and Beautiful God, Chapter 1 Summary

Many people have tried to change things about their lives. Changing negative behaviors is very difficult. It takes more than willpower. If we want to change the negative parts of our lives, it takes 4 things:

  1. Changing the narratives (stories) that we live our lives by
  2. Training our souls through exercises
  3. Participating in community
  4. Letting the Holy Spirit guide everything

We live our lives by stories. It’s not just ideas and principles that guide us, but the stories that we tell. Many people have stories about God that are not accurate. We need to learn new stories that tell the truth about God.

There are certain activities that can help our souls become stronger and more powerful. These exercises are like the exercises that an athlete will do to make their body stronger and more powerful. They help prepare us for whatever we will experience.

We grow when people are around us. We need the input of other people and we get the opportunity to give input to others. Actively participating in a community helps a whole community grow.

The Holy Spirit provides growth through all of these other means. He helps us learn true stories about God; He encourages and strengthens us as we exercise our souls; He brings a whole community together and uses their gifts and strengths together for each other.

One example he gives is of a man in an airport whose flight was cancelled. In the past, he would have been angry and impatient. Because of his new stories, his spiritual exercise, his community, and the activity of the Holy Spirit in his life, he was able to be peaceful and kind to others.

Questions to journal this week:

  • What areas of your life have you tried to change? What did you do to change? Can you give examples when you have successfully changed something in your life? Can you give examples of something you have tried to change but you have not been successful?
  • What would you like to change about your own life right now? (Probably think of something that you have control over. Your own behaviors and actions, not things that you have no control over.)
  • The book says that trying to change yourself doesn’t work.  Let God change you.   What is one way you can let God change you?

Centers of the Universe

Grand Central

The city orbits around eight million

centers of the universe

and turns around the golden clock

at the still point of this place.

Lift up your eyes from the moving hive

and you will see time circling

under a vault of stars and know

just when and where you are.

-Billy Collins, 1941

I found this poem on the subway today on my way in to work. The opening line caught my attention. It seems to sum up the predicament we find ourselves in here on earth. Eight million centers of the universe here in NY. Eight billion centers of the universe on the planet.

It’s this mindset, the one where each one of the eight billion of us acts as though we are the center of the universe, that creates the chaos and disharmony we see in the world. We are all trying to pull others to our center, to get the rest of creation into our orbit, to align the universe around us to meet our image of how things ought to be. The pulling and tugging to align others, each of us with a different vision of how it ought to be, creates the tension we experience. It’s an absurd picture – eight billion centers – when simple logic tells us there can only be one center around which all else orbits.

The picture functions much better when there is only one center. To me this is one of the main goals of the life of a Christian, to live as though God were truly the center of the universe. Too often, I admit, I find myself functioning as one of eight billion centers trying to get others and God to align according to my plan. If you are reading this, then chances are good that I’ve tried to align you to my plan. But before you get too upset at me, chances are also good that you’ve tried to get me to align to your plan. Hence our struggle.

The goal of Jesus, from what I can understand, is to recenter the universe. He came to reveal to us that he is truly the center of all things. Our lives are designed to orbit around him, not the other way around. You and I are in greater harmony when we are centered on Jesus and he aligns us according to his plan. Our world operates more like the way it should when there is only one center, not eight billion of them.