We must fall in line with God’s understanding of goodness, and not the other way around.
When we meet someone we have not seen in a long time, we might ask, “How have you been?” We sometimes hear the response, “I’m fine. God has been good.” By this, we often mean that things have been going well for us. Many of us give such a reply as a catchphrase, without intending to convey any deeper message. However, the phrase “God has been good” is a rather problematic one.
It seems to be based on the notion that the goodness of God is in some way dependent on the way He treats us. If He causes things to go smoothly for us, He is good. Otherwise (and this converse is usually not verbalised), He might actually not be that good a God. This kind of thinking is very much in line with the “human-centred” Christianity we see so much of in Singapore today.
A “human-centred” Christianity is simply one where the focus is still very much on ourselves. While we claim to worship God and to have given him our all, the most fundamental goal of our Christian faith is actually the enrichment of the self.
So, our primary concerns remain things like: “How can I ensure a comfortable and successful life for myself and my loved ones? How can I find the resources to cope with the challenges which an ever-changing world presents to me? How can I make sure that my eternity is secure in heaven?”
The various aspects of the Christian faith like prayer, reading the Bible, attending church worship, giving our tithes etc., are viewed as means towards answering these primary concerns. In our obsession with the self, even God ends up as a means towards an end.
God is seen as valuable chiefly because of the things He is able to do for us. We see the main purpose of God’s existence as being to serve us and help us reach our goals. This subtly leads us to judge the extent of God’s goodness according to how “good” He has been to us, in terms of granting us the kind of life we desire.
Some sectors of Christianity in Singapore go further and claim that they have discovered the formula for inducing this God to bless us in the precise ways we desire. So, for example, we sometimes hear the exhortation for us to give financially to the church, because God will surely return the favour many times over in terms of monetary blessings.
God, in our human-centred Christianity, has become something akin to a vending machine – just slot the right amount of the right type of Christian activities, and He will dispense precisely what you ordered.
The proper Christian understanding of God is a diametrically opposite one. God is at the centre, and we unworthy creatures have been given the unimaginable privilege of standing around His throne to worship and serve Him. Moreover, God is good – full stop. By definition, God is perfect goodness, and all that He does is totally in accordance with His perfectly good nature.
So, even if our health should fail, even if our career goes into a tailspin, even if the terrible things which happened to the Old Testament character Job should happen to us, God is still good. God’s goodness does not depend on Him meeting our desires. We must fall in line with God’s understanding of goodness, and not the other way around.
Many of us Christians in Singapore need a “re-centring” of our faith, to shift the focus away from ourselves unto God. Perhaps a small way to start is to change the way we speak. Instead of saying “God has been good”, we can say “God is good”. This is an affirmation we make, sometimes more by faith than by sight. But it is an affirmation that, by God’s grace, might slowly nudge us away from the centre, and allow God to assume his rightful place.
God is good – full stop. By definition, God is perfect goodness, and all that He does is totally in accordance with His perfectly good nature.
Dr Leow Theng Huat is a lecturer of Church History and Theology at Trinity Theological College. He is married to Cheng Ping, and they have three children. The family worships at Wesley Methodist Church.