My husband and I bring our laptops to our favorite coffee shop twice a week to work. We’ve noticed something about the coffee shops in our city: they are full of evangelists of all ages. You can scarcely enter one without finding a Christian mentor meeting with a mentee, a Bible study group, or a pastor writing a sermon. Based on this clientèle, I guess it isn’t surprising that the free-for-all chalkboard in the hallway to the bathroom has become a site for evangelization.
Last week, someone had chalked in large letters: GOD IS GOOD.
As I walked by it, I thought, “We hope.”
When my husband walked by, he added, “at checkers” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers).
The next time I saw it, someone had added, “& life!” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life!). Two separate people had written “All the time!!!” underneath the statement, with arrows pointing back to the initial statement. (GOD IS GOOD all the time!!!, or GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life all the time!!!)
Yesterday, I could resist no longer. I added the parenthetical (we hope) in the general vicinity of all the “Yay, God!” enthusiasm. Today, my statement of doubt was still on the chalkboard.
About ten years ago, my faith was shaken after a correspondence with a woman who worked for Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master. I had written a letter critiquing the site’s hate speech against GLBTQ people and Catholics (specifically the practice of praying the rosary). In the letter, I came out as both bisexual and Catholic. After a few emails back and forth, I was starting to feel that perhaps God really did despise me. That’s when I dropped the correspondence, because it was convincing me God was someone I did not want to know better. I curled up on my bed with my journal and wrote a list of the things I was sure I knew about God.
I don’t remember exactly what was on that list, but I think one of the statements was, “God is good.”
I do still believe that — my relentless search for meaning almost depends upon it. But I think the only thing about God I am really certain about these days is that I’m full of uncertainty. And this vulnerability is the only thing, I think, that can open me up to an authentic pursuit of God.
So I didn’t feel the need to take the proselytizing down a notch because I disagreed with the statement. Instead, I defaced it so the other doubters know they are not alone. So that those whose life experiences have led them to a very different perception of God or a loss of faith don’t suddenly feel as if they’ve stumbled into an unsafe space. To try to bring a little bit more neutrality to the table. To tamp down the arrogance that any of us can know definitively what the nature of God is, and push that definition on strangers without any inkling about their personal stories.
I was just the sort of pretentious college student who would have made such a proclamation to strangers on a coffee shop chalkboard.
Now, I can’t see statements like that without thinking about how they might read to someone who has just lost a child. Or to someone going through a divorce. To someone who doesn’t make enough money to feed her family. Or any of the thousands of other things that can happen to make someone feel that God has forsaken them.
I object to “God is Good” not because God is NOT good, but because it invites no room for dialog. Because it closes a discussion rather than opens one. Because it reflects the world view of the speaker, not the recipient. And because there’s not very much you can say to question it without looking like you are a terrible person, a “lost sheep,” or someone who wants to attack “freedom of religion.”
“We hope” might be the escape route a stranger needs; it might be the escape route I need; it might inject the distance needed to make it possible to approach the weighty and scary subject of God at all.
I believe that whoever wrote about God’s goodness did it as an act of love.
So, too, my words of doubt.