Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is God Good...Even In Bad Circumstances?

What were you doing in 1984? What was life like? How many millions of life experiences have taken place for you since then? What if those 24 years were erased and replaced with confinement in a jail cell?

That’s the story of Darryl Burton. In 1984 he was wrongly accused and convicted of killing a man and was sentenced to 50 years in a Missouri maximum security prison. You can read more about it here and here. There’s an audio and slide presentation here.

Burton knew that he was innocent and through the years he literally wrote hundreds of letters to officials and government leaders asking for help and pleading his case. Then one day Burton decided to write a letter to God. Not even believing in God at the time, Burton wrote, “You know I’m innocent. Help me get out of this place, and I’ll tell the world about You.” Burton said that God came through and now he’s holding up his end of the bargain. Burton has visited colleges, radio stations, churches and the Missouri capital to tell his story.

Burton got acquainted with Jesus by reading the Bible. More specifically, Burton studied a so-called “red-letter edition”, which puts all of the words of Jesus in red. Burton said he just wanted to know who Jesus was and what Jesus said so he read the red verses and passages.

Burton believed and became a follower of Jesus and testified that soon the power of Christ came upon him so that he could forgive the prosecutor who paid lying informants in order to convict him. He also testified that the peace of God which is sometimes incomprehensible rested upon him.

I’m grateful for Burton’s awakening to Christ and for his exoneration. To hear how Christ came through for Burton and today sustains Burton even though he has no employment, no car, no money, etc., blesses and inspires me. But it also raises the question about the goodness of God.

We can look at the recent months of peace, provision and deliverance from injustice and say, “God is good.” But what about when Darryl Burton was being falsely accused, convicted by lies and robbed of 24 years of life in the free world?

God was good then also. We can conclude that God is good all the time because God’s goodness is not dependent upon how well life’s circumstances are experienced.

Good is qualified by its relationship to purpose. A good pen is one that writes well. But if I try to use that same pen as a scalpel in surgery it will be bad because it is not made to surgically cut open human flesh. A pen is made to write.

If we think of God like a genie who exists to make our lives easier or to fix our problems or to protect us from harm or injustice, we will have to conclude at times that God is bad because life is hard, problematic and full of unjust hurts.

But God doesn’t exist for us and the manipulation of our circumstances. God exists for Himself. To say that God exists for Himself is not to say that God is selfishly self-centered or egotistical. Rather it is the height of wisdom and love for God to exist for Himself.

If God is the most important and necessary Person in the universe, and if God is absolutely needed so that all of creation exists and is sustained, then the most important thing that can happen for any of us is for God to be God for God’s sake.

So, back to the particular circumstances of Darryl Burton, if the most important thing that could ever happen for Burton was that he would unjustly go to jail and in that dark place come to discover the wondrous light of God and receive eternal life through Christ, then God was good when Burton was arrested and God was good when Burton was released.

God is good in my health and sickness, in my wealth and poverty, in my connectedness and loneliness and in my joy and sorrow. The apostle Paul discovered this and declared that he “gloried” in his weaknesses (sorrows, pains, disappointments, injustices) because in such broken times he saw how sufficient God is (see 1 Corinthians 12). Paul declared that he had experienced it all and had learned to live in God’s peace and be content in every circumstance (see Philippians 4).

God is good…even in bad circumstances.


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