The Good, the Bad, and the Ordinary
Christians take comfort in believing God is at work. If I look at myself and I don’t see what I want to see, I say God is working, and He is not done yet. The future holds a better me. Likewise, I may look at my life and think it falls short. Yet, God is at work here, too. As Paul said, “God is able to give beyond what we can ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)” My present may be dark, but my future is bright. It is all unfolding according to God’s plan.
These are popular sentiments, and they have been the subject of countless books and sermons. If anyone tries to cast doubt upon such hope, we can call scores of scriptures to our defense. God will make us good people and give us good lives. We can view it no other way. To do so is unbelief!
When I was much younger, the Lord spoke to my heart and said He would bless my life. This is nothing extraordinary. The Bible says this is God’s intent for everyone, yet that day God’s vow became personal. Our journey with God often begins with a promise. We notice this throughout the scriptures. Yet, God speaks from above, but we have ears at home in the world below. We interpret God’s word through ego and the finite realm, and such interpretations are always wrong.
God is at work to fulfill His word, but sometimes the most important part of that work is changing our minds. Most likely, at journey’s end we will see that the promise belonged to us all along. It was our old paradigm that kept us from seeing it. Our great struggle is not to become or to obtain but to comprehend what is so. This is what transforms us.
In past articles we have talked about how God changes our mind about who we are. He does so by convicting us of Christ. Our identity is tied to His identity. We share in who He is. Our old paradigm which is based on our good and evil is our blindness. The new paradigm which is based on Christ is the light. The old mind doesn’t die easily, and it can masquerade as light. Only God can take us to its end, and when He does, it is the end of our world; the old identity collapses. We realize we are not who we thought we were but the new creation, clothed not in shame but in glory, living not in poverty but possessing infinite treasure.
In this article we will turn our focus to our lives. God’s work is to change our minds about all of life. So, let us begin with a question: “How’s it going?” This common greeting invites us to rate our lives. We can brush it off by saying we are doing fine, or we can tell people what we really think (Often to their dismay!). We sometimes say our life is great, because we feel that way, or we can use many colorful metaphors to describe life when it is bad.
So, honestly, how is it going? Our answer might depend on whether good things or bad things are happening. Do we have what we want? Somehow life doesn’t seem as good when we don’t. We feel alive when our dreams come true and their death can feel like we are dying with them.
We have a great need to accomplish. Our opinion of ourselves is high on the days we get a lot done, and we loathe ourselves on the days we can’t make anything happen. It is not just a daily thing. We want an accomplished life. The alternative is a wasted life, and nobody wants that. With life, we want to make it count, and if it doesn’t, we can hardly call it good.
Other people have a powerful influence on how we judge life. What are they saying about the world? If someone in the news media proclaims things are bad, we trust them. When we watch bad things happening to enough people, we feel guilty about proclaiming life is good. Yet, if the media only told us about good things, we would have trouble excluding ourselves from the celebration.
What people are saying about us is another factor. When people are singing our praises, it is hard not to suppose life is good, but when they hate us, life can appear dismal. Then there is being alone. Can life ever be good when we are lonely? Some say our relationships (or lack of them) shape our opinion of life more than anything.
Our health is another big issue, so much so we say, “If you have your health, you have everything!” Is it possible to view life as good when your body is failing you? We could go on and on about the things that make us happy or sad. Our viewpoint is very fickle. Even something like the weather can cloud our opinion of life.
Have you ever noticed how we perceive God is tied to how we perceive life? When we experience good things, we praise God. “God is great, and life is good!” We are certain that He is real and very near. Yet, when things go wrong, we might wonder where the Lord is, or we might get mad at Him. The tie we make between God and our quality of life is so great that bad things can make us forsake the Lord or even deny His existence
If you have ever debated an atheist, their most powerful argument against God is usually the existence of evil in the world. They point to all the bad things that happen and say, “If God is real, why doesn’t He make it stop?” if we regard life as merely the sum of all the good and bad things we experience, such questions are difficult to answer. We retreat to routine answers like the Devil is bad, and that is why bad things happen. We talk of a fallen world saying bad things came when Adam sinned and that is our lot until Jesus returns and makes everything good. If we define life through the finite world, it is difficult to find meaning in adversity, so all we can do is assign blame. It is only when we throw away the finite scales of bad and good and gaze at the infinite that we find meaning in suffering. When we behold that which transcends good and bad, we see glory in all of life.
2nd Corinthians chapters eleven and twelve reveal how God changed Paul’s mind concerning the good and bad of life. The story revolves around the apostle’s mysterious thorn in the flesh. It was unbearable and Paul wanted it gone. People debate what his burden was, but in my opinion, he explained it in chapter eleven (II Corinthians 11:22-33). It was trouble. Someone wanted to silence him everywhere he went, and violence was their tool. The Romans beat him with rods, and his countrymen beat him with whips. Some tried to kill him with large rocks. But Paul’s thorn wasn’t just his opponents, bad things happened to him… a lot. Three times he was shipwrecked. Imagine that, you are out working for God and your ship doesn’t make it to its destination. Where was the Lord’s protection?
It got so bad the apostle despaired even of life. He wanted to die! We all imagine we know what is best for us. Perhaps Paul thought he would be better off without whippings and beatings, and he didn’t like people throwing rocks at him either. Maybe if he asked in faith, the Lord would give him a life he could handle. He was tired of living at the end of his rope. At first God responded with silence. At the right time the Lord spoke, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
What Paul needed was not more good and less bad. He needed a revelation. A revelation is the end of a paradigm, the death of ego. God unveils the infinite. It is as if the Lord takes us to the heavenly realm and gives us the view from above, and from there everything looks different. So great was Paul’s change he began to boast in the things he asked God to remove! What if you knew someone who looked at all the bad stuff in life and said, “Isn’t it wonderful?” You might think they had lost their mind. What did Paul realize that changed his mind so completely?
Some might say the apostle was making a statement of faith. Faith is calling things that aren’t as though they are (Romans 4:17). So, if we declare good when everything looks bad, God will change bad to good. This is normally the way faith is taught. Yet, this confines faith’s purpose to the finite, and that is never the destination with God. At times we try to hijack God’s purpose (the infinite) and replaced it with our purpose (the finite), but this is just spiting in the wind. We try to use faith to make the world the way we want it, but God won’t allow it, and that is why He refused give Paul a life he could handle and instead kept him at the end of his rope. He had something to show Paul, and that is where he could best behold it. Weakness was the apostle’s vantage point to behold the infinite… the strength of God.
The world sees life as an endless flow of bad and good. When we are younger, we are certain life will be only good, but it doesn’t take long for life to change our mind. If we were to compare life to a river, we might say it is a river filled with bad and good. Sometimes the current takes us to the good and sometimes to the bad.
We try to control the river assuming if we can get enough money or power, we can make the river to our liking. Yet, such control is an illusion. Even the wealthiest people do not escape the bad things of life. If we know we cannot control the river, we try to get God to do it. We trust if we have enough faith, He will. Even if we go through the bad, God will ultimately take us to something good. The good is God’s goal for us. As Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This outlook is a paradigm, a mindset, a way of looking at and defining life. We can call it the good and bad paradigm. If this sounds familiar, it should. It is closely related if not part of the good and evil paradigm that enticed Adam and Eve. And a paradigm is hard to change. Our paradigm is so ingrained in us we regard it as truth. It is how we define reality. The only thing that can destroy a paradigm is a revelation. That is what a revelation is. It is the end of the old mind and the birth of the new. It is the truth that sets us free. When the old paradigm collapses, our reality collapses with it. Suddenly, everything is new.
We are all trapped in the good and evil (bad) paradigm. It is the mind of the flesh, and its essence is the ego or self. Christ is the light that dispels the darkness. When Paul saw God’s glory, it changed how he viewed life. It was no longer the sum of bad and good but Christ. Christ was Paul’s life, and increasingly, that is all he could see no matter if life was good or bad.
The apostle knew Jesus did not come just give us a ticket to heaven. His objective was not to take us out of a terribly imperfect would, but to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. That was the good news. Through Christ the realm of God was being revealed and it would come to define reality. Christ came to give us God, and Paul was convinced the Lord was relentless about the gift.
This was the heart of Paul’s faith. He understood faith’s greatest purpose is not to control the river, to make the finite world the way we want. It is to obtain the infinite, to know and to partake of Christ. He believed God gave the infinite in both the bad and the good, and especially in the bad. Life… all of it… is the habitation of God, the place God gives Himself to us. This is the revelation that shook the apostle to the core and made Him regard even the worst of places as holy.
It is easy to see God’s gift in the good, though the old paradigm can blind us even here. When blessings overtake us, it is God overtaking us. Finite blessings are signs that the infinite is present. This is why Jesus called His miracles signs. Through Christ God changed some very bad circumstances to very good circumstances. God does that, but even then, Jesus’s miracles pointed to the infinite. They were visible blessings that helped people realize the unseen had come among them.
Most missed the point, seeing only the finite blessings. Recall on one occasion Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give glory to God (Luke 17:11-19). Only one got the point. Likewise, in our day we still worship the finite so much that we remain in the river of good and evil even though God’s miracles bid us to leave it. Instead of taking our home above together with Christ, we try to drag God into the realm of the ego.
God does not inhabit just the good but also the bad. Paul deemed even the worst things as places to meet God, vantage points to behold infinite glory. No one likes being weak, and no one stuck in the good and bad paradigm would ever glory in it. Yet, Paul perceived it as a glorious place, because it was the best place to behold God’s strength. He saw weakness as a somewhere the Lord took Him, and no place God takes us is really bad. The end of the finite is the beginning of the infinite, so we should glory in those endings. Though the journey is sometimes painful, the view from weakness is worth every step down along the way. Knowing this, Paul declared, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
No one enjoys being a failure, and we especially don’t like failing God, but failure is a vital part of our journey. From failure we can behold the infinite measure of our worth… the faithfulness of Christ. Finite success is never an adequate measure of who we are. When God takes that measure away, and the world moves us into the category of failure, we are close to home, an infinite measure of who we are. Recall the story of the Prodigal Son. It was when he was at his lowest that the son turned to home. Likewise, in our lowliness we abandon the realm of self for the realm of God.
We must understand the essence of our story. The world only accepts failure if it leads to success, and the world glories in such stories. Yet, God’s purpose for failure is not to toughen us up so we can succeed. He doesn’t want us to get back in the saddle and do what we have always done only better. He wants us to let go of the finite for the infinite. Our identity is only realized, never achieved, because it is God’s achievement, His doing. Failure is the vantage point to realize what is so and find rest.
No one wants to be hated or judged. No one chooses to be alone. Yet, in the Bible God always sent his beloved to aloneness and sometimes intense rejection. Who would volunteer to go there? Only those who know God is waiting to meet them there. No matter how many people love us and praise our name, it is still a finite measure, one that always fades. Sometimes God silences human approval so we can hear His, and when we hear His voice, the applause of people becomes irrelevant, and we wonder why we ever loved it.
No one likes not having. If we could decide between being a have or a have not, we all would choose to be one who has. We look up to those who are rich thinking they are more important and have a better life than we do. This is where the good and bad paradigm leads us. Those who accumulate more of the good are more and have more.
Jesus’s view was entirely different. He said the rich and powerful were at a disadvantage (Matthew 19:23). Let that sink in. Those who had it all in the world’s eyes had trouble seeing the Kingdom of God. When our finite measure of life is great, it is hard to receive the infinite measure. We cannot live by both measures any more than we can live by our own righteousness and the righteousness of Christ. We either live in the world with its finite measures of who we are and what we have, or we live in the heavenlies together with Christ, in the infinite measures of who we are and what we have.
The measure of Paul and his life was Christ. So, to the apostle weakness was not a sign of God’s disapproval but of His favor. It was not a place of shame but of glory. It was a banqueting table where he sat down together with God.
Everything looks different from above. From below, the vantage point of the ego, only the good is worthy. Yet, from above we realize the good, the bad, and the ordinary are all holy.
I have pondered the dirt in this story. You might think I have too much time on my hands! Yet, I believe that soil has much to say to us. What made this plot of ground so special it carried the title, “Holy”? Was it particularly well-behaved dirt, somehow less dirty than all the rest? Maybe it was very special dirt, unlike any other, perhaps solid gold? No, what made the ordinary dirt holy was God’s presence. Where the finite and the infinite are together, there is holiness.
This should tell us something about our own lives. The scriptures say that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. A temple is a house, a place of dwelling. Our lives are the place we and God dwell together, the place where the finite and the infinite become one. Therefore, every second of our lives is sacred and of infinite value. Yet, this is something we see, not something we achieve. Therefore, those who remain in the good and bad paradigm will classify life as good, bad, or ordinary. They will always be in search of glory but will never quite find it. Those who boast in Christ live in the glory of God. It is their home and the measure of all of life. To them the infinite defines the finite, every place, every second, and every person. They behold God and in seeing they comprehend who they are. The reality of the ego fades in the brightness of the reality of God. (II Corinthians 3:18)