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