A few years ago a man approached a stage to speak at the funeral of his wife, who had passed away several days before. She died at 53 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The crowd watched their grieving friend walk up to the microphone, hurting for the man and concerned about his ability to get any words out that morning. He thanked everyone for coming and began to tell them about his wife’s final night in the hospital, about how she seemed to be moaning in pain but was actually singing hymns to comfort her family. About how, even in her last moments, she was thinking of others. About her last breath and a desperate prayer for help. At that moment, he said, an indescribable peace settled over him. That same peace was with him at the funeral. “Some people consider God to be a myth,” he said, “but I assure you He is very real and He is with me right now. And He will be with you too if you trust in Him.”
Pastor and writer Max Lucado wrote that “Christ followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ.”
We Christians have a resource of strength and stability to carry us through storms.
But we don’t always use it.
We don’t always experience full trust in God, do we?
In fact, sometimes many of us in this room have had serious doubts about the character and maybe even the existence of God in times of trouble.
There are those in this room who can testify that our troubles provide opportunity for the most profound experiences of the love of God, but these troubles also come with risks.
The risk is that as the clouds of trouble block out the light, we may be deceived.
Let’s read James 1:16-18.
Do not be deceived, James writes. To be deceived is to be misled, it is to stray from the right path to the wrong one. When we experience trials, we are vulnerable to deception.
Deception was the original problem with humanity in Genesis, wasn’t it?
God spoke humanity into existence – to walk with Him and thrive in paradise. But another voice entered the picture and called the words and the character of God into question. We were deceived and we left the path of life.
Human nature is vulnerable to deception, prone to wander. And there is a Spirit in this world that is eager to take advantage of that vulnerability.
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world . . .
The pain of trials make us especially vulnerable to this deception. When trials come, we should be prepared for that deception.
Does that mean we Christians are supposed to be like the “no evil” monkeys, plugging our ears, keeping our mouths shut and closing our eyes to the reality of the world around us?
Not at all. In fact, it’s precisely the opposite. The message of Christianity is a call to begin thinking.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD . . .
The message of Christianity calls us to consider the coherence and the implications of ideas and viewpoints, to clear thinking.
The first thing James wants us to reason about is the fact that without, God there is on good in the world.
1. There is no good without God.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,
James doesn’t say, God gives good and perfect gifts, though that is true. What verse 17 tells us is that everything good and perfect comes from God.
Another way of saying that is that there is no good in this world without God.
What happens when a painful trial comes into my life? My first response is often something like this – “I thought you loved me, God. I though you were good.” Pain causes us to doubt first the goodness of God, and then the existence of God.
If God is good and powerful and wise, wouldn’t he stop evil from entering the world? The problem of evil is perhaps the most universally cited reason people question the existence of God.
It’s an understandable reaction to pain. But it’s not logical. It’s not coherent.
If there is no personal God, we have two options. First, there is the materialist view which tells us that there is no God and that physical reality is the only reality. The second option is the pantheistic view of Eastern traditions and Western liberal religion which tells us that everything is God.
The implication of both is that the word “good” has no object in the world to refer to. It is simply an expression of our own thoughts.
If the materialist view is right, we must admit that things like consciousness and free will, love and justice and goodness are only illusions. Our lives, our passions and our thoughts are not any different than the movement of balls on a pool table.
This is not just my view, but the great materialist thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker acknowledge this logical implication of materialism.
The spiritual pantheism view isn’t much different. If everything is God, then everything, every act is an expression of God. You can’t really say anything is good or evil, it just is.
If nothing is God, the word good has no real meaning.
If everything is God, the word good has no real meaning.
Neither of these views are consistent with our human experience and neither of them are livable.
When pain causes you to question the existence of God, you must consider the implications of denying his existence.
James tells us don’t be deceived, God is there, He is personal and He is the source of all good.
Verse 17 refers to God as the Father of lights. What does that mean?
There are two senses of the word that make sense. The first is astronomical – the lights are the sun and moon and stars. God is the maker of the cosmos. But father is a different word than maker or creator. A father is intimately attached to his offspring, his creation contains something of his being. The vast and fascinating universe we live in has a father.
The second sense of the word is purity. James may be saying that God is pure and the source of everything that is true and right.
who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:16
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5
God is the father of the universe, the father of all that is not darkness. And He is good.
In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer describes the goodness of God like this:
Within the cluster of God’s moral perfections there is one in particular to which the term goodness points—the quality which God especially singled out from the whole when, proclaiming “all his goodness” to Moses, he spoke of himself as “abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex 34:6 KJV). This is the quality of generosity. Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way that has no mercenary motive, and is not limited by what the recipients deserve but constantly goes beyond it. Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy. Generosity is, so to speak, the focal point of God’s moral perfection; it is the quality which determines how God’s other excellencies are to be displayed.
The goodness of God is one of the fundamental qualities revealed about Him in the Scriptures.
God’s character is good.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
God’s creation is good.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving . . .
1 Timothy 4:4-5
God’s plans are good.
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.
The implication of verse 17 is that:
2. Everything God gives you is good.
We just saw that in Romans 8:28:
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.
Because He is good and His plans are good, God promises to work every detail of your life together for good.
But what about my troubles?
We have seen in the past few weeks the value of pain in our trials:
A. God’s goodness includes capturing our attention through pain.
B. God’s goodness includes remaking our character through pain.
C. God’s goodness includes rewarding our endurance through eternal joy.
For many of us, this kind of goodness does not fit with the God we have learned about.
C.S. Lewis addresses this problem in his book The Problem of Pain:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy.
What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.
Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that, God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.
I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’. There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it.
Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.
As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. (Hebrews 12:8) It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.
If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”
Pain and reason tell us that God is far greater and wiser than the limited conceptions of god so many reject when life gets hard.
We have talked about goodness, let’s take a moment to talk about the word perfect. The word here is telos – complete, not lacking in any way.
Because God’s gifts are good and perfect, we know that God’s goodness is never an attempt at goodness.
It is always complete, mature, perfect goodness.
The hands of the best surgeon may at times slip. The best mechanic may misdiagnosis the source of a sound. The best parent may inadvertently turn an act of love into favoritism. God always knows what he is doing. He always understands the bigger picture. He always sees the heart of the matter and the outcome of every eventuality. His hand is perfectly calm.
When pain comes we should not lose sight of the good gifts that surround us. Every day we are surrounded by them.
A solitary snowflake drifting against the backdrop of a great snow covered oak. Two cardinals flitting around from tree to tree in the back yard. A brilliant moon looming over the horizon. The sound of an infant laughing. The taste of sweet strawberry. The world is filled with goodness. And if the world is so good, how good must God be?
God is goodness itself, in whom all goodness is involved. If therefore we love other things for the goodness which we see in them, why do we not love God, in whom is all goodness? All other things are but sparks of that fire, and drops of that sea. If you see any good in the creature, remember there is much more in the Creator. Leave therefore the streams, and go to the fountainhead of comfort.
There is no good without God. Everything God gives you is good. And finally, God will never be anything but good.
3. God will never not be good.
The Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
God is unchanging, immutable.
A. His existence is unchanging.
But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
Everything that shimmers in this world is sure to fade. Not God! Deep in the human heart is a longing for something good in our lives that transcends time and endures. God is that good thing.
B. His character is unchanging.
Packer notes that “Strain, shock, stress – circumstances can change the heart of a person. “tastes and outlook and temper may change radically: a kind man may turn bitter and crotchety; a man of good-will may grow cynical and callous. But nothing of this sort happens to the Creator. He never becomes less truthful, or merciful, or just, or good than He used to be. The character of God is today, and always will be, exactly what is was in the Bible times.”
C. His truth is unchanging.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Packer again: “Men sometimes say things they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to the thing that they said in the past. All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them. The words of men are unstable things, but not so with the words of God. They stand forever, as abiding valid expressions of His mind and thought. No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them”
D. His ways are unchanging.
The ways of God with His people – his provision, his protection, his healing and his leading – everything we see in the Bible of God’s ways remains the same.
E. His purposes are unchanging.
“What he does in time he planned from eternity.”
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
God finishes what he starts.
F. His Son is unchanging.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
When reason fails and the heart cries out in confusion and doubt, our final recourse is the cross.
On the cross, God knew extraordinary pain. On the cross, the world knew immeasurable goodness.
When trials come, watch out for deception. Remember that without God, without the cross, there is no goodness in this world. Remember that everything that comes from God is good, even when it hurts. Remember that the goodness of God will never falter or diminish.
When trials comes, keep your mind in the Scriptures. Keep your heart in prayer. Keep company with the people of the light. And keep your eyes on the end of your trial. Every pain, every sorrow has an expiration date.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown