Decisions – Part 2

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

Is God as Good as They Say?

It’s an article of faith with kids in kindergarten. They pray each morning before they have their snack of goldfish crackers and milk: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.” But is He good? Is He reliable? Is He to be trusted? Does He have a benevolent plan to return us to our Eden home?

Here’s a question for us to consider . . . and I realize how hard it is to visualize these things as we enjoy the blessings and the abundance of capitalism and our American lifestyle. But how would you feel if you had spent your entire life devoted to the cause of communism—and then at the very end, saw the movement fall apart before your very eyes? For hundreds of thousands of true believers, that was their very experience.

Many of us who have traveled to the former Soviet Union have personally seen the ravages of the failed Marxist revolution. The fields never produced crops as promised; the shelves on the stores remained empty. The joys of atheism did not materialize. The workers’ paradise was not as glorious as they had hoped. And all throughout the former U.S.S.R. you can talk to old, tired, discouraged Russians who made the communist movement their life’s work. They’d given everything, 70 years of devotion, to a cause that turned out to be an empty hoax. What they thought to be good had turned not just into evil, but into their worst nightmare.

C. S. Lewis describes a parallel experience for Christians. What if you spend your whole life striving to get to know God—and then God doesn’t turn out to be what we would call “good”? In his novel Perelandra, he describes a fictional encounter with heavenly creatures and how terrifying it was. Then he writes this: “This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.” What then? What would it be like to wait all your life to meet God, and when you do, it is a terrifying and destructive moment?

Last Sabbath we began to explore this question of my most important decision, and your most important decision. Our point was a simple one: getting to know God is the most important thing in your life and in my life. Borrowing from Green Packer coach Vince Lombardi, “Knowing God isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Obviously the Christian church is built on the premise, the conviction, that God is indeed good. God is good. To know Him is good. That lifelong search ends well, in joy, in celebration, not in disaster. Knowing God brings fulfillment, not disillusionment. That’s the foundation of nearly two centuries of Adventist growth and mission. That’s the core pillar of my life and the life of most of you who have chosen to seek God this Sabbath morning. I can tell you with absolute confidence that I stake my life, my existences, my everything . . . on the belief that God is good.

In the same book I quoted from last Sabbath morning, The Knowledge of the Holy, author A. W. Tozer writes this: “That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end in the negation of every moral judgment. If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven.”

All through the sagas and the stories of the Bible, the heroes of faith persevered through hard times, knowing that God was good. They endured persecution—because God was good. They held on to their faith—because God was good. They faced lions and whips and Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-times-hotter furnaces because they knew that God was good. They attested to the goodness of God in their Death Row testimonies before the priests and the potentates.

Here’s just a bit more of Tozer’s testimony: “The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us.”

Well, every journey must start somewhere. We start our trip accepting, in theory, that God is good. And that getting to know Him is important. But . . . if you’re not yet ready to accept that premise, I’d invite you to come with us anyway, week by week at this church, and see what the journey reveals to YOU.

Now, how DO we get to know God? What are some of the ways of seeing Him?

Have you ever seen the famous Michelangelo painting, Creation of Adam? God is a man with a big beard, reaching out with His hand to touch the finger of newly-created Adam. Is that God? Political parties claim that God is on their side and that a vote for their candidate is a vote that God would approve. Do they know God well enough to speak for Him?

Pastor Morris Venden, in his classic book To Know God: A Five-Day Plan, describes several of the avenues where we can catch glimpses of God. Nature is one, he suggests. So many things in the world around us show a picture of God. A starry night. The pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. The beauty spots of our planet: Lake Louise up in Canada, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, a splendid November sunset over Miami Beach. Maybe even a quiet summer night on your own back porch, with the sound of crickets and fireflies dancing about in the growing darkness. We have all seen moments of glorious beauty in the great outdoors, and I hope it made you think of the goodness of God.

In Psalm 19:1, King David writes: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

My family and I have always treasured seeing God in the out-of-doors. Hiking through the woods or enjoying the pounding of the surf as we camp out on the beach. I’ve got to confess that I can even see God when I’m out on the golf course. The vast expanses of beautiful green grass on the fairway, the little lake there on Hole Number Seven, the white sand in the sand trap (hopefully, my ball isn’t in there too), and the blue sky with just a cloud or two way off in the distance. Well, you know, that’s almost heaven for me . . . and I sense the love and goodness of God in providing such beauty.

But, as Venden points out, nature is an imperfect picture of God. We have flowers that die. Animals that kill each other. Garbage lying in the street. Cities in ruin. Nature all by itself doesn’t show us all of God. A deadly Christmas tsunami thunders onto the beaches of Indonesia and Thailand, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and scarring the land for generations to come. Is that God too?

And what about human relationships, Venden asks. Do they show us the love of God? The Bible says God loves us like a parent loves his or her children. The prophet Isaiah paints this tender picture with his poetic words: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?”

There’s no clearer picture of the tender love of God than a mom nursing her little baby. And how about Dad? I hope that all of us can think fondly of our dads. Do you remember the horsie rides when you were little, and the wonderful feeling of being safe in his arms? Having him tuck you into your bed at night? Knowing that he was out in the rain fixing a leaky roof or a broken window while you snuggled under your warm blankets? Seeing the excited love on his face as you opened up your Christmas presents? It’s a wonderful thing when we can see a lot of the good character of God in our fathers.

But human relationships, too, are a tragically imperfect revelation of God. What about Susan Smith, the mother who drowned her own two little boys a number of years ago? Just recently a state had to update its “safe haven” laws because parents weren’t simply dropping off their unwanted infants at the front door of hospitals . . . some frustrated parents were abandoning teenagers there! Renegade polygamist groups sometimes shove the “lost boys” they don’t want out of their cult compounds so that older men can have all of the women to themselves. What about that? Is God like that kind of a dad?

In Venden’s book he writes about a man in Madera, California, who beat his six-year-old daughter for half an hour because she wouldn’t cry. Half an hour! After that she timidly said, “Daddy, can I have a drink?” And then she died! He had beat her to death. We all see horrifying stories—hopefully a scriptwriter’s overactive imagination—on television dramas like Law & Order, where parents inflict hurt on their innocent children.

So . . . can a mother forget her sucking child? Yes, she can forget. Here again—we can only find a partial, INcomplete picture of God.

Well, then, how about God’s Word itself? Does the Bible give us the full picture of God, the whole story? We’re told that God is love—that’s I John 4:8. He’s slow to anger—we find that in Jonah 4:2. He delights in mercy—Micah 7:8. But there are a lot of hard things in the Bible too, aren’t there? Stories of punishment and everlasting flames and whole nations being wiped out at God’s specific command. Is God really good or not?

What we see here in the book of nature and the portrait of human relationships and even a surface reading of the 66 books in the Bible are all part of an incomplete mosaic. Yes, we see glimpses of God. There’s a hint here and a reference there and a splash of color over around that corner. But there’s only one place where we can get the full picture of what God is like. There’s just one source of full truth, only one panoramic presentation that shows us ALL of God.

And that is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came to this world. Because of the imperfection of all the other pictures of God, Jesus came to this world to reveal to us ALL of the goodness of God.

Let me borrow just one more anecdote that Morris Venden shares, and I can frankly tell a number of similar tales. I think pastors everywhere have lived through this particular encounter. He relates the story of a young man, a college student, who came to him one day, and said, “I kind of like Jesus, but I don’t like God.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“Because Jesus is kind, but God is stern, and full of wrath.”

Have you ever felt that way? “Jesus is nice, and He spends most of His time trying to get God to like us”? It’s interesting that even Jesus’ disciples struggled with that idea. They thought to themselves, “Jesus, our Master, is actually kind of nice. But I wonder what God is like?”

In fact, you can read in John 14 where Philip comes out and asks Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Here’s how Jesus answers him: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me HAS seen the Father.”

And Jesus goes right on through for the next three verses spelling out that He and God are just alike. If you know one, you know the other. If one is loving and generous, so is the other. If Jesus is good, God has got to be good. If Jesus loves us, God loves us too. If Jesus desires our well-being, so does God. If Jesus has a plan to build us mansions in heaven, you can be confident that He and God hatched that plan in unison; one of them didn’t have to talk the other one into it.

You remember that when we sing the classic hymn, Near to the Heart of God, the most important line reminds us: “O Jesus, blessed Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God.”

Just to make sure this point is nailed down, Jesus really hits it clearly in chapter 10. Six words: “I and the Father are one.”

So let me say something to you as clearly as I can. Nature is not a perfect picture. Human love and family relationships aren’t a perfect picture. Even the Bible isn’t the fullest revelation. But in the gift of Jesus Christ, God sent the very best picture He could. Jesus is the revelation of God’s goodness.

Well, what conclusion can we draw from this reality? I would suggest that it means two things to us today. First, if I want to know about God and to know God, the very best thing I can do is to get acquainted with Jesus. I need to spend time every day, 365 days a year, getting to know Jesus. Okay, I may look at snow-covered mountains and rainbows as well and the grassy green splendor of a golf course as well . . . but my best efforts, my daily efforts to know God, are going to be through the avenue of getting to know Jesus. If I know Jesus, I’ll know God.

This is why it is so important that we remain part of this Christian community. We have all seen people who drifted away, and they were confident that they could keep getting to know God better all by themselves. But I don’t think so! When we come here, we don’t just hear sermons about God and study about Him in our Sabbath School quarterlies and enjoy potluck discussions that focus on His character. But we also see the goodness of God in community, in simply noticing His attributes manifested in the lives of our friends here. Together this place is a powerful portrait of our heavenly Father, and we miss that picture if we are off by ourselves trying to be a one-man painting.

Here’s my second point. We can’t ever complain to God again, “Why don’t You reveal Yourself? Show Yourself to us! Give us a better picture. Provide us with a miracle or a sign or a manifestation in the sky.” That’s an inappropriate request, because in the gift of Jesus, God has sent us the very best picture He can. He doesn’t HAVE a better one! We either have to get our impressions of God from this picture . . . or we’re in deep trouble. God can’t send down to this planet anything better; He’s already mailed the very best.

We said it last Sabbath: Knowing God isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. And now we know how it’s got to be done. We spend time—quality time—looking at the best picture: our Savior Jesus.

Let me invite you to make this a journey of highest importance. I know what frantic schedules many of you lead. It is easy to see just the freeways and the deadlines and the bills . . . and not find time to become acquainted with Jesus. But a wonderful adventure awaits us if we will choose to find the time to be with Him.

You may need to find a new and special time when you get together. Perhaps you can download podcasts of good sermons or listen to Scripture CDs in your car as you commute. Maybe there is a quiet ten minutes somewhere that would let you read just one chapter a day from the book of John. But I can promise you this: your life will move to a new and exciting level of passion for God if you know Him better through the wonders of His only Son.

Shall we pray?

Father, we want to know You! Thank You for inviting us to seek Your face and Your loving ways through the goodness of Jesus. Please help this church to be a powerful and loving movement of “getting acquainted” with You more each passing day. Bless each person here who is right now determining to make it their highest priority. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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