December 11, 2015

When God says NO

Jeremiah 21:1–22:30, Romans 3:1–20, Proverbs 17:1–28

Some of my prayers seem to be in the will of God and good prayers, but He answers “no” and I do not understand. I have to remind myself that God is not human, so He does not make decisions like a human. Instead, He sees all possible outcomes and knows the best answer. I simply struggle to understand the wisdom of His decisions.

King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, asked Jeremiah, “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

Jeremiah’s answer from God was a solid “No way!” He said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence . . . . I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’”

Jeremiah added, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good . . . it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’” (Jeremiah 21:1–10)

Then, adding insult to injury, Jeremiah said, “And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?’ And they will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them.’” (Jeremiah 22:8–9)

This seems an extreme example of a negative answer, but if I consider the love of God and that He knows what sin will do to His people, it is logical that He should do whatever is necessary to break sin’s power. We sinners tend to think on the short term, and what feels good, but God looks at sin or righteousness as strictly black or white issues.

Solomon writes many proverbs with contrasts, for instance: “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” and “A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.” (Proverbs 17:1–2)

In human value systems, feasting is better than a dry morsel, and some people enjoy strife more than peace and quiet. As for the servant and son comparison, many consider their sons are their sons, no matter how they behave, and would never give their inheritance to a mere servant.

This great gulf between God’s will and our values is part of why the Bible says: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one . . . . and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–12, 17–18)

Because of sin and those I wants that focus my attention on me, my failure to understand God’s thinking becomes apparent when it smacks me in the face through unanswered prayer.

Another wake-up happens when I try to obey Him in my own strength and reasoning. It does not work. Instead, I need to come to grips with grace. It tells me that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” and that God’s laws have another purpose: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20)

In other words, whether I give the worst of effort, or the best of effort to please God, I quickly find out how little I know about Him and about grace.

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