“At the beginning of our life with Jesus Christ, we were sure we knew all there was to know about following Him. It was a delight to forsake everything else and to throw ourselves before him in a fearless statement of love. But now we are not quite so sure. Jesus is far ahead of us and is beginning to seem different and unfamiliar.”¹
I resonate with Oswald Chamber’s words as I reflect on a difficult season of life that’s been filled with confusion, uncertainty, and questions. Though there have been many precious years of walking with my Savior, the past several years has shaken my confidence as the road has continued to be dark, long, and painful. Though God has been faithful in so many ways (far more than we can probably see) I have been increasingly perplexed and unsettled by his ways. Unanswered prayers, prayers that seem to have been answered with more pain and, at times, God’s silence, when I’ve longed to hear his voice. Though I know that God is good and faithful in all he does, truly his ways are far beyond what I can understand. As Job expressed,
“Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.” Job 23:8-9
When the darkness overwhelms us, when depression weighs down the heart and mind, when prayers seem unanswered, our God, who we thought we knew, can suddenly seem strange to us. Promises and truths that we once claimed with confidence begin to waiver as we grasp for evidence of their truth when our circumstances and feelings seem to say otherwise. We long for answers and yet, even if we knew them, would we understand them? “This unusual Person with His face set “like a flint” (Is.50:7) is walking with great determination ahead of me and He strikes terror right through me. He no longer seems to be my Counselor and Friend and has a point of view about which I know nothing. All I can do is stand and stare at him in amazement.”
This place of unsettling shatters our man made image of God. It exposes the boundaries we have set on how we think a good and loving God should act and how far we are willing to trust him. A God we understand is one we’re willing to trust, but One whose ways act contrary to ours is disorienting and fear inducing.
This place of dismay, though uncomfortable, is where we begin to grow an accurate view of how small we are and how great and mysterious of a God we serve.
But how do we anchor ourselves in a God we can’t understand?
Rather than looking for evidence of God in our trials, look to Christ himself.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? ‘Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?’” (Job 38:1-13)
When our view of God is small, our trials appear larger. Therefore, we see God’s answer to Job is not an explanation of why he has allowed the immense suffering, but instead reminds him of who he is and what he has done. Ultimately, our questions and doubts won’t be silenced by making sense of our circumstances and shrinking our view of God to understand him. No, our questions and doubts will only grow silent when we begin to grasp the majesty, power, and sovereignty of our Creator, Savior and Lord. Yes, we can trust that he is good, loving, and kind in all he does, but we will only come to trust him with a deeply humble and quiet posture when we begin to grasp even a fragment of his true glory and can say with the Psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him (Psalm 8:4)?”
Job’s “whys” were silenced when God reminded him of who he was questioning, and ours can be too. Not only because we are the clay in the hands of the Potter, but because we can trust that if God set the foundation of the earth and marked its dimensions, surely he has set boundaries to our suffering for his sovereign and holy purposes.
Trust that he is unchangeable, faithful, and good in all he does.
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind.” (Job 23:10, 13-14)
Friends, the Lord is good and loving in all he does, even when we cannot understand his ways or feel his presence in the darkness.
Whether our marriage seems to be in shambles, our hearts are grieving over the illness or death of a loved one, or our once comfortable life is now a distant memory, we can bring our confusion and dismay and fall to our knees in humble surrender to our Savior. His ways are far greater than we can comprehend and his silence is not evidence of his absence. He desires for us to trust and fear him by faith, with an unshakeable hope in his unchanging character and his proven love on the cross.
We may not understand why God has chosen to allow the amount of suffering that he has allowed in our lives, but we can learn to simply trust that he is God and we are not. He has shown his love in the greatest way possible on the cross and we can trust that same love when all we can see is pain, confusion, and unanswered prayers.
The joy and peace we seek is not found in understanding our circumstances or in our prayers being answered as we desire – as wonderful as those things are. No, the true joy we seek is found in Christ himself and is often experienced most deeply when we believe that he is enough and worthy of being trusted, even when we can’t make sense of his ways.
Friend, “when the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over, because out of it will come the ability to follow Jesus truly, which brings inexpressibly wonderful joy.”¹
¹Oswald Chambers – My Utmost for His Highest, March 15th
²Charles Spurgeon – Beside Still Waters, Page 148