“The Ultimate Goodness of God”
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. –Hebrews 11:1
It’s a gray morning. A hurricane brought patchy clouds and rain to Brazos County, but it’s threatening to bring much worse to other parts of Texas and Louisiana. What looks gray feels bleak. And it’s not just this ominous weather. It’s the political and ideological divisions that last week’s and this week’s conventions are exposing for us. Whether they draw on our utmost hopes or our deepest fears, the emotionally charged, urgently communicated messaging tugs at our heartstrings, pokes our brains, and leaves our spirits reeling with a cadre of feelings, summed up in a paradoxical anxiousness with an aftershock of exhaustion. Meanwhile, this global pandemic rages on, with more than 177,000 deaths recorded in the United States alone and no clear end in sight. It’s enough to leave one’s spirit down for the indefinite count. Still, the summons of faith directs me to a call and response that is often celebrated in Black churches from which it originates: “God is good…all the time! And all the time…God is good!” How can this be when everything from natural disasters to political rancor to rampant sickness paint a picture that looks more like a guy walking around wearing a sandwich board that says, “The end is near,” than the sun breaking through the gray skies? In his latest book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety, Walter Brueggemann writes, “The work of ministry is to render the virus as penultimate,” next to last or second to last, “to see that even its lethal force is outflanked by the goodness of God.” Things appear bleak, but the faith we practice and the ministry of justice, mercy, and love that is informed and girded by that faith are our constant, everlasting ultimate. As I remember that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good, I think of hymn writers, like like Haratio Spafford and Martin Rinkhart. In coping with his grief over the tragic loss of his four daughters who died in the sinking of the SS Ville du Havre in the Atlantic Ocean in 1873, Spafford wrote the hymn, “When Peace Like a River (It Is Well with My Soul)”: When peace, like a river, upholds me each day, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” O God, speed the day that is filled with your light, when clouds are rolled back as a scroll; the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall appear, “even so”—it is well with my soul. Martin Rinkart, the only clergyman left in Eilenburg, Saxony, a walled city of refuge for people fleeing war and pestilence during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), presided over several deaths during that time, and still wrote the timeless German anthem of thanks, “Nun danket alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God)”: Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices; who, from our mother’s arms, hath blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in God’s grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills in this world and the next. From the Black church traditions to the witness of age-old hymns, we’re reminded that these days we often call “unprecedented” are, in the end, temporal. They may seem overwhelming, but they are ultimately finite, because the love of God in the resurrected Christ always has the last word over even death itself—and that word is always good. As Kendrick Lamar says, “We gon be alright.” So, be well and give thanks, take courage and stand faithful.