I was standing barefooted on the lush green grass next to the cement walkway which runs through the center of Fuller Seminary. The sun was warm on my face and the leaves of the trees were dancing in the gentle breeze. There was no hint of what inner turmoil this day would bring me. As I stood there waiting for my next appointment to show, I noticed someone on the cement walkway riding a bicycle, its chrome fenders gleaming in the bright sunlight. I watched as the bicyclist rode in a relatively straight line for about 50 feet and then suddenly swerved the bike to the left and then back to the right and continued on the previous course.
I was curious to see what caused the bicyclist to swerve so suddenly and walked over to investigate. When I arrived, I noticed nothing unusual, no potholes, broken glass, nails… I was somewhat perplexed – why did this person swerve at that point? What was the reasoning that caused the rider to make the decision to swerve at that exact moment?
As I was pondering all this, it dawned on me that I was already making some assumptions:
- There is a discoverable, rational, logical explanation for this event.
- The person riding a bicycle was acting rationally within my definition of rational.
Additionally, I realized as I was processing that I was holding on to a significant and fundamental belief in a cause and effect, 1 plus 1 equals 2 universe. A universe where truth is discoverable and verifiable via observation and rational thought – where things add up and make sense.
Sadly, the above beliefs/assumptions have found their way into my relationship with the Triune God. I say “sadly” because I don't see these beliefs communicated in Scripture, yet somehow I believe that God's actions and the circumstances of my life will make sense to me and that I will be able to rationally figure out the whys and wherefores of what God has done or allowed to happen in my life, the lives of others, and in the world.
Also, it seems to me that there is even a level of respect and esteem given and wisdom attributed to those in the church who are able to tell people why God caused/allowed this or that to happen. The reasons given are usually realistic, rational and make sense to all who hear it, but how do I know if their explanations are correct, almost correct, or so horribly wrong that it is either tragic or laughable.
As I look through the Scriptures, I see promises from God which assure me that good can and will come out of the circumstances of my life and that the circumstances of my life can strengthen my faith; but I don't find it stated that I will know the thought process of God or that what transpires in my life will even make sense to me. In fact, if anything, I find the opposite truth conveyed, namely that God and God’s ways are beyond my ability to comprehend, or as Paul says, they are unfathomable.
A classic example of this kind of thinking (the type that believes it knows what God is up to) going terribly wrong is found in the words of the “comforters” who came to Job during his time of great personal suffering. Each one showed up with a firm belief that God’s actions were predictable and explainable through their chosen theological construct. But when all was said and done and these comforters had presented their elaborate and rational explanations to Job concerning the whys and wherefores of what was happening to him, it turns out they were WRONG. We see this in Job 42:7 – 9: “After God had finished addressing Job, he turned to Eliphaz the Temanite and said, "I've had it with you and your two friends. I'm fed up! You haven't been honest either with me or about me—not the way my friend Job has…My friend Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer. He will ask me not to treat you as you deserve for talking nonsense about me, and for not being honest with me, as he has… And God accepted Job's prayer.” God called them to task for presuming to know what God was up to in Job’s life. The comforters were sincere, rational, and informed in the ways of God, but they were also wrong.
Job, who knew God and walked with God, fared a little better than the comforters but still spoke of that which he did not know. Job thought he had a bone to pick with God because God was not acting in accord with what Job believed to be the way God was obligated to act. However, God challenged Job regarding the speaking of things beyond his ability to comprehend. Job realized what he had done and said to God: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” It was when Job realized and named his ignorance regarding his ability to know what God was up to that God deepened and broadened Job’s knowledge of God. Job discovered a new way of knowing that enabled him to affirm and embrace the incomprehensible nature of God and let God be God.
As I reflect on the interaction between God, Job, and Job’s comforters; the teaching of scripture; and my own experience with the bicyclist, it is almost laughable that I would think I can ascertain the whys and wherefores of God. If I am unable to figure out why some bicyclist (a flesh-and-blood, finite being) decided to swerve at a given point in the time and space continuum, how could I ever believe that I would be able to determine what God is up to and think God's dealings in the universe would even make sense to me.
The greater problem with all this is that when I buy into this way of thinking, namely that God’s actions, or what God allows will be discernable rationally and make sense to me, it can lead to:
- frustration and anger toward God when I believe things are not “the way they are supposed to be”
- a limiting of God regarding what I believe God can and cannot do or allow
- turning away from God because I determine God is not acting in accordance with God’s character
- seeing God’s hand in only those circumstances that I determine are rational and reasonable, and a limiting of my ability to trust God
- simplistic explanations which have the semblance of wisdom but may have no basis in truth
- adding to the pain of those (including myself) who are suffering through circumstances that don’t seem to make sense (as was the case with Job)
Now what about you?
Do you believe you can figure out the whys and wherefores of God?
If yes, why is that so important to you?
What is lost and what is gained with that perspective?
And most importantly: Where do you find that belief echoed in scripture?
Take some time to ponder the following scriptures:
Isaiah 55:8 – 9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: "What have you done?"
Job 40:1 – 5
The LORD said to Job:
"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
Then Job answered the LORD:
"I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more."
Job 42:2 – 5
"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.”
Proverbs 3:5 – 6
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
What is the message of the above passages in terms of one’s ability to know the whys and wherefores of what God does or allows to happen in one’s life, the lives of others, or in the world?
As you reflect on the above passages, how do your thoughts/feelings change regarding people’s ability (your ability) to be able to fully explain and understand the whys and wherefores of God in the circumstances of your life, the lives of others, and the world? Why?
So, with what are we left if we are not able to rationally figure out what God is up to in the circumstances of our own lives, the lives of others, and the world?
- We are left to live a life of faith, to say with Job “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised," or say with Daniel “No one can hold back his hand or say to him: What have you done?"
- We are left with the certainty that God will bring good out of the circumstances of life and will use them to strengthen our faith.
- We are left to trust God and believe in the midst of unbelief – allowing God to be God; knowable, yet also an incomprehensible mystery beyond our ability to fully know or grasp.
- We are left to live by faith and not by sight, trusting in a God who has shown God’s self to be loving, wise,
caring, and powerful.
· We are left with the words of Proverbs 3:5 – 6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
The need to rationally tie a bow of understanding around the circumstances of life is not realistic nor is it ultimately helpful. But what is helpful is to view each and every circumstance of life as an invitation from God to come to God, trust in God and be in dialogue with God. This invitation is not about answers but relationship. It is an invitation to walk together, to grow and to become one who is able to experience oneself and God in deepening and transforming ways. As you heed God’s invitation, you will come to see the good that arises from the circumstances of your life and the strengthening of your faith that takes place through these events.
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