“I don’t understand, Lord…”
I must have prayed this prayer five hundred times, as I processed a dreadfully painful situation a while back. It all started with a meeting at Starbucks. I walked in with a sunny expression and hopeful expectation. I walked out trying to mask the hurt, then spent the next months beneath a cloud of disillusionment and pain, praying, “I don’t understand, Lord…”, on a loop.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but my prayer was revealing something in my heart: I wanted to know. I wanted to understand so badly. It was an unavoidable trial; that, I could see. What I couldn’t see was why. And how it happened. And for what purpose.
My response was to roll my sleeves up, get to the information and figure things out. But God seemed to be holding all the answers and reasons in a locked vault, which He refused to let me inside of.
Even now, as I reflect on those tearstained months of agony, I don’t have any new understanding. It’s not that I didn’t learn from my trial; I did. But God was asking me to move forward in faith, even when I didn’t (and don’t) have all the answers.
The God of All Wisdom
James 1:5 doesn’t say, “If any of you lacks information, come ask God and he’ll give it to you.” It says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (Bold emphasis added.)
God possesses all wisdom. He cannot gain more wisdom, because he is already infinitely wise. And he is willing to share his wisdom with his children in heaping portions. He wants us to have wisdom, but he also wants us to get it from Him.
Remember the name of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden? It was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Since God put this tree off limits, it’s clear that God didn’t want Eve searching out what was good for her and bad for her on her own. God wanted her to defer to Him—to “trust in the Lord with all her heart and lean not on her own understanding” (see Prov. 3:5-6).
It’s interesting that Eve ate the fruit because she wanted to become wise (Gen. 3:6). Yet she didn’t go to God for wisdom; she went around him. She wanted to discern for herself rather than relying on God. But Eve’s disobedience was pure foolishness and it only cost her wisdom.
I love the beautiful contrast we see in Solomon’s story. When God told Solomon He would grant one wish, Solomon said (I’m paraphrasing): “I might be king but I feel like a little kid. Please give me the wisdom to discern between good and evil.” (I Kings 3:5-9).
God was pleased with Solomon’s request and gave him wisdom in heaping proportions. See how God loves our dependence on Him? See His joy when we come to him with expectancy?
Eve wanted her own wisdom apart from God. But Solomon was content to come with his empty childhood backpack saying, “God, I need your wisdom. I have none of my own!”
Imagine if Eve had done the same.
Sometimes the distinction between good and evil seems rather obvious. But then something like Covid hits, and people who love God disagree on what a “good” response really looks like. It’s in the hard times that we are pressed to recognize how childlike we are, and how desperately we need God’s wisdom to discern good from evil. Like Solomon, our kiddie backpacks are empty.
I still shudder when I picture the day we found my son, as a toddler, playing with a bottle of turpentine after wandering past my parents’ fence into their neighbor’s yard. The turpentine, however, wasn’t nearly as alarming as where he was sitting on their paved driveway—right in the path of the truck which often came barreling around the curve toward the barn.
My little boy was oblivious to the danger. Even if I had tried to explain, he couldn’t understand. He needed to obey and trust my wisdom when I said, “You don’t ever go past this fence!”
It was the same with Eve. She was like a little child in a desperately vulnerable situation. What if—rather than entertaining the serpent’s logic—she had said, “LORD God, I’m like a child. I don’t have the wisdom to tell whether this serpent is good or evil. Will you help me respond wisely?” Would God have denied her, even for an instant? No! Our God loves to load his children up with generous heaps of wisdom.
And we pursue God’s wisdom—not only when we ask for understanding, but when we trust him with what we don’t understand. When we leave the fruit on the tree. When we leave the questions locked in the vault. When we resolve to walk by faith, not by sight. This is especially important when we encounter painful trials.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the book of “James” only about ten years after Jesus rose again and the Church was born. James was the pastor of the leading church in Jerusalem, and he was writing to people who had dispersed because of persecution. Many had been edged out of their Jewish communities and families, and no doubt they were praying beneath a cloud of disillusionment and pain, “Lord, I don’t understand…”
Pastor James encouraged these people who were faced with all sorts of difficulties and trials (James 1:2), to ask God for wisdom. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting,” instructed James (James 1:6). When we doubt we’re like a wave in the sea, going back and forth. Imagine if Eve kept going back and forth between God and the serpent, trying to gain information so she could decide whether to eat the fruit. God doesn’t give his wisdom to people like that (James 1:7-8).
God gives wisdom to the one who comes in childlike faith and obedience, not the one who faces her trial with her sleeves rolled up, ready to get at the information and figure stuff out for herself.
Friend, are you facing some painful trial? Are you praying, “God, I don’t understand…” Perhaps God is asking you to move forward in faith, without the answers you crave. Perhaps He’s asking you to defer to His wisdom and live in even greater dependence on Him.
This is what Jesus modeled for us in a different garden.
In the Garden of Eden, Eve faced a lush, beautiful tree that looked very good to her.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced a dead, ugly tree that looked very bad to him.
In the Garden of Eden, Eve trusted herself to decide what would be good for her.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus trusted the Father to decide what was ultimately good for Him (and us).
In the Garden of Eden, Eve doubted God and said, “My will be done.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus trusted God and said, “Thy will be done.”
Faith remains expectant, even beneath a cloud of pain and disillusionment. Faith moves forward, even when the vault remains locked and the questions remain unanswered. Faith prays, “Lord, I don’t understand; instead, I defer to You.”
From the platform and page, Shannon Popkin invites women to drink deeply of God’s story, and live like it’s true. Shannon’s books include Comparison Girl, and Control Girl, and she’s the host of the “Live Like It’s True” podcast. Shannon has been featured on FamilyLife Today, Revive Our Hearts, and Proverbs 31.
Shannon is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every day. Together, they have the joy of watching their three young-adult kids become the amazing people God created them to be.