Saturday, October 6, 2012

God’s Hidden Purposes

I have been rereading some notes I took in the spring from James Dobson’s When God Doesn’t Make Sense. His words have been speaking to my heart in areas where I have been wrestling with God, and I hope they might speak to your heart as well...

“If you believe God is obligated to explain Himself to us, you ought to examine the following Scriptures. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:2: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” Isaiah 45:15 states, “Truly you are a God who hides himself.” Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 proclaims, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things.” Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches, “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.”

Clearly, unless the Lord chooses to explain Himself to us, which often He does not, His motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of mortal man. What this means in practical terms is that many of our questions—especially those that begin with the word why—will have to remain unanswered for the time being...

The Apostle Paul referred to the problem of unanswered questions when he wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Paul was explaining that we will not have the total picture until we meet in eternity. By implication, we must learn to accept that partial understanding...

I have found it common for those in crisis to feel great frustration with God. This is particularly true when things happen that seem illogical and inconsistent with what had been taught or understood. Then if the Lord does not rescue them from the circumstances in which they are embroiled, their frustration quickly deteriorates into anger and a sense of abandonment. Finally, disillusionment sets in and the spirit begins to whither...

Sooner or later, most of us will come to a point where it appears that God has lost control—or interest—in the affairs of people. It is only an illusion, but one with dangerous implications for spiritual and mental health. Interestingly enough, pain and suffering do not cause the greatest damage. Confusion is the factor that shreds one’s faith.

The human spirit is capable of withstanding enormous discomfort, including the prospect of death, if the circumstances make sense...

The key word here is expectations. They set us up for disillusionment. There is no greater distress in human experience than to build one’s entire way of life on a certain theological understanding, and then have it collapse at a time of unusual stress and pain...

Job’s greatest anguish was that God was hidden from him (Job 23:2-9)

David experienced similar times of distress: “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

My concern is that many believers apparently feel God owes them smooth sailing or at least a full explanation (and perhaps an apology) for the hardships they encounter. We must never forget that He, after all, is God. He is majestic and holy and sovereign. He is accountable to no one. He is not an errand boy who chases the assignments we dole out. He is not a genie who pops out of the bottle to satisfy our whims. He is not our servant—we are His. And our reason for existence is to glorify and honor Him. Even so, sometimes He performs mighty miracles on our behalf. Sometimes He chooses to explain His action in our lives. Sometimes His presence is as real as if we had encountered Him face to face. But at other times when nothing makes sense—when what we are going through is “not fair”, when we feel all alone in God’s waiting room—He simply says, “Trust me!”

As long as I know He loves me and He never makes a mistake, why should I not be content to rest in His protection?

He wants us to accept Him in the absence of proof. Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) We serve this Lord not because He dances to our tune, but because we trust His preeminence in our lives. Ultimately, He must be—He will be—the determiner of what is in our best interest. We can’t see the future. We don’t know His plan. We perceive only the small picture, and not even that very clearly. Given this limitation, it seems incredibly arrogant to tell God what to do—rather than making our needs known and then yielding to His divine purposes...

His thoughts are not only unknown to us—they are largely unknowable. He has never made Himself accountable to man, nor will He ever. He will not be cross examined or interrogated. Nowhere in the Bible does God speak defensively or seek our approval for His actions. He simply says, “Trust me.” In His lengthy interchange with Job, not once did Jehovah apologize or attempt to explain the hardship that befell His servant...

It is not difficult for some of us to believe that God is capable of performing mighty deeds. After all, He created the entire universe from nothingness. He has the power to do anything He chooses. Having faith in Him can be a fairly straightforward thing.

To demonstrate trust, however, takes the relationship a step farther. It involves the element of risk. It requires us to depend on Him to keep His promises even when proof is not provided. It is continuing to believe when evidence points in the opposite direction.”


Dobson’s writing reminds me of the chapter “God's Wisdom and Ours” in J. I. Packer’s Knowing God.

“Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose...that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what He has done in a particular case, and what He is going to do next. People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that He could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would...discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them at every moment how God was making all things work together for good...

(But) the God who rules (the universe) hides Himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it all...

(Because) we feel that for the honor of God (and also, though we do not say this, for the sake of our own reputation as spiritual Christians), it is necessary for us to claim that we are...enjoying inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings. This comforting pretence becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take it for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us into the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted...

For the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives...

We can be sure that the God who made this marvelously complex world-order, and who compassed the great redemption from Egypt, and who later compassed the even greater redemption from sin and Satan, knows what He is doing, and ‘doeth all things well’, even if for the moment He hides His hand. We can trust Him and rejoice in Him, even when we cannot discern His path..."

And as Paula Rinehart concludes in Better Than My Dreams: “His purposes for you are so set in place that you can rest every minute of your journey in the cool shade of His merciful sovereignty over your life.”

God, help us to trust that your purposes are good even when they are hidden from us. To say “You do all things well” when we feel confused by what you’re doing. Keep us humble and teach us to walk by faith, with our partial understanding.

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