Even if He never tells me why.
Charles Simeon, the eighteenth Anglican clergyman, based in Cambridge, urged his students not to be “System Christians” but “Bible Christians”. I know what he meant. It strikes me as smug, and even arrogant, to think we can pigeon-hole Almighty God into neat packages that explain His character and workings. He is infinite, eternal, and altogether wise. He is beyond the complete understanding of we who are finite, limited by time, and fallen, so that we often act foolishly. What we know about God, is what He in His grace has chosen to tell us. We dare not impose on Him anything that is beyond what He has revealed to us. So, that leaves us often puzzled and wondering why.
Deuteronomy 29 v. 29 gives us an insight as to what should be our reaction to this: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
The verse speaks of mystery and certainty. There are both secret things and revealed things.
Mystery – the secret things
There are things we will never be able to understand, or explain. There are concepts and incidents that are beyond us. Things that concern God, or are permitted by God, or understood only by God, and over-ruled by God, are His affair, and may be left with Him.
God as wise in His reservations, as He is in His revelations
I do not know any more powerful piece of English prose than those written by Jewish writer Elie Wiesel. He was born in Sighet, Transylvania in 1928. Aged only 14 he was sent to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald. Years later, he reflected on the first night in a concentration camp:
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
“Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
“Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments, which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
How many of us, in times of despair, when all our dreams shatter before us, when pain in mind and body seems to consume our every moment, when despair and darkness overrides all the joys of living, and worst of all, when God seems distant, have felt similar feelings to Elie Wiesel?
“Why did the illness come?” “Why did the relationship fail?” “Where did the sense of joy, and care-free optimism go?” “What happened to all those plans and prospects?” “Why is this wound so deep?” “Why do I feel so alone?” “How long will all this last, because I can’t take any more?” “Why do the righteous suffer so?” “God, where are you when I need you?”
All these mysteries teach us:
· To be humble - we need to accept our limitations. We are tiny, though deeply significant, creatures in a vast universe. The God who spoke and out of nothing framed the worlds, is well able to bring order out of chaos. He is altogether loving and know s what He is doing.
· To be trusting – we need to accept God’s will. It may be that “darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88 v. 18 NIV). In fact in all the psalms, some of which express deep heaviness, never once do we read the psalmist saying that he no longer trusts in God. Gerhart Tersteegen said, “As long as we want to be different from what God wants us to be at the time, we are only tormenting ourselves to no purpose.”
· To be thankful – we need to accept that God knows best. If God is allowing us to be hurt, He will not waste the time or the tears. He will redeem each, and use them for our good and His purpose. I love Henry Thoreau statement that “The things for which we visit a man were done alone in the dark and the cold.” In other words, what makes a person of stature, is their victory over the inward, personal struggles we all face. Think about that and be thankful!
Certainty – the revealed things
Despite all the unanswered questions and bewildering issues of life, we have the promises of God, which are totally reliable. God has revealed Himself; He has made Himself known. Scripture says, “We know in part”, but at least we do know! We know that there is a God. We know that He is infinitely loving. We know, too, that He is our Guide for faith and life. His love for us is demonstrated by the death of His darling Son Jesus, who carried our sins on the cross. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8 v. 32).
We know that Jesus has conquered death by rising again, and has ascended and is exalted in heaven. We know that one day Christ will return to his rightful inheritance. We know that we are safe in His care… eternally. Lord Hailsham, a previous Lord Chancellor, who died in 2002 said, “When I stand in judgement, I will plead guilty, and cast myself on the mercy of the court.” How wise of him! It is only God’s mercy, which secures our eternal home with Him.
Over and above all that God is and has done, “He has granted to us His precious and very great promises”. Just muse on John 14, or Romans 8 or Revelation 21, etc. etc. The old fashioned Promises Boxes may have sometimes taken Bible texts out of context, but whatever, they were too small to contain all the promises of God to us. Just think on this one: “He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take awy from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25 v. 8)
The things revealed enable us to cope with the things we don’t know.
And the things revealed are told to us, not to gratify our curiosity, but that we and succeeding generations may trust and obey God.
I have heard a handful of sermons, which to me etched an indelible impression on my mind. They are unforgettable. One such was from Steve Brady who speaking on John 13 v. 7 (“Jesus said, ’What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this’”) had three straightforward points: 1. Be glad for what you do know, 2. Be humble for what you do not know, 3. Be patient for what you do not know.
When my good friend, Prof. Verna Wright was himself dying of cancer, he quoted to his daughter, who also had cancer, the words of the hymn:
“I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed; what God has planned;
I only know at His right hand
Stands One who is my Saviour.”
God gives us an intriguing insight into His nature in Isaiah 45 v. 15 where we read, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” There is certainty here – God is our Saviour; but there is mystery, too – He sometimes hides Himself from us, but we can trust God in the darkness. Though God may be distant, He is never absent. He promises His presence and will never, no never, forsake us. This we do know!
Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary stateswoman and author, reflecting on her ordeals during the Congo Uprising in 1964 said, “I came to the conclusion that I could thank God that He trusts me with all the suffering, even if He never tells me why I was to go through it.” She had been brutalised, imprisoned and sentenced to death, but her thinking was right. God has revealed enough to make faith intelligent, but has reserved sufficient to leave us trusting in our big God.