I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
Have you ever experienced a time when you could clearly see God’s hand guiding you in a certain direction, and suddenly, “BAM!” Circumstances took a sudden and sharp turn in a direction you never saw coming?
Recently, God allowed what seemed to be his provision to be suddenly stripped away, leaving our family confused and shaken. We had experienced quite a few of these faith-shaking-turn-of-events throughout the last several years. It has felt as though we have been blindfolded on a roller coaster ride, for right when we think we’ve got an idea of what’s coming next, life takes a sharp turn in the opposite direction.
Did we misread God’s leading all along?
Or did he deliberately allow us down a path that he knew was a dead end?
If we were seeking his guidance and will, why didn’t he protect us from things we couldn’t see or know?
I remember battling these same questions a few years back when we were in a very heavy and scary place with our son. We knew we needed help and were seeking counsel and direction from people we trusted. After getting confirmation from several individuals regarding a certain doctor, we took steps to get into the highly-sought-after practice. We were blown away when we were miraculously able to get an appointment the following week! Despite being $750 poorer, we felt encouraged that we finally seemed to be getting the help that we needed.
Our excitement turned to shock and anger when it came to our attention that the doctor we had seen was actually not the doctor we thought we were seeing. Through a series of events, we learned that this other doctor had taken the name of the original practice after a feud. The doctor we had intended to see had recently changed the name of his practice due to this controversy.
Why had God not revealed this to us a week earlier, before we spent all that money and time? Why had God not protected us when we were seeking and trusting his direction?
Circumstances that perplex us often take us to new depths of faith. They challenge us to trust solely in the promises of God, rather than creating him into a god of our own design in order to make sense of what perplexes us.
This still leaves us with the question, “Why does God allow things that seem to make no sense and leave us questioning, even when we are seeking his will and guidance?”
Before I attempt to address this question, I confess that I cannot possibly understand fully or know the ways of God beyond the teeny glimpses he reveals to us. What God has been slowly but faithfully chiseling into my heart over the past several years is that his ways are far greater than I can ever make sense of here on earth.
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)
Yes, sometimes God gives us glimpses into his purposes, but the complexities of his ways are far beyond our ability to fully understand. The limited understanding we are given, however, can teach us not only to obey him, but to trust him completely, whether we can make sense of it or not.
As I was wrestling again with this question this past week, I read a thought provoking little excerpt from Jerry Bridges book, 31 Days toward Trusting God:
God’s moral will as seen in the Bible is rational and reasonable, but the circumstances in which we must trust God often appear irrational and inexplicable. God’s law is readily recognized as being good for us, but the circumstances of our lives frequently appear harmful and grim, perhaps even calamitous and tragic. Obeying God is worked out within well-defined boundaries of God’s revealed will, while trusting God must be worked out in an arena with no boundaries, where we’re always coping with the unknown. Yet it’s just as important to trust God as to obey Him. When we disobey God, we defy His authority and despise His holiness. And when we fail to trust Him, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases, we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His Character…In order to trust God, we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense.
This was incredibly helpful and convicting. Too often my immediate response to such circumstances is to try make sense of them in order to make them fit comfortably into the way I think God would or should act. Instead of fully trusting that God is who he says he is through the promises of the Bible, I try to make sense of circumstances to lessen the sting of why God isn’t acting in a way that seems good and sovereign to me. That isn’t faith according to God’s promises; it’s accepting only the parts of God that I am comfortable with and can understand.
I don’t think the answer to the question above lies only in proving God’s trustworthiness alone, but in exposing our wrong beliefs of both God and ourselves. Here are four misguided views that I believe can contribute to the confusion and frustration we feel when God allows perplexing circumstances:
We view God’s promises with a short-term view rather than an eternal one
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. (Psalm 37:3-7)
I think most would admit that patience doesn’t come naturally. Our flesh wants things now and has to work hard learning to wait. But God’s timeline often seems to be completely different than ours. As this verse says so clearly, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” God will act. However, it also tells us to “be still” and “wait patiently,” meaning that he often won’t act in our own desired timeline. This is the journey of faith: letting go of our own will and submitting ourselves to the timeline, direction, and will of the Lord instead.
When the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” does that mean if we delight ourselves in the Lord, we will be healed from our ailments? Or that we will be protected from what we are afraid of? Does it mean our kids will give their lives to Christ and not choose the path of rebellion? I think most of us would probably say “No” to that question if we were asked, but do our responses and attitudes reflect that?
It’s easy to read that verse and focus in on “he will give you the desires of your heart.” The danger in that is we begin to think God will give us our heart’s desires, which are easy to confuse with our fleshly desires. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” If we begin by looking to our own hearts, our focus will be misguided and often not in line with God’s desires. (TWEET THIS)
We need to read that verse in the correct order to capture its truth. We must first delight ourselves in the Lord, with our sole focus and purpose being him. If we seek him to learn his heart and what he desires, and delight in him more than anything else, our fleshly desires begin to shift to the desires he has instilled in our hearts from the beginning of time: to walk in fellowship with our him and reflect his image and glory. We then see earthly blessings in our life as undeserved graces rather than prideful expectations.
We give our own wisdom and understanding more credibility than we ought to
We set ourselves up for disappointment and confusion when we attempt to make sense of each and every circumstance of our lives. Often that disappointment begins with the assumption that we know what’s best in the first place and have the capability to understand how all things work together, past, present, and future.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts, (Isaiah 55:8-9)
If God always acted in ways that made sense to us, then he certainly wouldn’t have sent his sinless Son to die in our place, offering us complete forgiveness and righteousness freely through Christ. The gospel reminds us that although we cannot possibly make sense of all the ways of God, we can always find peace and reassurance to trust his heart by looking to the cross.
We believe God blesses or punishes us according to the level of our faith
This is the law, not the gospel. However, while we still live in the flesh, we will always battle to some degree the desire to live by the law because our sin nature wants to declare ourselves self-sufficient. If we believe that earthly blessings are tied to having enough faith or doing all the right things, we will spend our lives trying to achieve God’s blessing. We will often feel confused and disappointed when it seems he doesn’t come through for us. The gospel, however, reminds us that we are saved by grace alone and not by anything we have done.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
Because our salvation and sanctification are by God’s grace alone, every good and righteous act that comes from us should drive us to thankfulness for his grace in our lives, rather than an entitlement to blessing. This also changes our perspective when things don’t go the way we want them to. Giving us the proper view of what we truly deserve, the gospel equips us with confidence in God’s love and faithfulness towards us, despite how circumstances may appear at the time.
We trust in God’s power but question his character
During my own little temper tantrums I’ve said, “I believe God can, but I don’t believe he will.” What I was really saying was that I knew God was powerful enough to change my circumstances, but I didn’t think he would because I was questioning his character, mainly his goodness and love for me. Thank God for his patient grace and forgiveness to cover even our faithless temper tantrums!
If God is powerful enough to change our circumstances but doesn’t, it must mean he is ordaining them for reasons we cannot see at the time. His will is ultimately for our eternal good. Some circumstances we will never understand here on earth, but sometimes we can look back and see God’s faithful direction in the end.
My husband has often said to me, “It’s not a dead end, it’s a redirection.” After a season of several confusing “re-directions,” we have often looked back, praising God’s faithfulness and saying in amazement, “Only God could have led us here.” God’s ways are higher than we can fully understand, but we can trust that he will always be faithful to his promises.
So why does God allow these confusing and troubling circumstances? We teach us trust and confidence in him alone. One of the most beautiful and God glorifying pictures of faith is when a believer has no earthly evidence to fall back on, but trusts firmly in the sovereignty of Christ. Seemingly senseless and confusing circumstances give us opportunities to trust and beautifully proclaim God’s glory to a world searching for meaning in suffering.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. (Psalm 20:7)
We can trust in the name of the Lord our God with confidence, no matter what our circumstances tell us. Hold firm, believer, in the power, sovereignty, and love of our Savior. When nothing seems to make sense in life and we feel ourselves being tossed by the waves, we can cling to the truth of the gospel, and we will stand firm until the end.