He has also given us intellect and conscience with which we can come to know the good and its opposite.
The phrase seems simple. Just four words: “The Lord is good…,” yet these simple words reveal the very sum of the nature of God. God is perfectly good, the source of all that is good in the universe and in our individual lives. Because God is good, everything he created is good, yes, even us. The question arises then, “If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?” The answer is not what most want to hear. All of that suffering is the result of our misuse of one of the greatest goods God gave us, our free will. God does not take back what he has freely and generously given. He has also given us intellect and conscience with which we can come to know the good and its opposite. It is our free will that chooses to cooperate with the good, or to rebel from it. The evil that occurs in human society, in all of its various manifestations, is our doing, not God’s.
But Nahum also tells us something else about the nature of God, which comes from his perfect goodness. The second clause in the verse above tells us that he is, “…a refuge in times of trouble.” There are two kinds of “times of trouble.” One is when we are among those who are suffering from the willfully unjust acts of others. In these times we can count on the goodness of God to be our defender, our support, and our strength. The other is when it is we who have rebelled from our natural goodness and have come face to face with the consequences of our actions or words. It is when we have experienced the overwhelming reality of our guilt, when we have felt the stunning force of real sorrow for what we have done to others. In those troubling times when we become aware of our own sinfulness and feel the deepest sense of sorrow for having sinned; when we feel the need to be forgiven, to have the weight of our guilt lifted from us, we can count on God to be our forgiving and encouraging refuge. In his perfect goodness, he desires only the good for us. When we have fallen, he is there to forgive us, to heal us, to encourage our repentance, and our penance. You see, God’s goodness arises out of his perfect love for us. He showed this perfect goodness, this perfect love for us in Jesus Christ. “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
As Christians, we believe that God has created us to be in relationship with him. That relationship is, like any other, rooted in trust. “He cares for those who trust in him.” We need not be concerned about God’s love for us. It is perfect and good. It is our trust in that love that we must develop in faith and in action. Believing in his perfect love and goodness, you would think it would be easy to trust in him. But we are weak, even in our faith at times. Sometimes, in the midst of our troubles, we can experience doubt. Our egos sometimes claim more than is rightfully, or naturally ours and we rebel like petulant children when we do not get our way. This is the nature of sin. But the goodness of God has conquered sin and death. We can trust this in faith. And, if we take the necessary time for self-reflection in prayer, we may see how his goodness has indeed been present to us, yes, even in the midst of our troubles.
The Jews experienced all of this. They had suffered from the rapacious Assyrians who were the scourge of the Near East for three centuries. The Assyrians were vicious and ruthless in victory. In the wake of their conquests they were known for piling up mounds of heads, impaling bodies, and for enslaving those that they did not kill. They were avaricious in their looting of conquered cities. They had conquered Israel’s capital of Samaria in 722 B.C. and only twenty years later, Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, was nearly conquered by the Assyrians. Nahum uttered this prophecy against the hated city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, shortly before its fall in 612 B.C.
Nahum is not a prophet of revenge though. Rather, he asserts God’s moral (good) government of the world. For him, God stands against oppression and abuse of power. Nineveh’s demise is viewed as an act of divine justice and is greeted by their smaller, weaker neighbors as a time of deliverance, a moment of renewal, and a message of peace. The coming of Jesus into the world can be understood in the same way. Jesus is the sign of contradiction that came among us to save us from the the rapaciousness of sin, in its manifold forms: war, oppression, and social injustices of every kind on the larger scale, but also from the personal sins of pride, greed, jealousy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth. This is why we can trust in God. This is why we can call God good, and a refuge in times of trouble.
Lord, you are good, indeed. Your love overwhelms us and we call on you in our times of trouble to be our refuge and our strength. Give us the grace to trust in you in all things at all times. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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