I always find it fascinating that whenever something goes wrong in my life, I tend to question the purpose of it. "Why this?", "Why now?", "Why me?". Yet whenever I find myself in a favorable position, I don't raise a peep. I never question why I woke up with all my limbs intact, nor am I skeptical when my iPhone grants me blink-speed access to tons of information whenever I please.
We all question suffering, but willingly accept pleasure as if we deserve it by default. We ask where God was when evil and tragedy occurs, but his location isn't brought up when all is well. If we are to be fair and consistent, we must question why good things happen. But first, we must address the question behind the question: What is good?
Here is where subjectivity comes into play. What one person might call good, another might call bad. And though we can find many things in common between the morals of major world views, the large number of differences cannot be ignored. Morality is subjective- sort of. I say sort of because, for some reason, internally, we all know certain wrongs to be universal. Murder, theft, deceit... You can go on. Something inside all of us, call it "conscience", tells us when something isn't naturally "right". Whether it be "Human Rights", natural law, or common sense- there is something wired in all humans that gives us that knot in our stomach when we've lied to a loved one, or stolen cookies from the cookie jar. The existence of this consensus, gives a strong case for morality being objective.
CONTRADICTION! How can something be subjective and objective at the same time? Let me give you an example, hopefully this will make it clear where I'm headed with this topic of defining goodness, before we ask why good things happen.
As an artist, I create images that invoke thought and are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Artstirs up emotions, it can mean different things to different people. But, as the creator of my pieces, I know the reasoning and the purpose in all my works- because I gave them meaning. Every stroke, shape, color, and shade was put to canvas, in order for my message to be heard. Yes, a person can look at a picture of a woman I've painted and think the image is about the struggle for equal rights. But, if my message was to show the beauty of this woman, to show the significance of a mother, and I placed specific symbols in order to point to that meaning- as the creator of my work, I have the ultimate say in its significance. The audience can have their own thoughts on it, but ultimately it has a purpose and message behind it- outside of the opinions of those who look upon it.
In the Christian view of the world, God takes the role of the artist. He has molded everything we see around us, and has infused Man with his image. That connection to the creator is what gives us our meaning. He made us in His image, as a symbol of our intrinsic value. He createdour systems of thought, our emotions, our five senses ( seven if you count our sense of "time" and "space"). We constantly try to define ourselves, give meaning to our own lives, interpret what we think our purpose is. We look at God's creation (ourselves), and give our subjective thoughts about our meaning. But, ultimately, God's purpose for us is the original truth behind us all. When it comes the natural law of good and evil, it is subjective- not to human thought- but to the creator of the natural law and morality, God. God defines what is good, and what is evil. Morality is only subjective to Him, because He created it. Morality is objective for us, because we were made by Him.
So, what does this have to do with morals, and more specifically, goodness?
Well, morality is a creation of God. He defines what right and wrong is, like an artist defines the dark and light strokes of a painting. We can only know what is TRULY good, by learning what God has declared to be good.
So lets start with the most important factor of what distinguishes good in God's eyes- Himself.
God is Good
God does not declare Himself to be good, no, He IS good. Anything and everything that is good stems from Him. Goodness does not and cannot exist outside of Him, just like life can't sustain itself without Him. When God declares something to be good, He is stating that it aligns itself with His will. When He looked at the earth after creating it, He kept declaring that it was good. When He made a man and woman to accompany each other, He said it was good.
I keep thinking of a sculptor, chiseling away at a block of stone. From time to time, he takes a step back to observe his work, to make sure it is forming up to the image he wants to portray. All the while, he tells himself "that's good". Why? Because it's conforming to his will and desire for what the object will ultimately be.
With creation, God has called good, all things that coincide with His nature. Love is good, Because God is Love. Justice is good Because God is Just. Man was good because He was made in God's image, but since that image is distorted, we have fallen away from the picture of goodness God had for us, and need to be redeemed- we will save that part for the end.
Most of the things that we find to be good are reflections of God's character, and evidence of His handiwork in creation. A mother holding her newborn child in her arms. A father sacrificing his life to save his children from danger. An honest judge who is not enticed by bribes or personal gain. Charity, kindness, selflessness, humility, courage, hope- all these things come from God. Even material things like food, water, shelter, the land, the sea, the sunset, the night sky, these good things are signs that God has made to point to Himself as creator; to point to Himself as worthy of praise and worship.
So if God is good, and good things all stem back from Him, then when good things happen to us they come from God. That means, whether believer or unbeliever, when good things happen it is because God is allowing an aspect of Himself to be displayed in our lives, so that we may turn to Him and worship. When we see galaxies far, far away (star wars reference) we should be praising the Lord of existence for His workmanship. When we get married, and we get to consummate our commitment to our spouse with sex, we can turn around and thank God for this symbol of intimacy and love that He has given us, that is a shadow of the oneness we will have with Him one day. God is good!
But then, why don't good things ALWAYS happen? Why are there sucky days? What do we say when the newborn child in the mother's arms dies? Or when your spouse cheats? Or you failed that exam?
This is when we revisit the issue of the inherent goodness of man being distorted. God looked at man when He made Him, and said he was good. Then man fell. The image of God was perverted, the sculpture cracked, the painting vandalized. Things weren't good anymore. The worst part about it is that it affected the rest of creation, and in doing so, brought all types of devastating consequences: Sin, sickness, pain, and death. The being that was created in God's image, does not display Him properly. On the contrary, man mocks and defames His image, by living in rebellion against Him. We try to sculpt ourselves, which would be humorous if it wasn't so disastrous. Think about it, every artist has a point of reference when making a masterpiece. Whether it be live models, objects, landscapes, mental images, dreams- there is always something to point back to. Even God had a point of reference: Himself. But when broken beings, in a broken world, reject the only point of reference that is actually good- what will they look to for inspiration? Whatever it is that they choose to mold themselves after, it will not be good because it is not God. If God is good, a man trying to chisel himself in the image of anything else is aiming to be evil.
So let's asses the situation: God is good. Everything that is good comes from Him, and is an aspect of His character. Man was good but fell, affecting all of creation around him. Man rejects God, and seeks to define himself, looking at anything but God to imitate and worship. So now, you have a crumbling world, filled with broken statues trying to recast their mold in the shape of other broken statues. And yet for some reason, God's image still resonates enough that we can point to it and know that it is good. Which leads us to our original question- why do good things happen? In a world filled with the consequences of sin, filled with people blaspheming God's name and His purpose for them, and wrought with maligned and false images of god- how does good still come about?
Two words: Mercy and Grace.