By Tanya Cowley
Once upon a time, I had this really bad habit of keeping score. The game involved a nasty little comparison between everyone else and me. First, I used honed skills of judgment and self-righteousness to tally which one of us deserved the most blessings. Naturally, I won that round. Then I summed what we actually had and compared the two. Without fail, I lost.
Everyone seemed to enjoy equal measures of debauchery and wealth except me. I settled for poverty in proportion to piety. It seemed my life was rotten, moldering with abandonment and difficulty—a fact I could not reconcile with the good God I dutifully served. According to my prideful assessment, I did not live like a daughter of the King of kings.
Further, it irritated me when people who didn’t love God or follow his commandments had it good. Fortune followed as they sidestepped suffering, pain, and hard work. The ungodly seemingly frolicked through life, ignorant of their sin and free from guilt that I could never escape. If I was redeemed and they were cursed, why was my life full of adversity and neediness and conviction, while they enjoyed carefree prosperity? “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure; and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments” (Psalm 73:13, 14). Unrepentant people lived the good life, while I sanctimoniously suffered.
Tasting, Seeing, and Taking Refuge
David instructed, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (34:8). The bad taste in my mouth proved I wasn’t munching on God’s goodness. The humbling truth is that I grazed on my own bitter fruits and then blamed God for the horrible aftertaste. All that comparison sowed kernels of contempt. Rather than properly tending my heart, I cultivated those seeds of scorn and cynicism, nurturing them until they choked my faith. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you” (73:21, 22).
I could not see God’s goodness. My gaze rested squarely upon myself: both my self-righteousness and my self-pity. Not only did I grossly overestimate my virtue, but also I commiserated over every perceived slight or shortcoming, listing faults and grievances in lieu of counting blessings. Once convinced that suffering was my fate, the fate of all of God’s children, I was blind to anything but distress.
Looking through the limiting lens of this current moment skewed my view of the cross. Measuring value on a dishonest scale of worldly standards caused me to seek worthless things. My desire for worldly reward was so powerful that redemption became an afterthought. “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2, 3).
In my life, abandonment became a pattern, or perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless, the people I trusted always left. Instead of putting the fault where it lay, I took it on myself, believing I was too flawed or damaged for anyone to stick around. I was only good enough for the interim, until something better came along. As a result, I needed more and I needed to be more, both to make up for the things I inherently lacked and to compensate for my gross manufacturing defect. I was in a cutthroat competition not only to have the best, but also to be the best so no one would ever leave me again.
Further, I took the archetype first established by my worldly parents and applied it to my heavenly Father. I simply didn’t trust him. Assigning the flawed qualities of humanity to a pristine God is easy when you haven’t been tasting or seeing him. I kept waiting for the moment when he would recognize his mistake and zap me out of the annals of existence, thinking I would just fail to be because I wasn’t worthy.
More than anything, I wanted to be good enough. I coveted acceptance and took shelter in the approval of others. My petty game of comparison was really the manifestation of a deeply ingrained need to belong. Self-righteousness and self-pity were its offspring. By my thinking, earthly reward corresponded to worth. Value was proportional to others’ envy of who you were and what you possessed.
Intrinsically God’s goodness is not like man’s imperfect goodness. God does not leave. He will not fail. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (73:23, 24). This mirrors Psalm 139:10 where David wrote, “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Satan tries to separate us from God and deceives us into thinking we are too worthless for God to love and that God is too holy to be bothered with us. The Word of God repeatedly exposes this lie for what it is. So we must pick up the sword of the Spirit and attack the devil and his fabrications (Ephesians 6:17).
The Good in the Bad
The real crux here is determining exactly what we want. Are we going to squander redemption pursuing the unattainable goal of being good enough according to humanity’s misguided definition? Or are we going to allow Christ to be good enough for us?
Consider Job, a man declared “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8) by God himself. He was also rich by the world’s standards and considered “the greatest man among all the people in the East” (1:3). Then God allowed him to be stripped of everything: his riches, his health, even his family. His stateliness was swapped for suffering. From Job’s story we learn this pivotal truth: his righteousness did not exempt him from adversity. Make no mistake—Job struggled with his circumstances. His feelings bested him (6:11). The same will happen to us, and that is OK. But Job never failed to recognize the God whom he served. He remained faithful even in the midst of the adversity, trusting that even his torment was for God’s good purpose (Job 42:2). This is true for us too. That precept is foundational to our faith.
Further, Christ’s life also contradicts the notion that goodness equates to the absence of distress. It is crucial to recognize that Jesus, the embodiment of goodness, suffered in obedience to God. Jesus didn’t consider his deity an advantage or a right. He had the power to defeat death, yet he chose to become human and yield to it, all in the name of saving grace for you and for me (Philippians 2:6-8). Our regal status as children of God was only granted through the sacrifice of his unblemished lamb. Jesus was not excused from hardship even as the only begotten son of the one true God. Likewise, we adopted children of God cannot expect immunity from affliction.
God has written eternity. We only get one glimpse of one word at one time. Maybe that word is pain, suffering, loss, rejection, illness, hunger, poverty, or persecution. But it does not end there. If we close the book and toss it aside because it doesn’t make us feel good right now, we miss out on this fantastic story of unimaginable redemption and grace. Without sin, there is no need for salvation. Without malice there is no need for mercy. Without fault, there is no need for forgiveness.
It’s time to stop comparing our blessings and our hardships. It’s time to stop seeking acclaim, approval, and acceptance. It’s time to lay aside self-righteousness, self-pity, and false generalizations about our worth and the worth of others. Although God is good to all, no one can outrun suffering, and the truth is we are not good enough. I am not. You are not. Period. We are disobedient sinners deserving eternal damnation. But through the obedience of one sinless man who died a wretched and unwarranted death in our place, we are made righteous and good. And where our sin increases, grace increases all the more so that we can have an eternal life that we don’t deserve (Romans 5:19-21).
Taste that. See that. Take refuge in that. Because it’s so good.
Tanya Cowley is a wife, homeschooling mom, and part-time librarian, who occasionally blogs (boldlytanya.com).