The Impossible Will of God

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Listen to “The Impossible Will of God”

 

Who doesn’t want to know the will of God? As a young man, that topic occupied me as much as any other. I recall reading Alan Redpath’s guidance that discerning the will of God is done best by aligning the lights of three beacons. First is circumstances. Second is the truth of Scripture. Last, the counsel of wise friends. If those line up there is good reason to believe you are in the will of God and your decision, while not guaranteed, will more likely be the right one.

But, I have discovered over the course of my life that discerning the will of God is not always that clean and neat. In fact, there are times when the will of God seems to go against all three guides. There are moments when God asks for the unimaginable that contradicts our understanding of Scripture, only confuses our circumstances and flies in the face of our trusted friends.

It is difficult to find the line between heresy and progress – between changes that create new life and those that destroy fundamental traditions and beliefs. But there is something worse than heresy. Heresy is false teaching. Apostasy, on the other hand, is to abandon not only what you believed but becoming a traitor to those believing in you, selling out, to betray loved ones and put them at risk. You don’t argue with apostates. You expel them – or worse.  That was Peter’s dilemma as a result of his vision of the animals in the book of Acts. He would be an outcast and, like him, everything in us says “Not so, Lord.”

Peter had his own ideas about what was orthodox and right. He had his own well-formed beliefs about his deepest principles and values. Just as Jonah had righteous convictions held by everyone for what God’s attitude should be toward the Ninevites. Just as the older brother of the Prodigal Son had a sense of justice greater than the father. None of these were mere prejudices. They were beliefs founded on historic religious tradition – even revelation. All of these men and others argued with God about the importance of His honor and reputation being upheld. They wanted to protect Him from Himself. But, they discovered as we all do that His thoughts and his ways are not ours. God is not a prisoner to any set of expectations on our part.

There are times when God turns us inside out. There are moments we are commanded to do what we think is inconsistent or even ungodly and forbidden. Everything in us opposes this change because we have been trained to know what pleases and displeases God. We are not prepared for something that makes us question the very nature of God Himself and to stare into the unfamiliar face of this God. We like the “no surprises” God who is stable, predictable and reasonable. We prefer a religion that comforts and explains. Our identity is secure and we have the approval of our friends and community. We know the rules. We know what Scripture and our traditions uphold and everything is settled.

As I get older I have realized I am even less interested in having things unsettled.  Even more now, I want those lights to line up. I don’t want God changing the game now that I have it down. Besides, the stakes are higher, the losses are greater, the chances of recovery are less and the approaching prospect of judgment for how well I have done makes following the rules more appealing than counting on grace.  Grace was for another time. This stage of life is about making sure you pass the final exam. It is about belonging –  not being isolated and cut off. I think I could handle being a heretic but not an apostate and in our world today we brand anyone who disagrees as a traitor – not simply a heretic. There is no margin.

Alan Redpath said something later in his life that is so true. “When God wants to do an impossible task He takes an impossible man and crushes him.” Peter, Paul, Abraham, and others were impossible men presented with impossible options. But, as an old man, Peter said, “Do not fear what they fear.” Fear of change. Fear of inconsistency. Fear of losing standing or friendship or status. Fear of being crushed. All these would have us say, “Not so, Lord.” Instead, let’s be open to God’s impossible choices and ways that we do not understand. We will trust He is leading and the eternal God is still our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

*Sculpture in photo: “Choices” by Antje Campbell

 

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 18 comments
  • John
    Reply

    My gosh, I love this piece. ‘Nuff said.

  • Mallory
    Reply

    Thank you for your wise words this morning, Fred! As soon as I read the first tidbit about the three things that help you figure out if you’re in the will of God, I wrote them down because I was anxious to have clarity. AND then, I read the rest and realized your point is that sometimes God decides to go completely against the grain and dismiss the notion of clarity. Though it leaves me at square one, I’m grateful for your words. 🙂

  • Clare Frist
    Reply

    I am a cautious person and know next to nothing about “the impossible will of God,” but nevertheless your words resonate, especially as I have been reading about saints down through the ages (I highly recommend Robert Ellsberg’s daily devotional ALL SAINTS). I wonder if you and other readers have experienced being confronted by the impossible will of God, and what that experience was like and what resulted from it.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I have not, Clare. I am not envious of those who have!

  • Annette Oltmans
    Reply

    Hi Fred, Wow! This is my prayer. That in these current times where victims are feeling it might now be safe to come forward with their horrific stories, at those important moments of disclosure, that they will be believed and supported rather than questioned about their part in it, not believed, judged and even ostracized. Clearly in these instances, CIRCUMSTANCES include horrible betrayal by a trusted leader, SCRIPTURE (whom many obedient Christians believe is THE CHURCH), and WISE FRIENDS (who are often fools protecting their religious, social or institutional) are duplicitous and fail miserably. At The MEND Project we call it Double Abuse. It includes group abuse, spiritual abuse, institutional abuse and it is causing horrific harm by way of exacerbated trauma and emotional collapse that takes years to heal. This secret system of betrayal and collusion is crushing victims’ lives….It brings to mind what Henry Cloud said this way, “There is a big difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow. It can be the source of huge growth. That is not harmful. Harm is when you damage someone. Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt.” ― Henry Cloud. I (2015) call it Double Abuse to victims due to the significant harm it causes. And hurt is what perpetrators must feel in order to change. Annette Oltmans

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Annette. This is why I like what Belinda Bauman, Lynne Hybels, and others are doing with Silence is Not Spiritual.

      • Annette oltmans
        Reply

        As I read your post the #Silence is not Spiritual letter is something I thought you were in part referring to. Thank you and God bless

        • Fred Smith
          Fred Smith
          Reply

          Yes, it is in my mind as I am friends with Belinda, Lynne and Emily. However, there are more “prisoners” than sexual abuse even though those are (rightfully so) in the news.

  • Annette Oltmans
    Reply

    I pressed send too early…Type o After the word institutional, I meant to write the word ‘structure’. I meant to also write, thank you for validating that at times we need to do the seemingly impossible.

  • Sasha vukelja
    Reply

    I was very resistant to changes and stil am but to lesser degree. I trust Him and I am I am ready to say Yes to what ever ! I had so much fear before but now as he put peace in my heart the fear is Almost all gone ! It is strange that I actually look towards the “surprises « he had for me. I finally open it . Tell me more about the photography

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Sasha! The photos are in last week’s blog.

  • Tav Lupton
    Reply

    Fred,
    This resonates.
    Especially in transition.
    I am working myself out of a job and will need to re- invent myself in the coming year, which at the moment feels unimaginable.
    Maybe being “crushed” is a better way of looking at the situation than merely re-inventing.
    And reading your commentary, I felt a bit like I was reading Henri Nouwen!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Tav – Instead of thinking of it as re-inventing you might think of it as doing what you have been prepared to do for the next stage of life. When we think of seasons (at least for me) I leap to Fall and Winter and neither of those have much of a future! It’s not a re-start. It’s not Spring again. It is what you have been prepared to do by all the experiences and learning of your life up until now. It may not look familiar and it may be a surprise but it is not disconnected from the past and it’s not a bleak mid-winter!

  • Brian Bollinger
    Reply

    This was just what I needed to read today Fred. Thank you again for being generous with the insight God has given you.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Brian. I’ve told a number of people that I expected some pushback but, instead, I have had a number of people respond just as you have. Maybe finding the “perfect will of God” is not as simple or even as important as we have been led to believe? Whenever a person comes to me asking the question, “How do I find the will of God for my life?” I ask them why they want to know. Do you know what the response is after a while? “Because I believe God will punish me if I don’t find out and do it.” If it’s that big a puzzle then I wonder why God does not communicate it more clearly to us? I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many, many things we can do in the will of God.

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