October 4, 2015

When God seems unpredictable

Ezekiel 9:1–11:25, Revelation 3:1–13, Job 33:8–18

As a new Christian, I thought God was like a genie in a bottle. I could ask whatever I wanted and He would do it. When I got over that silly idea, another one popped up. I thought if life was perplexing, I could ask God and He would tell me all the answers. It didn’t take long to find out that wasn’t true either.

The OT tells how God allowed Satan to strike Job in a cosmic test of this righteous man’s faith. Job had no idea what was going on and complains that God is not answering him. Yet he also realized that God is God and does not have to answer. Elihu, one of his comforters, thought God was disciplining Job for sin so he would turn from it. He didn’t know the cause of Job’s suffering either but made an assumption.

He says, “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you, for God is greater than man. Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’? For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:12–18)

The message God gave to His prophets was seldom this confusing. He told them His will and actions with clear and plain reasons. He told Ezekiel what to say, including how sinners must be destroyed. The prophet was horrified, as God said the guilt of His people was “exceedingly great.”

However, God didn’t tell Job’s ‘friends’ anything about why Job suffered. They were speculating. This is a strong lesson: I must never speculate about anyone’s situation unless God reveals it!

Another surprise came after a long tirade against their sin. God said, “Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.” Then He promised to restore them and give their land back, even “give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:16–21)

After all the warnings, threats, and discipline, they must have been shocked at this promise of mercy and new life. They didn’t deserve mercy, but God gave it anyway.

In the book of Revelation, God’s letters to the churches are surprising also. One of the seven went to Sardis and He said, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life . . . .” (Revelation 3:1–6)

He told the church in Philadelphia, “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:7–12)

Job was righteous and yet severely tested by suffering. The Christians at Philadelphia were righteous and escaped trial. Who can figure out what God is doing unless He plainly tells them? No wonder Job’s friends got it wrong. No wonder I often get it wrong. Far better that I humble myself and admit that I don’t know than try to figure out the plans of the Almighty when He has chosen not to show them to me!

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