Just a few nights ago, my preteen daughter and I grappled with the theological snares that threaten us all. Lying on her twin-sized bed, she revealed that she was afraid. She was afraid, first, of the things that go bump in the night, but she was also afraid of the real-life horrors plastered on our news. Our snare that night focused on this difficult topic—God does allow horrible things to happen. I could not lie to my daughter and promise her that God would never let those things happen to her. I could only offer her the promises that he himself gives—no matter what happens, he will be with us.
This promise is only helpful if we trust him, and this trust can only develop as we get to know him. In her new book In His Image, Jen Wilkin describes who God is with ten important adjectives: holy, loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, truthful, patient, and wise. Her book is structured around the topic of God’s will. Those who ponder this often couch it in terms of future jobs or relationships or opportunities. Wilkin concludes that God’s will is really about who we are, not what we do. Who we are is meant to be a reflection of God’s character.
For those who might find this smacking of Eden’s arrogance, Wilkin explains that we aren’t to try to imitate God’s incommunicable traits, the ones we don’t share with him, like his omnipotence or omniscience. Those are the traits that designate him as God. We are, instead, to emulate his communicable traits, the ones we can share with God. The book then reveals these attributes in concrete ways that we can understand, but also embody, with clear explanations, questions, and a prayer to conclude each chapter.
I had an epiphany when I got to the attribute of goodness. I realized that this is the missing piece to my daughter’s fear. She doesn’t yet know that God is good. She knows he is wise and powerful, but she wavers when it comes to him being good (at least in the daily issues of life). However, the beautiful balance is that he is good and can be trusted.
Wilkin writes, “God’s goodness is a light that radiates through all his other attributes. It is the reason his omnipotence (possession of all power), omniscience (possession of all knowledge), and sovereignty (possession of all control) are a comfort instead of a terror.”
So much of the battle of faith is not whether or not God exists. The battle is whether or not we can trust him. We see this played out in the garden when Satan causes Eve to doubt God’s intentions. We see this with Abraham as he waits upon the promise of God for years only to lay that promise on the altar. It is outlined in the faith of the Hebrews 11 champions, some who saw their hopes fulfilled and many more who did not. We also see it in our daily lives when prayers appear to go unanswered, relationships are broken, and stress abounds.
The psalmists themselves cry out their anthem of fear, struggling to understand God’s goodness in the face of unjudged evil. David’s Psalm 22 begins with the words Jesus quotes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1–2). And like many psalms, he details his grief and his frustration with his enemies, but he ends with hope. He remembers the good things that God has done and how “you have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (Psalm 22:21–22).
This is the tension in which we live our lives—the tension between the knowledge of God’s goodness and the difficulties that we must face every day. But we have not been left without help. Towering over all of history is the greatest emblem of God’s goodness—the cross. In one event, God lets us know that he feels what we feel. Jesus crying out David’s psalm of pain is essential because in it we see him able to identify with us in our darkest moments. He truly understands and is not just a stoic God who robotically offers himself. If he allows suffering, it is not because he has no idea what it feels like to hurt, but because the suffering is necessary to accomplish his good plan. The cross erases our doubt that his goodness is immune to our pain, and instead invites us to walk through our pain with the one who understands. As Wilkins writes, “Under the sovereign governance of an eternally good God, we can trust that all that is not now good will ultimately be used for our good.”
This is a faith that does not come easily. We need the benefits of repetition to remind us of these truths—repetition that comes through reading scripture and books like Jen Wilkin’s that help remind us of what we know to be true. Because, as we gaze on him and as we meditate upon his many attributes of faithfulness and perfection, we, like the psalmist, can strengthen our faith and the faith of others. When we embody these attributes, we shine his light as a beacon to those who are lost while becoming more like the one in whom we have put our faith. This is the hope that will walk my daughter, and us all, through life and the darkness it often brings.
Cover image by Kyle Wong.