Hope in a Knowable God: Truths from Isaiah 55:8-9
In my preaching and teaching, I probably quote Isaiah 55:8-9 as much as any other passage of Scripture:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither 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.”
What a comforting truth--God is not like us! He does not worry, does not get unjustly angry, does not ever act selfishly. He does not mess up, give up, or act up. And though we do not always understand what He does, we know that He has reasons for doing those things we struggle to understand. He never does anything without a purpose, but He does not always reveal those purposes to us; and, even if He did, we would likely struggle to fathom them.
We know that all bad things, harmful things, and evil things are the result of sin and the resulting brokenness of this fallen world. Even so, we do not know the specific reasons why God allows the Coronavirus (or any other disease), natural disasters, or freak accidents—at least not definitively or entirely. To say, “Well, God is doing this,” or, “God is doing that,” is a dangerous exercise in futility because the best we can do is speculate about what God might be doing at this exact time in the exact way He does it. Even so, there are some biblical principles that are true and can be applied to any scenario at any time. So, while we do not have a complete answer, we can rest in the truths of God’s character.
1. We know that God is in control of all things and that His will is always done.
The Bible states, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3) and, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 136:5). In talking about molding the hearts of man in Romans 9, God says He will show mercy to whomever He wills and will harden the heart of whomever He wills. He then asks who are we, as the creation, to question what He, the Creator, does? Some people struggle to understand how God’s will is always done when seeing the state of the world, but those two things are not at odds with one another. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains, “Anyone who has ever been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another.” He then gives example of a mother who tells her children that they must clean their rooms every night (her will), only to find each morning that they have failed to do so (against her will). Though she would rather the children be neat and tidy, she chooses to allow them to do as they please, anyway. In this instance, the mother’s will is ultimately done (her will that the children choose freely for themselves) even though at the same time the children act against her will (that they keep their rooms clean).
2. We know God is always good.
The Bible states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17) and, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Furthermore, all of God’s purposes are for good—consider Paul’s exhortation to the Romans, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In other words, what God sovereignly allows is always good, or always works for good, according to His purposes. This is a reason for great hope for those who love Him and have been called and chosen for His glory.
3. We look back at Isaiah 55:8-9 and conclude that God does all things as part of His will and according to His goodness.
God is sovereign and always good, and because His ways and thoughts are above ours, we can conclude that He does things all the time or allows things all the time that are beyond us to understand, but are still part of His will and in accordance with His goodness. Might He be allowing some of His children to get sick to cause them to trust Him more deeply? He might be. At the same time, might He be judging some who arrogantly rebel against Him in sinful disobedience? Again, He might be. Might He be giving the church an open door for evangelism during a national crisis? Of course, He might be. Do we KNOW He is doing each of these things? No, but we do know that whatever He is doing is for a perfect purpose, and we can trust Him as He does it. Perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves is, “do we trust Him, even when we don’t understand Him?” I do not mean, do we trust Him to always change the circumstances to our favor, but do we trust Him to be perfectly good, even when our circumstances stay the same? If we do, then we can have peace, joy, and contentment regardless of what is unfolding around us. If we do not trust Him, our lives will be characterized by bitterness, confusion, and uncertainty.
My prayer for all of us today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)