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November 3, 2012

The special goodness of God

A cartoon in a New Yorker magazine once showed two women who have met at a restaurant. One woman says, “You know, I can’t believe how happy I’ve been lately. Trouble is, I don’t know whether it’s me or my vitamins.”

Most of us know why we are happy, if we are. The Lord is our Shepherd. I suspect no chapter in the Bible has provided so many spiritual vitamins to so many people as the 23rd Psalm. “He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul ….” If we could but allow that confidence to live in our hearts permanently, our faces would glow with an assurance that the world cannot know.

One theologian, when asked what question he would put to the Sphinx in Egypt, if he were given only one chance, replied that he would ask, “Is the universe really friendly?” The Bible’s answer, at the least, is unequivocal: Yes, the universe is friendly. God is a good and loving shepherd.

Where else does our hope in this world lie? During the early part of the Vietnam War, we heard reports of a “light at the end of the tunnel.” But that hope never materialized. Another New Yorker cartoon shows a dejected-looking man emerging from a tunnel. Why is he so downcast? The caption reads, “He discovered that the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.” Human leaders and human institutions offer only limited and fragile hope, as we realized time and time again during the presidential campaign in the fall of 2012. But when we put our hope in God, we look beyond the realm of human limitations.

Two goldfish were swimming around and around in a big glass bowl. One announced, rather crankily, that he had just become an atheist. “Oh fine, fine,” scoffed the other fish. “But explain to me who it is that you think changes the water in this bowl?” That goldfish was wiser than many people. It seems that we humans take for granted the fact that our lives often, though not always, seem stable enough, and that the air often seems fresh and invigorating, and that water is usually quite plentiful, except when a drought beckons. But suppose we had been brought up in a religious atmosphere that saw the world as being basically “hostile.”

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