Trusting God's Word When We Do Not Understand His Ways

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Monday, May 17, 2021
man sitting on floor looking up asking why upset confused angry sad

Trusting God's Word When We Do Not Understand His Ways


A pet tiger that had been wandering around a Houston neighborhood for several days has been found safe. It was taken to an animal sanctuary yesterday morning, and for good reason: there really is no such thing as a “pet” tiger. As the Humane Society notes, attacks by captive tigers have killed children and adults.

What is true physically is even more true spiritually: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He has clearly been roaring lately, as a scan of the headlines shows:

  • A four-year-old boy was found dead Saturday morning on a street in Dallas. Police said he died in a violent manner and have arrested a suspect in connection with his death.
  • The Biden administration is seeking ways to prevent cyber threats such as the ransomware attack that caused havoc for Americans on the East Coast.
  • Economists are concerned about rising inflation and disappointing jobs reports.
  • As the conflict in Israel continues, observers report that Hamas is winning the battle for leadership of the Palestinian national movement, with significant consequences for the future of peace in Israel.

If you and I were all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, we would not allow tigers to attack humans or humans to mistreat tigers. We would not allow children to be harmed, much less murdered. We would not allow attacks of any kind on innocent people, or inflation to threaten our financial wellbeing, or military conflicts and their inevitable destruction.

And yet, our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God does. Obeying God’s word when we don’t understand his ways is one of the great challenges of the Christian life and a significant obstacle to faith for many skeptics. In a culture with greater scientific progress and technological sophistication than ever before in human history, it is easy to deceive ourselves into believing that we should not believe what we cannot understand.

However, with God the opposite is actually true. To paraphrase the classic song, the less we understand his hand, the more we need to trust his heart.

The miracle of medicinal mud

John 9 finds Jesus in the Temple precincts, where he had been debating with the religious authorities. As he left, he and his disciples “saw a man blind from birth” (v. 1). The Great Physician responded to the man’s plight in a strange way: “He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam'” (vv. 6–7a).

If I were the man born blind, I would question both what Jesus did and what he asked me to do.

Using mud for medicinal purposes was common in the ancient world. So-called “medicinal clay” is described on Mesopotamian tablets around 2500 BC and by ancient Egyptians as well. It can draw toxic substances from the body, protect against bacterial infections, and help with skin diseases. But none of this would be true for a person born blind.

Nor does Jesus’ command to the man make sense in human terms. The pool of Bethesda was adjacent to the temple area; we visit it whenever I lead groups to Israel. The pool of Siloam, by contrast, was at the opposite end of the city. Formed by Hezekiah’s tunnel in 701 BC, it has been partially excavated and is a remarkable site. I have taught John 9 many times when visiting it.

But we make our way there on buses as sighted people. Imagine being blind, your face caked with mud, making your way through the city streets. None of this would make sense to you. But the man obeyed what he did not understand, with this result: “He went and washed and came back seeing” (v. 7b).

Obeying God’s will when we don’t understand his word is a common theme of Scripture. Noah built an ark to protect from a flood such as the world had never seen; Moses stood before a Red Sea that only God could part; Joshua and the people stepped into a flooded Jordan river that the Lord then stopped; the disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus had no idea they would become the spiritual forebears of billions of saved souls.

Each testifies today: when we do not see God’s hand, we can trust his heart.

Teaching calculus to a three-year-old

Where are you being asked to trust what you do not understand? What does God want you to do or stop doing in order to be more like Jesus? Who is he asking you to forgive? From whom is he calling you to seek forgiveness? Where is he calling you to use your influence and witness even more passionately and courageously for your Lord?

When it’s hard to trust God, remember this fact: human minds cannot understand divine sovereignty (Isaiah 55:8-9).

This should come as no surprise. If God is omniscient and our minds are finite and fallen, how should we understand his thoughts? He is not withholding explanations he could give if he wished—there are times when we simply are unable to understand his purposes and ways.

If we cannot explain calculus to a three-year-old, how much less can the King of the universe explain his thoughts to fallen humans?

Far from a problem for skeptics, this proposition should encourage faith in God. If our minds could fully understand God, either he would not be God or we would be. If we could understand every word of the Bible, we would have good reason not to believe that God inspired it.

I traveled in Turkey many years ago doing research for a book on the seven churches of Revelation. My driver and guide was a committed Muslim. During our conversations, he explained that he could not become a Christian because he could not understand the doctrine of the Trinity. I asked him: If there were no mystery to the nature of God, would he truly be God?

When you cannot see his hand

As we’ll see tomorrow, I am not asking you to suspend your intellect or to accept truth claims without investigation. Rather, I am encouraging us to believe that a Father who sent his Son to die on a cross so we could live eternally is a God who always wants our best.

I can testify both rationally and personally that it really is true: when we cannot see his hand, we can trust his heart.

Would you trust your greatest challenge to your Father’s heart today?

Publication date: May 17, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/eyetoeyePIX

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