Trusting God's Goodness When We Can't See It
Paul became one of Jesus’ most important followers, but you never would have guessed that from his early life. Paul began his life named “Saul.” He kept his name, and his habit of persecuting Christians, until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. You might be familiar with this story from Acts 9; Saul is blinded by a bright light, and he hears a voice that asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?“ From that moment on, Saul’s life changed.
What you may be less familiar with is the second time that this story occurs in Acts. Many years later, in Acts 26, Paul recounts his experience with Jesus. And there, Paul’s retelling of Christ’s words includes a phrase that isn’t found in Acts 9: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It’s painful for you to kick against the goads.” A goad is some type of prod that you’d use to herd animals—usually a sharpened stick that you’d poke an animal to get it to move in the direction that you want. Christ is saying that Saul could keep trying to do what he wanted to do, and Saul could keep struggling for what he thought was best for him—but the only person that Saul is hurting is himself.
And yet that’s our tendency as humans. We want something, so we keep kicking out and trying to get it…even when what we want is not what’s best for us. When we don’t get what we want, sometimes that’s because God is steering us toward something else—and God does that for our good. Or on the other hand, sometimes we may feel ourselves nudged by God into challenging situations that we’d rather not face—and yet God calls us into those challenging spaces for our good.
It’s hard to grapple with God’s interventions in our lives if we’re not grounded in that underlying reality that God is good. Last Sunday in worship, we gave people the opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness. Light can be seen as a symbol of goodness and hope, so we lit candles, placed them around the cross, and said a prayer of thanks for specific instances of goodness that we’ve experienced from God. The rest of our worship was centered, very literally, around trust of God’s good acts in our lives.
Today, you may feel that God is doing so much in your life that it’s almost frightening. Or, you may feel that God is absent from your life, and that God is just not coming through in any situation where you need to see God. The way you respond to what God is (or is not) doing in your life will be different; the steps you need to take will be different for each moment and each person. But whatever the steps you need to take, you can trust God’s goodness. Perhaps you might start your days this week with a prayer like this one:
God of love, I pray that I would be able to trust your goodness. Help me to remember that, when you seem to keep me from something I want, you are good. Help me to trust that, when you call me to do something that I really don’t want to do, you are good. Give me the strength continue trusting your goodness, the hope to wait when you seem absent, and the courage to risk when you call me. Amen.