I remember the first time anyone ever directed “it’s all good” at me: year one of teaching, Little Rock School District, a zoo of a junior high class. Really. Taurus the Bull, Leo the Lion, Felix the Cat, Fish, Baby Bop…and, me, a bit of a momma bear.
I loved those kids. I often shut them down, but I rarely wrote them up. Rarely. One day, a girl pushed our very broad envelope, so I handed her a discipline slip. She looked at the slip, looked at me, and with a slow shake of her head quipped, “It’s all good, Ms. V. It’s all good.”
Translation: Despite my momentary sojourn into old-school teacher mode, she wasn’t messed up. We were still good.
I learned a lot from my students that year. The things they were dealing with at home were often far from good, and there was little they could do but roll with the punches. In solidarity with them, I learned to say “it’s all good” even when it wasn’t good at all.
Then there was the day when one of the really good kids had a really bad moment. Felix, who was missing a few front teeth courtesy some nasty brawls, started messing with Tanya, who was kind and quiet and almost prudishly reserved. Before I could intervene, she went off on him, like verbally took him o-u-t. A stunned Felix slumped back in his seat and drawled, “Tanya, I didn’t know you could talk like that. I thought you was good.”
Oh, heck to the no! With an oh-snap that was on point, our class’s holiness-movement model spat back, “If I was so d*** good, I could make you some teeth!”
Judge me: I laughed. Felix laughed. The whole class laughed. Then we apologized to the frustrated teacher on the other side of the ply board wall and went on to cover a good bit of grammar sprinkled with shared-joke giggles. It had started off rocky, but that turned out to be a good day.
Good is one of those words like love and blessed and awesome that people use too liberally to take very seriously. We talk about good people, good jobs, good gravy (why do people struggle with this? gravy is easy; biscuits are hard). We say good luck, good riddance, good grief, and, yes, it’s all good.
And it is all good. Except when it’s not.
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:9,16-17)
“You will not certainly die [false]” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil [true].” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3: 4-6)
That tree looked good and was good for food, but it wasn’t good for man to eat it any more than it was good for him to be alone. Except that whole not being alone thing came back to bite him–pun intended–that day. Eve’s purpose and position as co-laborer and co-steward were good. But she listened to a good speech, desired what appeared to be a good thing, and made a good case for her husband to taste and see with her. And so he did. That was not good.
Well, if they weren’t supposed to eat that fruit, what on earth–literally–was it good for?
The tree of knowledge of good and evil was part of the “very good” creation. Since ugly and yucky weren’t things yet, it carried with it no evidence of its negative consequences. Even the consequences themselves may have been nearly impossible for its potential victims to grasp until it was too late.
Which doesn’t seem fair. Sort of like it’s not fair that ice cream looks and tastes fantastic. There is nothing in that sweet, creamy goodness loaded with delightful surprises and covered in tantalizing toppings that indicates its consequence is ill-fitting clothing. Wouldn’t it be good if stuff that was bad for us tasted bad and the stuff that was good for us–like exercise and honesty and praying for our enemies–was easy?
Actually, no. Part of what makes something good is that we get to choose it. Or not.
Because some of the stuff that’s bad for us does taste, smell, feel bad, and we partake of it anyway.
Because we are not always good at making wise decisions whatever the warning…says every tobacco user, heavy drinker, fast-food lover, thrill seeker everywhere.
Because we are too fickle and subjective to be trusted with assigning value to things based on our flawed perceptions, which can be vastly different from other people’s perceptions. Like, there are ACTUAL PEOPLE who do not like ice cream! What the what?!
Because dominion, aka stewardship, requires decisions that aren’t based on personal, often superficial preferences.
Because God commanded. There’s the answer.
To be his stewards, we have to follow his instructions, heed his commands. Which means there has to be something about which he must instruct or command us that requires we choose his will over our desire.
Just as a toddler has no concept of gravity and its effect on his body, and teenagers have no concept of physics and its effect on the 3000 lb death machines they try to drift across a wet parking lot, Adam and Eve had no concept of the huge chasm between the good they had and the evil they had not yet encountered. And they had no concept of death.
But they knew God.
They’d had the opportunity to “taste and see” that He was good. They’d had the chance to choose obedience over personal preference. They’d heard him say, “Everything is good, but not everything is beneficial.” Well, sort of. Actually, Paul said something like that in his first letter to the Corinthians because some of the folks in the early church were channeling the 21st century and were all like “you can’t judge me!” and “I’ve got my rights!” and “screw legalism!” Okay, not in those exact words. And Paul was all like, “No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24), which was as hard to do then as it is now. But it’s good.
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” The Bible.
“All that glisters [glitters] is not gold.” Not the Bible. Shakespeare, et al. Merchant of Venice. About, of all things, a beautiful girl and a coffin. If this prince named Morocco wanted Portia, he had to choose the right coffin–gold, silver, or lead–based on their cryptic inscriptions. The message within his choice would determine his fate. He picked the gold one, because, hello, GOLD. And he was sure its promise of “what many men desire” meant he’d get the girl. And the fortune. Especially the fortune. He was wrong.
The message concealed in the golden coffin was this: “All the glisters is not gold–Often you have heard that told. Many a man his life hath sold but my outside to behold. Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold…your answer had not been inscrolled” etc, etc, bye, Felicia–I mean, Morocco.
If Morocco hadn’t been a shallow, self-centered jerk seeking his own “good” rather than what was good for Portia, he would have recognized which inscription led to the prize. But he didn’t have the good sense to choose the plain lead coffin that on the outside read “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath” and on the inside offered him the best of the kingdom.
You see, what those kids in my first classroom taught me is that it’s all good even when it’s not. Sometimes it’s ugly and confusing. Sometimes it’s aggravating and exhausting. Sometimes it’s just plain dumb. But if we resist the urge to give in to our restlessness and recklessness, there remains a reward. For them it was the ability to shake off the small stuff and to laugh when that wasn’t the easiest option.
For all of us the reward is this: If we love God and remain steadfast in his chosen purpose for us, He will do what only He can do. He will cause all the not-so-good things to work together for our good. (Romans 8:28)
Raise your hand if you knew I’d go there…
“…But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.