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How Looking for Goodness When God is Unfair Crushes Cynicism

  • Jason Hague Author of: Aching Joy
How Looking for Goodness When God is Unfair Crushes Cynicism

My son Jack has severe autism. If God could break through into our circumstances, why wasn’t he doing it now? Shouldn’t the King of the universe at least be fair?

This is the rock where so many of our ships wreck. It’s not really about miracles in the end, but about fairness. Equity. You don’t have to believe in the supernatural to feel a sense of cosmic wrongness around you. All it takes is a glimpse through someone else’s window—someone going through something really bad . . . or really good.

Either condition can arouse a protest:

“Lord, why did you make those people feel such suffering?”

“Lord, why did you bless those other people and not me?”

Some have tried to turn these discussions into mechanical, cause-and-effect relationships. You want to be blessed? Here’s how to be blessed. Pray these prayers and pray them this way; follow these steps and walk like me. God will answer your petitions as long as you follow the recipe.

Sometimes, it seems to work. The prayer is answered. The crisis ends, and the relationship heals. The fever passes, and the blessing comes. And when it comes, we think to ourselves, Maybe it really is that simple! Maybe if I follow this path, I will continue to be blessed!

Then the other shoe drops. The questions come. The broken thing refuses to be fixed, no matter how loud the praying or how right the living. Suddenly, all those outside assurances start to sour. From then on, it’s hard not to bristle at even benign displays of contentment or innocent proclamations of God’s generosity toward us.

“You think God’s blessed you with that promotion, do you? Well, congratulations on cracking the code.”

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“..even the Prophets of old recognized the distinct lack of formula...”

“..even the Prophets of old recognized the distinct lack of formula...”

We treat all of this as if we are the first to have come up with such questions, but even the Prophets of old recognized the distinct lack of formula in the cosmic narrative. For them, the most common objection concerning God’s fairness seemed to center on the fact that wicked people still received God’s blessings. They didn’t like the fact that the sun rose on both the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45). Some of them skirted the issue, but Jeremiah stated his case plainly:

Righteous are You, O LORD, that I would plead my case with You;
Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered?
Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?
Jeremiah 12:1-2, NASB

It is only right and good to bring such irritations to God directly. We still have to be honest even after we sing our psalms of lament. The world is complex. Spiritual denial won’t help us navigate any of this.

Then again, neither will cynicism.

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Giving into Cynicism

Giving into Cynicism

Cynicism takes a grim posture. It tells us we can’t trust God because he’s either arbitrary or loaded down with a busy schedule, and we can’t trust life because somehow it’s rigged against us. As a result, even life’s rewards are flimsy and fleeting.

Truly, cynicism is every bit as destructive as denial, if not more so.

But how can we avoid it? We live in the land of unanswered prayer, after all. In this country, giving in to cynicism is like giving in to gravity. Not only is it easy, it is the natural pull. Left to our own feelings, we will become cynical. We will despair.

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Looking for God’s Goodness

Looking for God’s Goodness

David the psalmist, who had his own long season of unanswered prayer in the wilderness, faced down these questions with even greater intensity than Jeremiah did. He had to hide in his desert for years, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. He was a fugitive from his own king. He was the righteous prey of a deranged lunatic. And yet he did not give in to despair.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Psalm 27:13, NASB

David believed he would see God’s goodness, not just on Restoration Day, but in this life, too. It set him on a mission to find the hand of God.

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Learning Joy Again and Again

Learning Joy Again and Again

But it’s so easy to forget those blessings. Our hearts can embrace deep truths and then, against all reason, let those truths go. This is why I say hope meanders and joy needs tending. These aren’t multiplication facts that we learn once and never forget. These are lessons we must learn again and again until they make their home in the soils of our souls.

Truly, God is bigger than my circumstances. That doesn’t just mean he can overcome them, but that he sits above them in his sprawling, omnipresent majesty. Yes, our trials matter. Jack’s panic attacks are real and they matter, but they are also limited things with a beginning and an end. They are dark clouds in my sky, but they are far too small to define the entire firmament.

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Cynicism Dismissing Every Joy

Cynicism Dismissing Every Joy

The problem with cynicism and despair is not just that they are too sad, but that they are intellectually dishonest. It is a twisted and bankrupt logic that dismisses God’s gifts for our neighbors on the grounds that we didn’t happen to receive the same gifts ourselves. It affirms every misery while dismissing every joy.

The truth is, we are fortunate to be so small. The sun does not revolve around us or around today’s sadness. Truth does not hinge on the frame where we stand. The rain has fallen, and will still fall, on the just and the unjust alike. And this is good news, friend. The world is big, and history is long, and even when we are waiting for our own breakthroughs, we can still see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Wherever we find God’s blessing, we have the opportunity affirm it. Wherever good news strikes, we can offer a hearty amen.

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“When we look for it in others, we find it more at home.”

“When we look for it in others, we find it more at home.”

That is why testimonies are so precious. The stories of hope, big or small, from our neighbors or from our own histories, are evidence of the hand of God. Without them, we might despair.

But when we fix our eyes on those things, forgetting our current hardships if only for a moment, the opposite happens. Joy happens, and joy is infectious. When we look for it in others, we find it more at home.

This is how I beat back cynicism. I remind myself that I am small, that the world is big, and that God has not forgotten me.

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Noticing Unfair Blessings

Noticing Unfair Blessings

Yes, my son has severe autism, and that can be immensely difficult, but my life is shot through with blessing. Jack has four siblings, for one thing, and they are all smart, adorable, and kind. My daughters, Emily and Jenna, grow rich in compassion, and my sons, Sam and Nathan, are hell-bent on justice. These children are always active, always entertaining, and ever-forgiving of their bumbling dad.

There’s my beautiful wife, too. Sara has been with me for eighteen years and hasn’t left yet. She is the probably the most selfless person I know.

What gifts I have. It’s not fair!

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“And then there’s Jack.”

“And then there’s Jack.”

And then there’s Jack. Despite the paralyzing effects of his condition, he finds more delight in the simple things of this world than anyone I have ever met. The copper glimmer off a bean can, a simple tickle to the ribs. Give the boy a pair of socks, and he will be off jumping and giggling for hours on end.

It’s not fair.

It’s not fair that he is so kind to his brothers, or that he is so patient with us when we don’t understand him, or that he never, ever holds a grudge against anyone for being irritated. He flashes that pure smile, that unfiltered delight, and we are all Play-Doh in his palms, because we adore this child, and in his own wordless way, he adores us, too.

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Living in God's Mercies

Living in God's Mercies

And none of it is fair. God’s love toward us is so extravagant and undeserved. His mercies, new at every sunrise, float through our home like a morning mist. We breathe it in, even on the days we can’t see it. In that joyful air, we live and move and have our being.

Taken from Aching Joy by Jason Hague. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Jason Hague is an associate pastor at Christ's Center Church in western Oregon. He chronicles his personal journey online at JasonHague.com, where he uses prose, poetry, and video to share his experiences as a father to a severely autistic boy. Jason has been married to Sara for seventeen years, and they have five children.

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