Monday, August 12, 2013

Be Good

Around the time I hit adolescence, my mom developed the practice of following me to the front door whenever I was leaving the house and calling after me, "Be good!" If I was departing on a date, she sometimes went so far as to follow me and the teenage boy I was with to the front gate and shouting, "Be good!" as we  got into the car.

What she meant by this you can imagine. Don't drive too fast. Don't see a forbidden rated R movie. Don't make out in the back seat of the car. (Well, two out of three isn't bad, Mama.) I thought - and continue to believe - that it was pretty funny. But I also think it influenced me, that last desperate attempt my mom made to remind me who I was, what I knew was right and what was expected of me.

I find myself doing something similar now that I'm a mom. When I drop the kids off at a friend's house, or camp, or school, my version is, "Have fun and be good!" Or sometimes, "Learn something, have fun, remember your manners and be good!"

My girls, ages five and 9, already think it's funny when I do this, and not just because I often do it in E.T.'s voice with my finger outstretched. "Beeee goooood."

I want my girls to exhibit goodness: be kind, loving, honest, compassionate, just, generous. My instructions to them are always along these lines, and my prayers.

I find my prayers are also full of this odd request of God: I also say to God often, "Be good."

This sounds pretty ridiculous when I write it in black and white, but I'm concerned about God's goodness. Fundamental to my faith as a Christ-follower is that there is an almighty God who created the universe and told us about Himself through prophets who recorded what they heard. One of the main things God says about Himself that is that He is good. His goodness is His very nature, and also the way He acts: he does good. He is just, hating evil and righting wrongs. But also, abounding in love, compassionate, slow to anger, merciful. 

But I wonder about all these things. Or perhaps more accurate and honest is that I doubt God's goodness. Because this world stinks in a lot of ways. God is good. The state of the world is not. The Bible's more eloquent way of saying this is that the world is fallen, broken and groaning as a woman in childbirth until the time when God puts all things to right again.So I dialogue with God about what He is up to, and why.

It turns out I am not alone in feeling this way. It's recorded in the book of Genesis that Abraham asked God the same thing. God was about to exercise judgement on a city, and Abraham was afraid God might go overboard, judging people who didn't deserve it. Abraham asked him, "Can the Lord of Heaven do wrong?" God promises to save the city if there is even one righteous man in it, reminding Abraham that He is just.

Moses has the same kinds of conversations with God, reminding Him of His promises to Israel. So does David in the Psalms, urging God to defend His people, protect the righteous, right wrongs, show all the world who He is. In other words, David tells God to be who He says He is.

I'm grateful that these conversations with God have been recorded for me, giving me permission to talk to my Father this way. I beg God to be not only just but merciful. I remind God that He calls himself a father to the fatherless, defender of orphans and widows. That He is not willing for anyone to perish, but all to be saved. He is a God so big that the sun and moon obey him, and yet so devoted to His creation that He sees every sparrow and knows the number of hairs on each of our heads.

But of course, He doesn't need to be reminded. I do. I need to feel in my heart and believe in my head that God can be trusted with the universe, because I certainly can't make sense of it. One of my friends posted this scripture on facebook today:

Just as you don’t know the way of the wind
or how bones grow in a pregnant woman’s womb,
so you don’t know the work of God,
the maker of everything.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 

My understanding of how God's goodness is being played out in the universe is so limited, and won't be expanded much in the foreseeable future. So these conversations I'm having with are just about increasing my trust in God by giving Him the opportunity to reassure me. I may have quoted this passage in a blog before because I love it so much, but in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie, Laura marvels at her blind sister Mary's confidence in the goodness of God. Her faith transcends circumstances and gives her real peace.

Everyone knows that God is good. But it seemed to Laura then that Mary must be sure of it in some special way. 
"You're sure, aren't you?" Laura said. 
"Yes, I am sure of it now all the time," Mary answered. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

God, grant me that certainty. Be good.

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