A couple of weeks ago we had at our university what we term "Week of Worship." This is a week during each school term in which we have a chapel service daily (instead of the usual Tuesday only) and hear preaching/teaching each day either by a guest speaker, or by an array of students and/or faculty on our campus.
Our speaker was awesome this fall.
But what has really stuck with me is one phrase from a song that the students chose for the daily theme song. It's a song by "Jesus Culture," (you can see it performed here, but be forewarned if you are older that this is the music of the current young generation) and the lyrics are pretty good, on the whole:
Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails
I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails
You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails
The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails
The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails
You make all things work together for my good
As we got to the bridge of the song, I found myself unable to sing. I remained standing, pondering that phrase as the words were being belted out around me. "You make all things work together for my good. You make all things work together for my good. You make all things work together for my good. You make..."
Is that so? What are the assumptions in this phrase?
One assumption, I think, is a narcissistic one. It's sort of like the old dilemma of the farmer praying for rain. If God brings the rain down on his fields, the house of the person down the road who cannot afford to fix the hole in their roof becomes flooded. That may be simplistic, but it has long bothered me what the collateral effects of God working specifically for my good, or someone else's, might be. Assuming that God is Love, why would God be working for my good and not His good?
Would it not be true that if God works for His good, that would also be good for His creatures? Somehow the thought of God working within His nature, for His good, puts me much more at peace than the thought of Him suddenly beaming his laser attention on my little life and arranging all my circumstances for my good. Now why is that?
Maybe my logic grows out of a perception of who God is, as well as this: I have been told by my theologian friends that Romans 8:28 is better translated from the original Greek as, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." [emphasis mine] In my life experience, that translation has seemed much more realistic than the way I first memorized the text, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..."
There is, however, a down side to my argument, and it is this: it holds God at arm's length from me. Why is it that I am more comfortable with a God who keeps His distance, working in Love for the good of us all, than with a God who gets down into my world, right into my molecules if need be, and arranges my self and my surroundings for my personal good? Might my reticence to have God arrange the universe for my specific, personal good be in some way a wish for Him to not meddle too closely in my molecules for my own--or someone else's--good?
That is troubling in several ways.
Finally, I have considered one other problem with the words of the Jesus Culture song, and that problem is a very practical one. In the past year I had seen no fewer than seven of my friends and acquaintances wrestling with cancer, and I have become aware of no fewer than five marriages of people I know, breaking up. And then there are the families experiencing chronic distress, unable to resolve issues that divide them. And I watch families deal with chronic debilitating illness, limiting the life of not just the person experiencing the condition, but the lives of everyone else, too.
It's pretty tough to sing, over and over, the refrain, "You make all things work together for my good," knowing the struggles of these folk. I just can't seem to cough up the words, including in my ruminations my own little niche in that collection of struggles. It's possible that, were I in the shoes of someone fighting a losing battle with terminal illness, I would find my faith strong enough to sing the words with gusto. But from my seat in the church it looks nearly impossible.
In the midst of this lamentation, let me reassure you that I strongly believe, as the words of the song say, that "[God's] love never fails," that He has "new mercies for me everyday," that "I'm not alone" and that "joy comes in the morning."
But I may need some theological instruction and encouragement from a few of you out there before I can join the students singing with gusto, "You make all things work together for my good."