The Problem of Gratuitous Good

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and it was all very good.

God makes each day out of love. It’s we who fail to notice it, or sally in and destroy it.

The problem of evil has a counterpart. Assuming that evil is native to our state—whether we consider it relative or not, and whether we consider it part of our original state, such as an evolutionary mechanism, or not—we still have to explain the problem of good.

Evil, it seems, is far more reasonable than good. We can invent a plethora of justifications for it. We’re excellent at that—it seems to be part of human nature to be able to explain evil. Even arbitrary, gratuitous, overwhelming evil can be attributed to natural selection, natural processes, or if all else fails, blamed on whatever deities we aren’t sure exist.

But gratuitous, arbitrary, overwhelming good? It baffles us.

And not only that, we’re starving for it. Our starvation for that overwhelming ocean of goodness sells millions of lottery tickets per year, makes Las Vegas what it is, and is subverted into every kind of greed and lust. We have an emptiness, and we long to fill it.

Then, the odd time it does come, the odd time we do recognize it, we experience giddiness, or guilt, or both. We stride the top of the world for a very short season, and then we inevitably fall.

We’re starving, but we don’t know what food is.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money, come, buy and eat.
Come! Buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.

Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.

~Isaiah 55:1-2

Dave and I left at 6:30 yesterday morning and drove to the nearest border crossing. The guard on duty was friendly and relaxed. He chatted with us and waved us on through. The sunrise was a gorgeous luxury. The fall colours were bright, and the grass wore a light frost, yet it didn’t feel cold.

We sat in the Minot airport and had coffee together, and then David put me on the plane. I told My Liege not to worry, because his Good Sir Knight would be waiting faithfully on the far end to look after things. I kissed my husband goodbye, and that, too, was a gorgeous luxury.

The regional jet to Minneapolis is one I’ve taken before. It’s a claustrophobic little thing with only two narrow seats on each side of the aisle, and even I have to duck to keep from hitting my head. I found myself beside an older gentleman with a cowboy hat and a southern accent I couldn’t quite place. Not Georgia, not Texas, not Alabama. The Florida panhandle, as it turned out. We spent the flight chatting about farming and ranching, books, the oil field, and the economy.

I smiled when I disembarked. I know the Minneapolis terminal, and being in a familiar place was a grace. I got lunch, found my next departure gate, and sat down in the waiting area beside two ladies who happened to be talking about books. As it turned out, one of them was a writer with a very interesting story. Her book is now on my to-read list.

I slept all the way to Austin. Found some supper, and a corner near my next departure gate where the floor was clean and I could lay down and stretch out my back. A boy about five years old and his toddling sister were running in circles around the chairs. He was telling wild stories—that one could be a great writer someday—and she was carrying Winnie the Pooh and her baby doll, and cleaning things with a napkin.

The two of them got up on a chair, side by side. The boy was repeating something goofy in a growly voice, and every time he did, the baby chuckled till she started to sound like a squeaky toy. I love the squeaky-toy baby laugh. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard it at our house.

I lay there, partly reading, and partly listening to a Hispanic woman talking to the man beside her. Every time she said, gracias, I couldn’t help but think, grace.

We boarded early, then sat on the runway, delayed, for another half hour. I love planes—I’d forgotten how much I love planes—but I was tired, and I had some Texans I wanted to see before I conked out for the night. Time dragged.

Then the engines fired up, and the plane began to taxi. It turned, and I saw the most amazing sky. The clouds looked like they’d been threaded with gold, and the pink and red rose up to a pale blue as fine as rare porcelain. Just off to the right, a jet soared into the panorama. It took my breath away.

I thought of David. My husband is a prime example of Christ to me sometimes. He’ll take me out of my comfort zone, without telling me what’s going on or what to expect. All he tells me is, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” He makes me wait while he slows down the day. He brings everything to a halt as he sets the moment he had in mind. And then he tells me, and shows me, in some unique way that’s personal to me, that he loves me.

If we’d gone on time, I would have missed it. I had tears running down my face as I watched the sunset change, like a painting being worked on by an invisible Artist. Does God hold up a whole plane just so one child can worship Him?

Not just one. God stops a whole plane so that everyone there could have the gift He made of the day, if they choose to see it. But it felt like I was the only one who noticed. A single leper out of the bunch, who, for once, thought to say thank you.

The plane made its charge down the runway. I love the feel of leaping into the sky. I love the tilt as we ascend, and the roll as the course changes. I love the feeling of being on air instead of ground. Flying, too, is a gorgeous luxury. An arbitrary, overwhelming gift—to soar.

Lord God, You couldn’t shout any louder at me…I love You too.

The world took on a shroud of misty blue, and as it darkened, the landscape below began to shine with glimmers like fairy lights. We cut through wisps of cloud, and I watched them trail across the wing. Joy, and mystery, and a hint of magic. I couldn’t stop smiling. Hello, my Texas.

Behind me, the whole way, a young father sat berating his 15-month-old toddler, requiring the child to sit down, even though a diaper change was desperately needed. The child screamed in frustration, the father scolded. No. I don’t care. You are not getting your way, you will sit. I don’t need this right now.

Easily explainable, from both sides. They’d been on the plane all day, from New York, and still had three hours to get to San Diego. The father was tired, the child was tired and dirty and uncomfortable.

We have no problem making sense of those things.

Houston came into view as we began to descend. A big city is a place full of arbitrary, gratuitous, overwhelming evil, and plenty of justifications. Put four million people together, and plenty of them will spend the night beating, stabbing, shooting, raping, doing drugs, or benignly and continually neglecting each other in favour of indulging in the comforts of prosperity.

Starving world.

From up high, though, the city was like a spiderweb covered in dew, with the light shining through it. A cobweb of lights, stretching to the horizon, where the air changes somehow, and I know it’s the Gulf breathing. I know that air. It’s poetry, and presence, and I love it.

I love You, too.

I disembarked and went to find my luggage and my ride. Had to duck around a pack of Japanese in perfectly-tailored business suits who were busy hitting each other and yelling over whose bags were whose.

Found my bag, and found my Texan. “Sorry,” I said. “We were delayed. But, actually, it was about perfect. Did you see that sunset?”

Good Sir Knight smiled. “Yeah, I watched it all the way up here. Amazing.”

I’m glad I wasn’t the only leper who saw it. Gratuitous, arbitrary, overwhelming good, bleeding in around the edges of a broken world.

Explain that.

~Scienda

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9 comments

  1. I’ve kept the tab containing this post open on my browser for two days straight, ever since first reading it. Despite much contemplation of how to respond, I have nothing coherent to say, other than, “Lovely,” but that doesn’t begin to encompass my thoughts.

    I’m keeping a copy, just so I can read it again.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. That’s about the highest compliment I’ve ever received.

      It was an entire day of something that usually only happens in small moments, and I just wanted to write it down so I wouldn’t lose it in the rush of life.

  2. I only just got to this now; it’s indeed so beautiful it’s beyond words. Times like this you bring a tear to my eye, but also to my heart a strong and growing desire to go and do likewise.

    THIS is what we write for.

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