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March 09, 2018

God Makes Sense Even When He Doesn't Make Sense, Part 1


I have been thinking for many years about those occasions when God doesn't make sense. I was in my late teens when the first "awesome why" came rocketing through my brain. I don't remember today what precipitated that troublesome thought, but I knew I had hit an issue that required more horsepower than I possessed. I've now had a little more time—well, maybe more than a little—to study the Word and sort out my frame of reference.  Many years have come and gone since I gave my heart to Jesus Christ as a three-year-old child. I am still committed to this Master with every fiber of my being, and that conviction is deeper and stronger today than it has ever been.

Furthermore, this passage of time and the counsel of some biblical scholars have helped me come to terms with what I believe is the correct understanding of those periods when faith is severely challenged. I believe I have gotten a better idea of who God is and how He interacts with us—especially in four specific areas.

1. God is present and involved in our lives even when He seems deaf or on an extended leave of absence.

When I was a boy, I heard a mystery program on radio that captured my imagination. It told the story of a man who was condemned to solitary confinement in a pitch-black cell. The only thing he had to occupy his mind was a marble, which he threw repeatedly against the walls. He spent his hours listening to the marble as it bounced and rolled around the room. Then he would grope in the darkness until he found his precious toy.

One day, the prisoner threw his marble upward—but it failed to come down. Only silence echoed through the darkness. He was deeply disturbed by the "evaporation" of the marble and his inability to explain its disappearance. Finally he went berserk, pulled out all his hair, and died.

When the prison officials came to remove his body, a guard noticed something caught in a huge spider's web in the upper corner of the room.

That's strange, he thought. I wonder how a marble got up there.

As the story of the frantic prisoner illustrates, human perception sometimes poses questions the mind is incapable of answering. But valid answers always exist. For those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, it just makes good sense not to depend too heavily on our ability to make the pieces fit—especially when we're trying to figure out the Almighty!

Not only is human perception a highly flawed and imprecise instrument, but our emotions are even less reliable. They have the consistency and dependability of Silly Putty. I wrote a book some years ago entitled Emotions: Can You Trust Them?, I invested nearly 200 pages to answer my own question in the negative. No, we can't depend on our feelings and passions to govern our lives or assess the world around us. Emotions are unreliable—biased—whimsical. They lie as often as they tell the truth. They are manipulated by hormones -especially in the teen years- and they wobble dramatically from early morning, when we're rested, to the evening, when we're tired. One of the evidences of emotional maturity is the ability (and the willingness) to overrule ephemeral feelings and govern our behavior with the intellect and the will. (Did it really require 200 pages to say that?)

If perceptions or emotions are suspect at best, then we must be extremely wary in accepting what they tell us about God. Unfortunately, many believers seem unaware of this source of confusion and disillusionment. It is typical for vulnerable people to accept what they "feel" about the Lord at face value. But what they feel may reflect nothing more than a momentary frame of mind. Furthermore, the mind, the body, and the spirit are very close neighbors. One usually catches the ills of the next. If a person is depressed, for example, it affects not only his emotional and physical wellbeing; his spiritual life suffers too. He may conclude, "God doesn't love me. I just don't feel His approval." Likewise, the first thing an individual is likely to say when diagnosed with a threatening physical illness is, "Why would God do this to me?" These three faculties are inextricably linked, and they weaken the objectivity of our perception.

This understanding becomes extremely important when it comes to evaluating our relationship with God. Even when He seems 1,000 miles away and uninterested in our affairs, He is close enough to touch. A wonderful illustration of this unseen presence is described in Luke 24, verses 13 and 14, when two of Jesus' disciples were walking toward a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

They had seen their Master horribly crucified three days earlier, and they were severely depressed. Everything that they hoped for had died on that Roman cross. All the dramatic things Jesus had said and done now appeared contrived and untrue. He had spoken with such authority, but now He was dead and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. He claimed to be the Son of God, yet they had heard Him cry in His last hours, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). The disciples couldn't have been more confused. What was the meaning of the time they had spent with this man who called Himself the Messiah?

What they didn't realize was that Jesus was walking that dusty road with them at that very moment, and that they were about to be given the greatest news ever heard by human ears. It would revolutionize their lives and turn the rest of the world upside down. At the time, however, all they saw were facts that could not be harmonized. They had, I submit, a problem of perception.

In my work with Christian families in crisis, I find them struggling in many of the same ways as the disciples. As they trudge along in deep thought, there is no evidence that Jesus is in their part of the universe. Because they don't "feel" His presence, they cannot believe He cares. Since the facts don't add up, they are convinced no reasonable explanation exists. Their prayers bring no immediate relief, so they presume they are not heard. But they are wrong. It is my firm conviction in these instances that too much confidence is placed in what people feel, and too little on the promises of God, who said He would supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

If you find yourself on that dusty road to Emmaus today, and the circumstances in your life have left you confused and depressed, I have a word of counsel for you. Never assume God's silence or apparent inactivity is evidence of His disinterest. Let me say it again. Feelings about His inaccessibility mean nothing! Absolutely nothing! His Word is infinitely more reliable than our spooky emotions. Rev. Reubin Welch, minister and author, once said, "With God, even when nothing is happening—something is happening." It is true. The Lord is at work in His own unique way even when our prayers seem to echo back from an empty universe.

Establish your foundation not on ephemeral emotions but on the authority of the written Word. He promised never to leave us (Matthew 28:20). He said, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). He is "a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). We're assured that "the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer" (1Peter 3:12). David said:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

These promises and proclamations remain true even if we have no spiritual feelings whatsoever. Cling to that truth with the tenacity of a bulldog! For, as Kierkegaard said, "Faith is holding onto uncertainties with passionate conviction." 

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