A friend of mine has a son whose broken little heart and complicated body are incompatible with life. He lies on a bed in the ICU at one of the best children’s hospitals in the country, nearly buried beneath a maze of wires and tubes. There’s the machine that keeps his heart beating, the tube that forces oxygen into his lungs, and the monitor recording his level of brain activity. It would be easy to miss his tiny frame entirely, except for the rainbow-striped stuffed donkey tucked into the crook of his arm and the handmade fleece blanket covered in Minions tucked around his legs.
The juxtaposition of the two—the sterility of the hospital room and the softness of a three-year-old’s favorite things—is my undoing. Everything within me screams it’s not supposed to be this way. It’s an impossible thing for me to reconcile, that God is good and everything he makes is perfect, but that he also hand-built a little boy who needs a medical miracle to see age four.
I’ve read the Bible. I know God could heal him. He made a bush burn and separated the sea to save His people in Egypt. Jesus spent His adult life healing lepers, returning sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again. He brought Lazarus back from the dead after four days in a tomb. My God has a track record of miracles. Healing a broken heart is completely within His wheelhouse.
Or, even better, God could’ve created him with a perfect heart to begin with.
He has done neither.
Then there’s that verse hiding in the eighth chapter of Romans. The one that’s always brought me such comfort now makes my teeth clench and my hands curl into fists.
“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.”
What does this mean? That this little boy’s mama doesn’t love God enough, and so that’s why this is happening? Or, should I suggest to her that losing her son is part of God’s purpose because it says so in Romans 8:28?
Dear God, in the face of such sadness and loss, how can You begin to suggest that this is Your handiwork, and that it is good? To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Christmas gets all the love in the ecumenical calendar, the only holiday that gets a whole, dedicated “season.” It’s easy to see why: there are presents and baked goods, festive colors and whimsical decorations. Colder climates get the whiteness of snow to camouflage the dingy deadness of the winter landscape, allowing us to believe in fresh starts and new beginnings. I don’t begrudge Christmas its celebration; the month that holds the darkest day of the year needs a spot of brightness, a hope that the change we’ve been waiting for is upon us.
While Christmas is about hope and promise, Easter is about the fulfillment of that promise. Within hope there always remains a grain of uncertainty—will what we’ve waited for come to pass? We can be confident in Easter though. Good triumphs evil and mankind is redeemed. We were right to hope, and we can celebrate in its completeness. If Christmas is bright and cheery, then Easter is light and airy. It is easy to call them both good because they feel good.
But on the day we call Good Friday, there was darkness. The disciples went into hiding, and Mary wept at the foot of the cross.The day became like night and earthquakes split the ground wide open as Jesus breathed his last.
How does a day full of such sadness and pain come to be called good? Jesus’ devotion to God’s plan for salvation came to fruition, and consecrated us to Him. Humanity was offered a path to sanctification for the first time, and suddenly the breadth of this life became insignificant in comparison to eternity. It may not have been good, but it sure as hell was holy.
Maybe my problem then isn’t with the word, but with the definition.
If God Himself was so undone by the suffering and death of His Son that creation reflected His grief, then surely my pain is valid. I don’t have to see the good in this. Not when everything about it feels wrong. This is, quite simply, not how God designed life to be. He did not mean for little bodies to be hooked up to machines and monitors, hovering between life and death. He did not intend for mothers to watch their children fight for their lives. He did not create us so that we could spend our days pleading with Him to heal our children and our world. He built us with His eyes focused unwaveringly on eternity. When God promised that all things work for good, perhaps He meant not here but there, where broken hearts and weakened lungs and damaged minds are made whole.
If sometimes life in our fallen world is so woefully ungood, can it still be holy? When we are devoted to God, so is every moment of our lives. He is present in our joy, but also in our heartbreak. He claims it all, and if His hand is on our lives then doesn’t that make them a little bit holy, too? It’s different from being easy or light, and it’s certainly not always good. But when I look closely, I can see His handiwork.
I see it in the thousands of people joined together in prayer. I see it in a mama who continues to hold onto the promises of Scripture that God has not deserted her. I see it in a little boy whose body may be devastatingly broken in this life but will be healed to perfection in the next.
Our lives are a tapestry of His making, but I wouldn’t have picked all of the threads He’s using. Some are dark and heavy, making it difficult to continue the pattern. Others are so coarse and rough that they sting my hands to the point of rawness. On their own, those threads don’t make it beautiful. But perhaps they exist to add weight, depth and texture, rather than beauty.
When I step back and take it all in, there’s no denying that what He has woven together is a masterpiece. Not because it’s soft or warm, but because it bears His fingerprints. It is holy, and that alone makes it good.
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