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April 2020

Reframing the goodness of God

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We say that God is good. We sing it so often ‘you’re a good good Father, it’s who you are..’ But what do we mean? What does Gods goodness look like in his dealings with me? As i reflect on what is good for my own children it’s clear that they wouldn’t choose much of it! A lot is met with resistance and misunderstanding. The ‘goodness’ of my decisions as a parent are often questioned by my them. I am far from a good Father, I concede. But what might the actions of a truly good Father look like to his children?

We often tell one another ‘God is holding you in his hands’, usually conjuring images of cradling a child, of comforting us – and that is not wrong, it is certainly not less than this – but surely the goodness of God must include yet go beyond comfort in our time of distress and help when we cry out in need? What other ways are we to see ourselves as ‘in his hands’ and what strength and joy can we draw from it?  

Consider a sword-smith – shaping and tempering a sword. Blow by blow, in and out of the flaming furnace. Slowly, patiently, with infinite attention to detail, he shapes the instrument in his hand. Being ‘held in Gods hands’ feels slightly different in this image! But what a joy. Held in the creators hands, those hands that shaped the stars and planets, now shaping me! Held in the almighty hands of Him who is committed to changing me from one degree of glory to another; changing me into the image of his Son, Jesus. How often do I turn to God in my toughest times and thank him? How often do I ‘consider it pure joy’ – as we have recently been encouraged to do by Phil Wallis in his message to us. (James 1:2-4)

Or consider a surgeon – What if there are things in our lives, known or unknown, that we are better off without (not difficult to imagine) but that we are very attached to (again, not difficult to imagine) would it feel good to have them removed – ‘amputated’? I have always liked the image of God as a surgeon, for obvious reasons! During my years in Orthopaedic surgery amputation was always the most difficult operation to come to terms with. Handing over the removed part of a person to be bagged and incinerated felt unnatural – is unnatural. But even in this, was the knowledge that without it, without the operation, very often the patient would die. How much more do we need a heavenly surgeon cutting away things in our lives that can lead to death. (Mark 9:43-47)  

C.S. Lewis, writing during one of the toughest times in life, says this about the goodness of God:  

‘…suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.’ CS Lewis. A grief observed.

The author of Hebrews exhorts us to not forget that a loving Father disciplines his children:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:5-11

Whatever the reason may be that we go through struggles and pain, it is not because God is not good, but precisely because he is. And because God holds us in his hand, wherever the blows come from, whether it’s external circumstances outside our control, persecution, mental illness, physical illness, or even our own bad life choices, he is able to turn the sword to just the right angle so that each blow shapes us perfectly. (Romans 8:28).

We have a good God. What that looks like for us may be difficult to see at times but, we can be sure, that when we look back from eternity, we will see the hand of a loving surgeon, a skilled sword-smith, saving us and shaping us into his likeness. Let’s not wait until then to praise and thank him!

Real life

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 “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
John 17:1-5

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth century Presbyterian Minister and Missionary. He dedicated his life to Jesus, and was a tireless, profoundly spiritual evangelist. There are many accounts, by those who knew him, that indicate M’Cheyne seemed to carry with him the very presence of our Saviour, wherever he went. A fellow minister wrote of Robert:

“..his living presence was a rebuke … for I never knew one so instant in season and out of season, so impressed with the invisible realities, and so faithful in reproving sin and witnessing for Christ.”

Robert M’Cheyne died of Typhus, in 1843, at just twenty-nine. Yet it has been claimed that he achieved more for Jesus in his seven years of ministry, than many could achieve in a lifetime. 

He remains well-qualified, then, to advise Christians on how to realise a measure of peace on earth. The words that follow are M’Cheyne’s, and in them, we might find solace today, as we are confined to our homes, praying to be ‘passed over’, as Covid 19 approaches peak contagion levels:

‘Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief. Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love and repose in his almighty arms… let your soul be filled with a heart-warming sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in him.’

Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh: William Elephant and Co., 1864), p.257. 


M’Cheyne knew what it was to have life, real life, eternal life.

As we approach Easter we find ourselves looking at Jesus’ last days leading up to his death. On the night before Jesus died, he was with his closest friends, and he prayed for them. His prayer includes some of the most profound things he ever said. Perhaps the most wonderful is this:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” John 17:3

While we wait for a return to normality in these astonishing times, we would do well to heed Robert M’Cheyne, and focus ten times more often on Christ, than on ourselves and this world. We would do well to use this time – relatively free from meetings and commitments and social engagements, and all the other distractions that usually consume our time – to read our Bibles and draw close to God in His Word. For it is in the written Word that we see the Living Word (John 5:39). This is life. Real life. For Christians, there is no life other than to know Jesus. It is in looking at Jesus, and not at what is going on around us, that we will know peace in the storm.

Covid 19 is not sovereign – in spite of its corona (crown) epithet. The true crown is worn by our eternal Saviour and before Him, all disease and pain and fear are diminished and ultimately, they are powerless. Our life – our real life – is eternal.

Let’s spend what time we can, deepening our relationship with Jesus and our Heavenly Father, by soaking in God’s Word and reflecting on what it means – really means – to be saved, and delivered from death.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

1 Peter 5:10.