Trusting the “Sometimes” God
[If you’d rather read these posts in one document, click here…]
(Before you freak out, please be assured that I’m not implying that God is “sometimes God,” and then sometimes he’s not! I mean something else, which you’ll have to read further to find out.)
That season of anguish to which left me, albeit temporarily, jaded in my view of God. Everything that I had previously believed was called into question, and for a time, I became quite cynical about the way he was either doing things, or refusing to do them. He seemed kind of fickle to me, often failing to do for us what good friends would typically do for those they love.
I could tell I was beginning to heal emotionally by the way I responded to a story I heard about a family during the deadly 2009 earthquake in Haiti. My friend Mitch was sharing with me an account of how a father and daughter were miraculously spared as one beam of their house leaned up against another, protecting them from the collapsing roof. In another part of the house the mother was crushed to death under the crumbled adobe walls. I noticed that my usual cynical response wasn’t ready at hand. During that season I would normally have blurted out something like, “What’s up with that? Why would God save one and not the other?! How does that work? What’s his twisted thinking on that? Why does he sometimes and with some people intervene supernaturally, and at other times with other people chooses not to?” But I noticed that my default of cynicism wasn’t there. I even tried to call it up, but it only made a feeble and fleeting appearance. Instead of being annoyed with God for allowing it, compassion kicked in for the family’s tragedy. With no idea why God would save some and not others, my heart simply ached for the suffering.
I’m not saying that I “understand” suffering any better than before. I’m just not as consumed by the reasons for it. I still hate that people suffer. Earthquakes, hurricanes, rape, and genocide all make me terribly sad, but I’m just not so frustrated about how a good God could permit such things in his world. Honestly, I think this shift in thinking has freed me to be more compassionate toward those who are suffering. Because I’m not expending so much emotional energy being ticked off with God for seeming so random in his distribution of miracles, I have reserves left to truly empathize. As my cynicism has dissipated over time, space has been created for compassion. I’m grateful for this.
God doesn’t like it very much when we
try to pin him down to a “Job Description.”
I’m always amazed at how quick and methodical my accountant is with my tax return (in all honesty, I’m probably his easiest account, since I give him so little to work with!). Year after year, Stan just plugs the figures into formulas and wham-bang – I’m walking out with the bad news in hand. With the mathematical formulas that he works with day after day, he’s got it down to a predictable procedure. I assume that IRS “recommendations” have something to do with there being very little variance in tax preparation. Is it possible that we expect God to act like an accountant, and deal uniformly with all of “his accounts” in all situations? I’m finding that he isn’t nearly as “anticipatable” as that, and when he doesn’t conform to the image of him that I’ve concocted in my mind, I tend to become disappointed in him. This might be one reason so many believers eventually become unbelievers. God didn’t do what they expected, and they “lost faith” in him. Could it be that they lost faith, not in the God who is, but in the God they wanted him to be
Herod had both James and Peter jailed for telling people about Jesus (Acts 12). He killed James and intended to do the same with Peter. But instead of having his head chopped off like his fellow Jesus-follower, Peter was visited by an angel who supernaturally opened the prison doors and set him free to rejoin his friends. James died and Peter lived! God watched the beheading of the one and then rescued the other from the same fate. What’s up with that? Did he love Peter more than James? Did Peter have more faith than James? Or maybe Peter prayed more or sinned less. Maybe his prayers were more poetic or fit the formula of the perfect prayer. (I’ve heard sermons on faith and prayer that gave me this impression.)
Does God locate blessings strategically at predictable increments along our path, or does he just fling them out like a little girl tossing her jacks? It seems to me that his gifts are quite randomly distributed. How can I trust a God like that – this “Sometimes God”?
In regard to character, God is not sometimes anything. He’s not sometimes holy, once in a while faithful, or periodically good. But it does seem that his actions (how he expresses his character in this world) can sometimes be one way, and at other times, another. Sometimes he rescues people from death, and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he heals people, and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he requires one thing from one person, and then with another person he expects something else. It all seems so haphazard and random.
I guess I just want to be able to predict what God’s going to do next. I wish I could say, “He always heals everybody… He never lets bad stuff happen to us when we pray… He always does it this way, and never that way…” That kind of faith is pretty impressive, especially when the person with this kind of “super-faith” have testimonies to prove it. It’s tempting to go along with that variety of faith, but I usually just end up feeling guilty or discouraged when I try to practice it and don’t get the results I was looking for. I thought I claimed the same promises, quoted the same verses, used the same spiritual incantations – and yet I didn’t get the same response from God that the guy on YouTube said I would. Why is that? He said the right things in the right way with the right tone, and got the right result – so why didn’t I get the same? Could my intonation have been a little off? Maybe I left out some of the ingredients in the spell.
Over time I pretty much got over expecting God to act the way I want him to. These days I’m just doing my best to get to know him better, so I can root my faith more in who he is than in my assumptions about how I think he should act. My faith is a little more personal than before. I don’t relate to him in the same way I relate to my computer. I realize that I can’t program him to do certain things in certain ways. Though I love my laptop, it’s more of a love for what it does for me. There’s no true intimacy between us. I install the programs, put the information I need into it, and it performs for me (usually) as I ask it to. Sometimes it malfunctions, and I become irritated by its failure to please me. But I get an expert to fix it or I save up and replace it with a new one. God, on the other hand, doesn’t operate that way. He does what he wants when he wants to. He asks for my cooperation, but doesn’t promise to always cooperate with me. I do have my part to play. I have to believe, align myself with him, obey his wishes, and then ask him for stuff (“Lord, please heal my friend… set my neighbor free from dope… help me pay my rent…”). What he does with it is up to him, and I just have to trust and love him, notwithstanding.
Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to have faith in a particular outcome of their prayers – he told them to “have faith in God.” I’m not sure that he likes it much when we line up Bible promises like targets to shoot down so we can get a prize. “Faith in God” sounds more like trusting him as a Person. He may or may not do what we’d trusted him to do, but we’re still to have faith in him.
I once thought of faith as just a means to an end, but now I think it’s sometimes the end itself. Faith isn’t just the way I get stuff from God (“believe and you shall receive”) – while there’s some truth to that. Faith is also something that I offer to God as my gift to him – a token of my love for him. It’s not so much, “Believe and you’ll get what you want,” but, “Believe and you’ll please your Father.” This way, my faith isn’t so utilitarian or me-oriented. It’s not just a conduit through which God gives me things, but something that I give to him. It’s what I hand over to him, whether or not I get from him what I want. I’m trying to simply trust him regardless of how he answers my requests.
Faith makes God happy (Hebrews 11:6) and since I live to make him happy, it makes me happy to give him my faith. Even if it is as small as a tiny seed my trust is what I bring to the table. Whatever I get from any sort of transaction with him is a bonus. When I trust him but don’t get from him what I trusted him for, still my offering has been given, and I’m pleased because the “Sometimes God” is pleased.