“Day of Doom” by Michael Wigglesworth, Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson, and Edward Taylor’s “Upon Wedlock and Death of Children” all have a common link: they cause the reader to question the goodness of God, and wonder how such evil can prevail if God is good.
Michael Wigglesworth writes extensively about the judgement God will pronounce on everyone: from stillborn babies, to those that do good but are not followers of God, to those that confess to be Christian. There is room for theological dialogue and disagreement, but the question remains. How can God be good and also allow eternal punishment for some? Is God merely the judge ready to send humanity on the descent to Hell?
Mary Rowlandson is captured by savages, her town is obliterated, her child dies after prolonged suffering, and she does not know the fate of her family members. Yet she thanks God and clings to faith. Is she thankful that her children are suffering? Can she really believe God is worthy of praise after what she has seen?
Edward Taylor pens the loss of a child[ren?] and follows that line with thankfulness to God because God takes away. If God were good, would he have allowed the child to die? Why is Taylor thanking God when it was God who snatched the child back?
Are these people just naïve? Are they unaware of the present conditions, and are their reactions not transcultural? Is there something missing in our perception of God that would permit us to view the world differently if we understood it?
There are several layers to the answering of the question of God’s goodness, and each layer has a ripple effect. At the center of the answer is that God is love (1 John 4:16). This is foundational to a correct concept of God. The same chapter in 1 John articulates that humans are not capable of love on their own. They are able to love because God loved first. Hold onto that idea.
The love of God (which is not the same as the current, watered down version of love) led to the creation of the universe and everything in it. God created it all and when he “saw all that he had made,” he said it “was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Even the people that God created were good, but remember God is love and God wants a true loving relationship with his creation. Love is not possible without the possibility of choice. A forced relationship is not love. So there was one thing that the first people were not supposed to do. Just one. When they decided to choose their own pursuit of power and knowledge over God, everything changed. The original design for good was decomposed into original sin.
Original sin is a theological term that, simply put, means all of humanity is born messed up. No one is untouched by the darkness of sin. “All fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This darkness is not just in people; the natural order was also affected. In Revelation 21 at the end of Scripture, John transcribes that “there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The current reality of awful, unspeakable events happening was not the original creation, and it will not be in the restored order.
This sinful nature that we have inherited is what will bring about judgement. “Day of Doom” focuses on this judgement of God. God’s judgement is outlined in Scripture. Every person is going to have to account for his or her sin, but God does not just leave people to fend for themselves. Going back to the idea that God first loved humanity, and makes it possible for his creation to have a relationship with him, God provides a way to live with him and be in his presence for eternity. There is another theological term called prevenient grace; it is the idea that God is seeking his creation out, and working for their good before they even choose him. God is not the judge looking down waiting to throw lightning bolts at those who sin. He does not delight in being separated for eternity from the very people Jesus gave his life to save. He gives us opportunities to bridge the divide that The Fall created. That first sin divided humanity from God in a way that was not intended, but Jesus and his sacrifice make it possible to be in a relationship again. If God was not good, would he have made a way for humanity to escape the very judgement Wigglesworth details?
Mary Rowlandson is uprooted from her home and comes face to face with the evil of humanity. This kind of evil did not just happen hundreds of years ago. It happens now. There are murders, genocides, and every conceivable type of evil acted out today. I have stood on fields where thousands of innocent people were brutally murdered. Where children were murdered. The skulls and bones that were preserved were not centuries old, merely decades. This evil has penetrated every time period. Does the sin of humanity, the sin and acts that people choose equate to God not being good? God could intervene, but as humans we cannot see the whole picture. We are given free will because that is what makes it possible to choose God, and in so doing, have a relationship with him that is based on real love. The difficulty in asking why does God not intervene to stop all evil is where does one draw the line? Up to what point is a person able to have free will? Or is it only certain people, “good people,” that are allowed to make their own decisions? Sometimes God does act, but it may not look like what is expected. He empowers people, and works through them to bring justice. The acts of broken people to cause harm and tragedy do not mean that God is no longer good.
The question was posed of why Rowlandson and Taylor seemed to be thankful after losing a child. How does a good God let that happen? It goes back to the disrupted order. This is not how life was supposed to look. There will come a time when there will not be pain and death again, but the sin of humanity led to a broken state. Everything was touched and affected. Taylor writes, “I say, take, Lord, they’re thine.” He understands that nothing is really humanity’s to claim. It is all created by God, and even Taylor’s children are gifted by God. They are taken, but the possibility of them even existing in the first place was a gift from God.
These three works stir a question in the reader that has been asked before and will be asked again. It is hard to believe that God can be good when we read of judgement, destruction, and pain. It is harder still when it is faced not on a page but in reality. Can the evil we see be reconciled with a good God? This post only scratches the surface of an answer. There are so many more aspects to this perceived dichotomy, and so many books have been written about it. The goodness of God or lack thereof is what each person must wrestle with. However, a final thought is that a God that would willingly enter into the darkness of humanity and take on their form, and then lay down his life to give the opportunity of redemption is not evil, but love and goodness.