I spent most of the weekend at a church Youth Retreat. In a semi-ironic convergence, I also got my AARP Card in the mail last week (I’m turning 50 this month). Being with and leading a group of energetic young people for a couple of days I felt older and younger at the same time. Younger because their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. Older because my own energy and enthusiasm, while still quite strong in my head, is not as physically enduring as it used to be.
But it was an awesome weekend on a mountaintop in western Maryland.
One of the things we talked about was “How do you know that God is good?” The young people came up with some great answers. . .
We know God is good because of God’s creation. That was clear to see up on that mountaintop, looking out into the distance to see the farms and the woods and the mountains and the gap where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge at Harper’s Ferry. We saw the glory of that creation in the “Supermoon” Saturday night, that big bright ball shining down through the trees, glittering as the branches blew in the breeze.
We know God is good because we have God’s word. We have God’s word in three ways. First, we have God’s word, God’s promise, that everything that is will ultimately be good for the people who love God (Romans 8:28). Second, we have God’s Word, the Bible, God’s love letter to the Children of God. The Bible has one primary purpose – so we can believe that God loves us and believe that we have life in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (John 20:31). Finally, Jesus Christ IS God’s Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). I love how Eugene Peterson translates that verse in The Message:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
We know God is good because God is always with us. We have God’s promise that God will never leave us or forsake us.
We know God is good because God keeps his promises. I was glad to hear that response from a young person at the retreat. So many “important” people have lied to them and let them down, I sure hope they know that God IS truth.
We know God is good because “I’m alive.” I love this answer one young person offered. It gets at such a basic truth – that we owe EVERYTHING to God, including our very existence. Each of us is “knit together . . . fearfully and wonderfully” by the loving hands of our creator (Psalm 139). Sure, we can understand the scientific processes of conception and fetal development, but does that make each life any more miraculous? Again, here is how The Message renders those creation verses (13-16) of Psalm 139:
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
But most of all, we know God is good when we look at THE CROSS. It is on the Cross that the goodness of God is revealed most clearly. In the moment when God looked defeated and powerless – the moment Jesus “gave up his spirit” – in that moment God’s love was poured out for all people in all times and at all places. As Jesus himself said, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for someone else. And he laid down his life for every someone else who ever lived or will ever live.
As someone said, the Cross is God’s “Yes!” No matter who we are, no matter what we have done, no matter how long or how vehemently we have rejected God (speaking as a long and vehement rejector myself), we know that God accepts each of us, arms spread wide open both to be nailed to a Cross and to embrace God’s children.
If those young people didn’t get anything else “spiritual” out of the retreat or out of church or out of Sunday School, I hope they know and will always know how much they are loved by the good God who created not only the world but each of them, by the God who died for them, by the God who loves them unconditionally.