My problem with religion centered on my definition of “good.” During my childhood years spent bouncing between various Christian denominations, I believed that I was an inherently good person.
A Roman Catholic priest sprinkled me with holy water as an infant. I went through confirmation classes and proclaimed my faith in a Presbyterian church as a pre-teen. At a Billy Graham Crusade during my teen years, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. But by the time I was entering my junior year of college, I wanted nothing to do with religion.
My problem with religion centered on my definition of “good.” During my childhood years spent bouncing between various Christian denominations, I believed that I was an inherently good person. When I compared myself to others, I seemed to be doing better than most. After all, I was a “Good Girl”: straight-A student, editor of my school newspaper, varsity athlete, and an involved participant in a variety of other activities. When most kids were in the angst of teenage rebellion, I was happily at home, reading a book and falling asleep before midnight. See, I was such a good girl.
At the time, I didn’t understand what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” (25:8). In his book, Attributes of God, A.W. Pink wrote, “The ‘goodness’ of God refers to the perfection of His nature: ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better.” I did not look to God for my standard of goodness. Instead, I relied on myself: my circumstances, my feelings, my intellect. And I soon found my ideas of what it meant to be good challenged in college.
For so long, I thought being good meant staying out of trouble. And, honestly, staying out of trouble was no longer fun. So, I rejected Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18: “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit.” After another night partying with friends, I stumbled back home alone and felt despondent. In my worst moment, I heard God say to me, “My daughter, I have more for you than this.”
I may have wanted nothing to do with religion, but God was not interested in calling me to religion. He was calling me to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was transforming my heart so that I would come to know that I was never going to be good compared to a perfect, righteous God.
James 1:16-18 encapsulates Gospel change in the life of the believer: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.”
The “word of truth” is Jesus, who is humanity’s good news. As one commentator says, “He truly expresses God, presents the true ideal of man, in Himself summarizes the harmony of existence and becomes the agent for unifying the disordered world.” As Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
In the last decade, I have moved from California to Indiana to North Carolina. I have walked through seasons of chronic illness, depression, and personal loss. As a military spouse, I have attended the funeral of my husband’s best friend, who died in combat far too young. I have questioned why God would have me go through an M.A. and a Ph.D. program, which did not lead to a job as a college professor.
I have learned the hard way that when I look to myself for all the answers, I get lost in anger, bitterness, and doubt. Instead, I now pray for a heart like Jesus, who glorified God in everything that He did. Even in tear-filled moments, I can now say that I rejoice in my ever-faithful, good God. Not because I see myself as a good girl. But because He gave me the Word of Truth to withstand even the worst seasons of life.