Thursday, March 27, 2014

God Is Good...Right?

A friend took a trip overseas, and was surprised and pleased to see that her bags had not gotten caught up in customs, but had arrived with her. She posted her happiness on Facebook, and noted, "God is good."

Another friend asked for prayer for her sick relative. When he recovered, she posted, "God is good. My dad is well. Prayer really does work!!!"

It's good to be grateful, and to thank God for the things in our lives that go right. But it bothers me when people of faith connect God's goodness to things going right. God is still good even if our luggage gets lost or dad is still sick. God is still good, even when the worst possible thing happens. 

Right? I believe this. I want to believe it. But in the middle of loss, grief, and sorrow, sometimes I struggle to believe it. "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief."

If we only declare the goodness of God when things go our way, what are we saying about God? And about ourselves, and our faith? We seem to be saying that God's goodness is somehow connected to good outcomes. Of course this isn't what we believe--or at least, it's not what we say we believe, nor what the Bible says about the character of God. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever" (Psalm 136:1). 

We believe that God is good all the time, that it is one of His immutable characteristics, like holiness, justice and omniscience. But we tend to only declare it when we feel it--and this tendency has two negative effects: number one, we are testifying to other believers that this is the primary way we know that God is good--by the good things that happen to us. And number two, the watching world might interpret our belief to be tied to or dependent upon positive outcomes.

I am a believer who struggles daily with outcomes that are disappointing, unsatisfying, painful, and sometimes downright evil. If I thought that God's goodness was tied to good outcomes, I would cease to believe in God. In fact, I suppose I would discover that I wasn't really believing in God at all--but rather, a made-up, Pollyanna version of God that exists to make people feel good about themselves and the world. This is not God at all--or at least not the God that reveals Himself in the Bible.

If I only see God's goodness in good outcomes on this earth, then when horrible things happen, I start to think that God has failed me or forgotten me, or that God has not kept his promises to me. But God does not promise us health, or happiness, or good-looking children, or financial security, or freedom from persecution. 

In fact, the Bible indicates that believers can be guaranteed that they will have trouble, hardship, sorrow, and persecution in this life. Jesus plainly said this: "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33)--but the rest of that verse gives us the promise: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

I propose that we stop saying "God is good" when we feel grateful for a positive outcome, because it sends the wrong message and minimizes the actual goodness of God, which is the apogee of goodness, far grander and more awesome than on-time luggage or physical healing or any other positive outcome we encounter. 

Instead, when we experience the joy of a good outcome, we could say "I'm grateful for this good thing that God allowed," or just "Thanks be to God." And that might give us the freedom and strength when we face ineluctable suffering to continue to know and trust in God's unchanging goodness. 

In the wake of losing Aidan, I am re-learning how to be grateful. It is a painfully slow process, but in this moment, in the middle of relentless grief, I choose to believe that God is good. "Help Thou my unbelief."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hashtag Chiberia

Dining room ceilings across Chicago protest the
Narnian winter.
First it looked like this.

Frustrating. Water drip, drip, dripping through bubbling paint on the dining room ceiling.

I poked holes in the puffed out layer of paint, and yellow water streamed out. We positioned buckets under the leaks, and pressed on the separated paint layers to push the remaining water out.

But releasing the water did not solve the problem, and a few days later, we heard a loud PHHHHHLLLUUMMMPHHHHH. Mr. Peevie and I ran out to the dining room to see layers of plaster and insulation coating the table and floor. 

It was quite impressive. For a little while the hole looked like this: 

But Mr. Peevie kept looking at that uncollapsed corner and saying, "I think this is gonna go, too. Stay away from this corner, guys. It's gonna go." 

I admit I made fun of him for his pessimism--and then about a half hour later--PHHHHHLLLUUMMMPHHHHH! Down it came. Sometimes pessimism is another word for "I told you so."

Fortunately, Mr. Peevie did not listen to my Pollyanna outlook, and he had prepped for the second collapse by putting down tarps and bins, which caught a lot of the debris. We have made the first-ever claim against our homeowners' insurance policy since we bought our first house about twenty years ago.

We went through a similar experience with the water dripping through the dining room ceiling five years ago-- And guess what?

The last time Chicago recorded a high temperature below zero was Jan. 15, 2009 -- exactly five years ago. 

"The bitter temperatures follow several days of snowfall," the article reports. Almost twelve inches of snow fell at O'Hare that week--and almost nine of them in one day, breaking the record from 2005.

Apparently, this phenomenon is caused by ice dams that form on the edge of the roof, forcing melting snow back under the shingles, where it creeps in and leaks out inside the house. And it's not just happening at the Peevie homestead, either. It's happening all over Chiberia.

Five years ago, though, the winter was less Narnian than this interminable, tenacious, entrenched season that continues to break records. When I started writing this post, we had marked 75.5 inches of snow so far this season. then later that day we received another batch. To date, our snowfall totals have exceeded 80 inches--80.6 to be exact-- which obliterates the '69-'70 record (77 inches) and wags a warning finger at the '77-'78 second place record (82.3 inches).

I don't think we're going to hit the all-time snowfall record of 89.7 inches in 1978-79, which is a little bit sad since we've come so far. All we'd need would be another 9.2 inches of snow. 

Come on, snow gods! Sock it to us! Let's crush that record!

(BTW, in light of my previous post, the source for these snowy stats is the NBC-5 weather blog.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cite Your Source

My kids learned at an early age that they couldn't convince me of anything just by saying it.

"Cite your source," I'd say.

One time, when Aidan was about ten or eleven, he told me I should stop buying gas at certain gas stations because the company owners hated America. At the time, he attended a tiny conservative Christian school where the popular consensus was that Obama was a socialist fascist dictator, born in Kenya and bent upon destroying the American Way of Life. Some folks were quick to jump on any McCarthy-esque rumor that popped up on the internet.

The inherent socio-political contradictions of that assertion aside, I wanted to teach my kids to respect other people's views, but also to think for themselves by looking at them with a critical eye. 

"Don't believe it just because someone says it's true," I would say.

So, when he told me about the gas station, I asked him to cite his source.

"Ringo's mom," he said confidently.

"She's a secondary source," I said, and then I explained to him the difference between primary and secondary sources. This explanation involved me defending myself against the charge that I thought Ringo's mom was a liar. 
Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in
Mad about You; photo from

"What source was Ringo's mom citing?"

"She read an article," he said.

Ah-hah. The definitive, indestructible "she read an article" defense.

(Mr. Peevie and I watched a show in the 90s called Mad About You with Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. We still quote one of those episodes, in which Helen Hunt's character Jamie argues with her husband Paul, and he asks her how she knows what she's claiming. "I read an article!" she says--and it becomes a recurring theme. I squandered an hour watching Mad About You clips to try to find this scene, to no avail. This is how seriously I take my Green Room duty. You're welcome.)

As it turns out, the politics of gasoline are far more complicated than a simplistic anti-America rumor would have it. Snopes breaks it down. Notice the list of sources at the bottom of the article.

Sometimes, even sources that appear on the surface to be legitimate lack scientific rigor and should be source-checked.. See, for example, this article on the dangers of vaccinations from a secondary source called The Free Thinker (which looks like the Libertarian version of Huffington Post),written by a dude named Dave Mihalovic.

It all comes down to science and math: does the article cite (and more importantly, link to) legitimate scientific sources? The vaccine article referenced above makes many claims, none of which are sourced. The author cites "secret" CDC documents--but doesn't link to them or provide screen shots. There's no way for a thinking person to double check his claims--we're just supposed to believe him.

Um, no.

The first link in the article is to an article in another secondary source with equally shady credentials--not to an FDA document or a CDC memo or a news story, but to another article by the same guy. "Here," Dave Mihalovic is essentially saying, "you can trust me, because I said it again over here in this other article." Please.

In the third paragraph, the article quotes Brian Hooker, "a PhD scientist" about a CDC cover-up of the alleged risks of vaccinations. Who is Brian Hooker? What are his credentials in medicine, and medical research? What replicated studies has he conducted, and with what legitimate scientific controls?

The answers are, in order: He is a biochemical engineer who works as a consultant in the biotech industry.  He has no medical credentials, and has done no studies, that I can find. He's just a guy who is motivated, sadly, by the alleged vaccine-caused autism of his own child.

Regarding the claims in this article that the CDC has covered up data from their own Vaccine Safety Datalink database showing a "very high link between Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism rates in children": Show me the proof, dude.

The article claims that there are "a number" of public records that back up this claim--but only links to a 20-page Congressional Record from ten years ago. This document actually contradicts the authors claims: "...exposure to less than the minimal risk level is believed to be safe" and "the minimal risk level would need to be multiplied by ten to reach a level at which harm would be expected through exposure." You can find this out for yourself by clicking the link, and then control-F searching for the word "risk" and looking at the 18th occurrence of the word. See? I have done all the work for you.

You're welcome.

Whatever. This is just one example of millions, and just one topic of dozens that we encounter every day in the news, on Facebook, or in casual conversation, which requests our uncritical acceptance of a questionable assertion. 

Don't do it. Be a critical, questioning listener--not just about gas stations and vaccinations, but about everything--things that cause cancer, things that prevent heart attacks, things that pastors say, things that politicians say--and not just the ones you disagree with. You get the picture.

Or, alternately, you could just trust the opinions here at The Green Room, and I promise, we will always provide primary sources.