A common challenge in following God: ‘take your lead’ from God. Too often a follower of God decides for God what His will is. Too often a follower of God decides for God what His purposes and intents are. Too often a follower of God decides for God what His priorities are. Too often a follower of God is certain that he or she knows exactly how God thinks. Therefore, he or she is qualified to serve as God’s judge in numerous matters if not all matters.
A common temptation among many Christians is the temptation to ‘make all things fit my system.’ A Christian’s ‘system’ is composed of his or her approach to and understanding of the foundation objective of the Bible. He or she is certain that his or her ‘system’ is God’s ‘system’. If unknown information fits within and supports the person’s accepted ‘system’, the previously unknown information is ‘good information’. If the previously unknown information does NOT fit within and support the person’s accepted ‘system’, it is bad or incorrect information. As ‘bad’ or ‘incorrect’ information, it must be attacked and rejected. Even if the foundation of the unknown information is directly from scripture’s revelation, its origin is insignificant.
Too often the primary question is not, “Does this come from God?” The reaction is, “That cannot be right! If that is correct, it means . . . And we know that cannot be correct.” If it suggests that the accepted ‘system’ must be examined, the reaction is almost automatically rejection.
Long ago, Isaiah called for Judah to return to God (Isaiah 55). He made it quite evident from the beginning that Judah (1) was far from what God intended and (2) had deeply offended God in unjust behavior and idolatry (consider Isaiah 1:4-15). Isaiah stressed God’s compassion. Though Judah had offended God grievously, Isaiah declared God’s compassion. It was not too late to return to God! Listen to Isaiah’s pleading. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). “Let the wicked forsake his way. . . and . . . return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him . . . for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
Both in Judah and the church, the reaction of those certain they know the way God thinks is this: “No, God will not pardon! Their wickedness is too great! Their sins are too many! The rebellions are too horrible!” Human perspective suggested if Judah had offended God so deeply, pardon was impossible. “It is time for inescapable justice, not abundant pardon!”
Isaiah declared in God’s voice. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Paraphrased: “You might not extend pardon in these circumstances, but I [God] do. People do not think and act like I do.”
Consider two illustrations of the fact that God does not think or behave as human beings do. The first illustration is centered in the prophet Habakkuk’s reaction to God’s plan to use the Babylonians to punish Judah. To say that the prophet Habakkuk was confused by God’s plan is putting it mildly. One of the questions Habakkuk asks in 1:12-17 is this: how can a God in whom there is no evil allow Judah to be captives of people who are less righteous than Judah? Clearly, God did not view the situation from the human perspective and from the human concept of defining what is just [righteous].
The second illustration is centered in the Jewish prophet Jonah’s reaction to a mission God gave him to the gentile people of Assyria. First, Jonah tried to reject and evade the mission God gave him (Jonah 1, 2). When God refused to allow him to evade the mission, Jonah went to Nineveh as instructed. He was a horrible missionary! Though God sent him, he offered the Assyrians no hope! He gave them no call to repentance! His message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). He wanted these ungodly, cruel people to face justice!
The call to repentance came from the wicked, not the prophet of God. When the people of Nineveh believed in God (Jonah 3:5), it was they who said, “Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?” (Jonah 3:9) God did relent (Jonah 3:10). The result: a furious Jonah was filled with anger toward God (Jonah 4:1).
Jonah’s reaction is insightful. “I knew it! I knew you would not destroy them! Take me out of my misery—kill me! (Jonah 4:2, 3) God asked, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4) In Jonah’s act of going out of the city to observe what would happen, there was an implied ultimatum: “If You love them, destroy me. If You love me, destroy them. Choose—because You cannot love both of us!”
One day God shaded Jonah with a plant Jonah did not cultivate. The next day God destroyed the plant with a worm. Jonah begged with all his soul to die declaring, “Death is better than life” (Jonah 4:8). He even dared tell God that he had good reason to be angry! (Jonah 4:9)
God replied, “You are angry enough to want death because a plant you did not plant died. Why should I not have compassion on the people of this great city?” (Jonah 4:10, 11)
Clearly, a man who was supposedly a godly person did not think as God thought.
Centuries later Paul also addressed the issue of God’s love for both Jew and gentile in his letter to the Christians in Rome. After discussing the basis of God’s actions in salvation, He closed his opening section with these words:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
To people, it may become an ‘us or them—but not both of us’ proposition in regard to God’s love. Yet, to God, it is not a matter of choosing. Anyone who has an obedient faith is welcome to live in God’s love. Because of God’s mercy and grace declared in Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jews and gentiles can be part of God’s family. Happy is the person who can rejoice in God’s ways and thoughts—even when God’s ways and thoughts are not his or her ways and thoughts.
God’s inclusive love is a difficult understanding to accept for those who see themselves as indispensable to God’s purposes; who have a high opinion of their faith when it is compared to other Christians’ faith; and who have a high opinion of themselves as God’s people. Even if Christians exclude each other, God does not have to choose. Even if a Christian decides he/she disapproves of God’s actions or does not like God’s actions, God can and will save both. Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be saved, and Jews did not have to become gentiles to be saved. That truth likely displeased the majority of both Jewish and gentile Christians!
God accomplished what He intended to accomplish. Jews and gentiles simply needed to understand what God accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The challenge was [and is!] to grasp God’s achievements in Jesus Christ, and to trust God’s achievements in Jesus Christ. The challenge was NOT [and is not!] to deny God’s achievements in Jesus Christ. To declare, “God would not do that!” as the basis of a rejection of God’s achievements in Jesus Christ is to declare one’s view of and understanding of God’s nature and priorities are inadequate. Most Christians direly need an improved understanding of atonement, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, and redemption.
Chapter Eight Chapter Ten