We get an ABC feed out of L.A. On September 11 we were able to sit with our kids and watch and listen and answer their questions. Ten years is a lot of process time so we viewed those events through a decade of rumination. Our oldest is 5 and was the source of every inquiry as we watched planes crash and buildings fall and leaders lead and people serve.
We watched President Obama read Psalm 46. It's pretty cool when the president reads any Psalm, but Psalm 46 is particularly marvelous. It begins:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and
Though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea."
That's a lot to hold onto. Say what you will about President Obama, he is a very important man and he read a text far more important than he. The Psalm ends like this:
"The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold"
That's huge. You can say God all day long, but you say the God of Jacob and you narrow things down dramatically. There's only one of those: the God of Jacob. And he is with us. That's huge.
While watching the coverage I saw a speech that then President Bush had made shortly after 9/11 where he said this:
"Our war is a war against evil. This is clearly a case of good versus evil, and make no mistake about it…good will prevail."
Say what you will about Bush, that's a pretty good line in a speech and it resonated deeply in the heart of Americans. But it brings up a question that is immensely important:
Who defines good and evil? If there is a good vs. evil they have to be different. A house divided cannot stand, right?
I have had this conversation with numerous folks: What is good/truth/right/wrong? Some things seem (at least to most people) universally wrong: killing children, corporate theft, abuse of the weak. Other things are less clear to folks: sexual promiscuity, abortion, lying. You could add or subtract any number of things from either list. And that seems to be the issue: how do you determine what is "good" and what is "evil"?
We throw the word "good" around quite a bit. "He's a good person." I've heard many people say, after a person behaves heinously, "I don't understand. She's such a good person."
I have been influenced greatly by A.W. Tozer. His book Knowledge of the Holy is...anointed. The Lord used that man to put some amazing things into words and onto pages. He says this in a chapter titled, "The Justice of God":
"Everything in the universe is good to the degree it conforms to the nature of God and evil as it fails to do so."
That clears things up. Doesn't it?
What goes through your head when you read that? Does it seem fair? Unfair? How do you define "good"? If I let God define the standard, then the pressure is off of me. I just point to him and say, "He's good. Anyone that doesn't act like him is not behaving 'good'." Bad grammar, same point. He is the standard. He's God - we're not. When we blur that line everything gets fuzzy. To fully explain to us how God acts, he sends Jesus as the incarnate diety: God with skin on. He's the revelation of all that we need to know in order to understand that which is good.
Our culture tends to shun judgment until we see something clearly evil. Then we cry out, "Justice!" and want something done. We have defined good to suit our comfort instead of placing ourselves under the God who IS good and then when we need clarification going to the Bible (his revelation of himself to us) to clear things up. If a man took a kitten and cut her up into little pieces while she was still alive (a truly horrid thought) we would rightly cry out. We would be vehement! We would cry out not merely for justice but for vengeance.
You see where I’m going, of course. Where is the outcry against abortion? Infidelity? Lying? Our world has made goodness a matter of convenience and deflection. They have to be good, but I don’t. We like to point fingers and judge intentions and try to cover up the grace we so desperately want for ourselves.
It is not easy too look to God and say, “What you say goes.” Doing so requires the rarest of attitudes: humility. The rare occasions where I am humble come from the collision of my sin and God’s goodness. I see myself in light of his majesty, holiness and grace and can but bow my head and plead, “mercy” to the God who is good and does good. And I find him always merciful. Always gracious. Always good. Most pointedly when I am not.
When I need to know what is good (or evil) I have only to look to God and I have my answer. He has given it to us not in search engines or periodicals or think tanks but in the strangest of forms: a person named Jesus. He is the goodness to which we are all compared and we are good or evil to the degree in which we conform to his nature.
Whew. I am deeply thankful that I am still in that process and that God has not given up on me. He certainly has his work cut out for him.