It is the tradition of this web site to hear my confessions, my struggles and my emotions. â€œConfessionalâ€ blogging on my part has touched hundreds of readers and convinced one or two that I am unfit to be in the ministry or even a professing Christian. So be it. This is what’s set on my table these days. I can’t explain it to you; all I can do is write and pray. Trusting God is hard. His ways are not my ways, and his ways are unthinkably difficult for me right now.
So if you don’t understand these kinds of posts, I’m sorry. My journey. My struggles. My questions. My wrestling with God.
My Bible classes watch a lot of the â€œTurnerâ€ Bible movies. Iâ€™ve seen them all so many times that I frequently get them confused with scripture itself. Their storylines and scripts are embedded in my mind and I have to, occasionally, sort things out.
For example, in the movie â€œDavid,â€ the prophet Nathan tells David, â€œGod makes it difficult to be a king.â€ Scripture never says that (at least not that I know of) but it is appropriate for the story of David and his particular failures.
Nathan is not just sounding prophetic; heâ€™s interpreting some of the events and consequences David has brought on himself. Itâ€™s that mixture of causation that the Bible so easily tosses out from cover to cover: People do things, God does things. We have our purposes, influences and reasons. God has his purposes, motives and outcomes. The two â€œtracksâ€ run alongside each other, and out there in the distance, they seem to come together. But no matter how far I walk in this life, it seems the two never come together. Beyond the horizon, they merge in God, but I am well on this side of the horizon.
Nathan could be speaking to my life or to yours. I made the choices; the consequences have arrived. I ate the food; I gained the weight. I was angry; people I love were affected. I wasted opportunities; they never returned. I sinned; I experienced the bitter fruit. Life happened; the results are there for all to see, written in my own hand and in Godâ€™s.
Of course, when you reflect on life, there is much that was beyond your control. Why was I born in America? Why was I the only child of Lee and Dorothy Spencer? Why were we poor? Why did Dad never take me to Little League? Why was dad depressed? Why were they fundamentalist Baptists? Why did I hear about the Bible, God, Jesus and â€œbeing savedâ€ from the time I was an infant? And on and on.
â€œWhysâ€ can put you over the edge of sanity. If you are intelligent and see connections and relationships, it can be overwhelming.
And then thereâ€™s Godâ€™s work, not quite as simple to understand or question. Godâ€™s causes. Godâ€™s choices. Godâ€™s purposes. I know that â€œtrackâ€ is there. One of the intolerables of atheism for me is I cannot ignore the fact that this life that I cannot understand is still intelligible. It is the same life experience for me and the people in the room with me. If it were chaos without purpose or design, there is no reason experience would be intelligible to any of us. This, among many other reasons, compels me to believe that God has made reality purposeful, and that in ways I am not equipped to see, understand or describe, it makes sense to God.
Scripture speaks of this over and over, in example and affirmation. Does it explain Godâ€™s purposes? No….and itâ€™s a good thing too. Like the brilliance of the sun, the illumination is tolerable; the direct view is not possible, at least not for us mortals.
Instead of direct knowledge, God sends his Word. In nature, reason, scripture and Jesus/Holy Spirit. And this Word is his announcement of his purposeful working in our lives.
â€œAll things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to his purpose…â€
â€œThen the LORD said to him, â€œWho has made manâ€™s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
â€œI form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.â€
â€œWhat gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into manâ€™s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toilâ€”this is Godâ€™s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.â€
â€œThe end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.â€
â€œOh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! â€œFor who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?â€ â€œOr who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?â€ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.â€
The God of the Bible knows what he is doing. His work is, as scripture says, â€œpast finding out.â€ He asks for no advice. He is not holding question and answer press conferences. He is not writing books of ten easy-to-understand bullet pointed explanations. He has spoken, and it is up to me to hear, believe and live accordingly.
And for me, at least, itâ€™s difficult. Itâ€™s difficult knowing that I have failed in so many ways, hurt so many people, brought so many sinful consequences into my relationships…and God is at work- somehow- in all of it.
I want Godâ€™s purposes to be carried out through what Iâ€™ve done right. Iâ€™ve studied, preached, taught, served, counseled, led, encouraged and lived for the Gospel for more than 35 years. I want Godâ€™s purposes to be in response to all the sermons Iâ€™ve prepared. I donâ€™t want Godâ€™s purposes to be about my failures, broken promises and abuses of others. I want to put what I want on the table, and I want God to work with that.
Iâ€™ve done a lot of things right, and Iâ€™d prefer God publish a list of how all of them are going to be rewarded. But thatâ€™s not the way itâ€™s going to be. God is going to do what he wants to do, for reasons that can fit into a sentence in the Bible, but which are far too mysterious to wrap my mind around.
Sunday night Iâ€™m going to preach on â€œThe fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.â€ I know what the text means, but I canâ€™t read it without thinking that I am, in a way, fearful of what God is up to. I read his ultimate purposes and I try to think of them, but I know that God has purposes now; purposes that involve my failures and the consequences he will not spare. God is not invested in hearing me say what I â€œneed.â€ If he wants to take away, he will take away, and his purpose will be for me to go on without whatever he took away. The same with suffering, obscurity, humiliation and failure. God cannot be manipulated into carrying out my plans with my selected materials. He is about carrying out his plans with whatever materials he chooses.
The answer to encroaching cynicism is, I believe, Christian hedonism. The quest is not for understanding, but is for joy. The promise is not that God will do what he determines, but that he is determined to satisfy me forever with himself. Along the way of living this life, I have many more miles to travel. My heart is often hard, my mind fearful and my vision small. I am guilty of wanting God to make much of me rather than make me into a soul who makes much of him now and forever.
I am far more tempted with cynicism than I am with unbelief. I am far more inclined, as C.S. Lewis said, to see God as the experimenter than as the divine lover and heavenly Father. My prayer, and the prayers I ask for, is that I would trust God by exalting in his love, goodness and grace poured out in Christ and directed invincibly and irresistibly toward me.
There is a reason the book of Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. I have always been bothered by those who easily explained and expounded this book. It is a book that wanders in the same emotions that I have. The author counsels trust in God, but the struggle continues on every page. Over and over, he returns to the affirmation that life under the sun is meaningless and only God makes it meaningful. Only God is our hope in this world.
But Koheleth finds himself trusting a God who is never revealed in intimate loving terms. In Ecclesiastes, God seems sometimes to be more a deity of unavoidable fatalism rather than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I know something of this God. He gives. He takes away. He does not explain. He asks for faith, and for everything you thought you could never give up.
I do not know God’s ways. I can only put my hand over my mouth, look to the Word and the work of the Spirit, and press on. When all my wrestling is over, God remains.