“… Only the Good”

Yesterday I was in the car and we passed by a church signboard that caught my eye. I wasn’t able to snap a picture, but this is what it said:

God, let me see only the good today.

In some respects, I get that sentiment. There’s often more good going on in the world than we are inclined to acknowledge or able to realise. And looking for the good is a valuable strategy for dealing with evil situations, as Mr. Rogers reminds us:

But I have to admit, I’m not wholly convinced. Not that we shouldn’t be looking for the good — there’s nothing wrong with that — but that we should be striving to see only the good. Refusing to see anything but the good is a profoundly inadequate response to the ills and evils of the world. Too often, seeing only the good means sweeping things under the rug, denying the reality of real problems, and working for a peace that has everything to do with not rocking the boat, and nothing to do with justice, righteousness, or mercy.

Last week I came across this article by Kendall Cox entitled “Everybody’s Business“, about sexual assault on campus and the phenomenon of cheap grace. It’s a fantastic read, and towards the end she points out that the Christian response to evil and suffering should be, first of all, lament:

When we are confronted with someone else’s suffering, our immediate inclination should be to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rm. 12:15, NIV) — not to question or moralize. I recall my Old Testament professor in seminary saying that when reality does not correspond to God’s truth, “we only move into God’s kingdom through lament.” In my limited experience in North America, Christians tend to avoid the work of mourning and lament, even though scripture gives us a substantial basis for doing so (e.g., through Lamentations and the Psalms of Lament). “Negativity” of various kinds is suppressed, ecclesially as well as socially. This is especially the case for women, in whom even the most righteous anger is seen as unattractive and unfeminine.

Lament also helps us see the judgment of God in a new way. I grew up in a denomination that only spoke of divine judgment as a terrible thing to be dreaded by the individual sinner. When I began reading scripture and theology for myself, I was surprised to find that throughout much of the Hebrew Bible, “judgment” is portrayed as a balm for the weary and oppressed. It just depends on which side you’re on really. God’s judgment is also God’s grace and blessing for the brokenhearted. It means: God sees. For many of us, this is actually an enormous relief.

A related reason to hold out space for lament is that Christians can move prematurely to “forgiveness,” which is often the most counterproductive term to introduce in cases of physical violence. We can have a dangerously platitudinous understanding of what it requires and how it should function in the life of faith. Advising forgiveness — or mercy, or grace — at the wrong moment can heap further injustice onto the wounded. It is scripturally unjustifiable to pass over truth-telling and mourning in favor of a cheap and underdeveloped sense of “letting it go.” “Forgiveness” may, on closer observation, function as a whitewashing of deeply problematic human responses to the pain of others. Victim-blaming and denial are closely related to cheap grace.

There are things happening in this world that should make us weep. There are things happening in this world that should make us angry. There are things happening in this world that we can never heal, that we can never confront, that we can never bring the love of God into, if we won’t look at them directly and see them for what they are.

“God, let me see only the good today” is a comfortable prayer. Seeing the good is nice. It makes us feel good — but, I wonder, at what cost? Maybe what we need aren’t comfortable prayers but brave ones: “God, let me see the world with your eyes today.”