There are a lot of movies out these days, but let’s be honest. Most of them are pretty forgettable. There are a few, however, that catch our attention because they have such unexpected twists. I’m thinking about the 1982 movie starring Robert Redford named “Sneakers.” Or, for a slightly younger crowd there is the 1999 movie starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment entitled “The Sixth Sense.” Remember how surprised we were when we suddenly realized that the psychiatrist-Oops! I don’t want to give it away for anyone that hasn’t seen it yet. But you get what I mean. We remember these movies because they took us by surprise. They were unpredictable and yet satisfying.
Well, guess what? God is like that. It is impossible to pin Him down, to fully comprehend Him or even guess what He’s going to do next. Certainly there are some things we know about Him because He’s revealed them to us. For example, God has revealed that He is infinite and eternal; He is merciful and loving; He is gracious and patient. I could list a hundred different Scriptures to demonstrate my point. But you get the idea. God has told us many things about Himself, and we understand them.
But there are things about God that we just can’t grasp no matter how hard we try. So we need to add to the list above such adjectives as inscrutable, unpredictable, unfathomable, unreadable, inexplicable, mysterious, and enigmatic. Try as we might to box Him in, He refuses to be pigeonholed. God is always about doing His own will and gaining His own glory. The problem is that we finite creatures don’t always know what that will is. So we can’t predict what He’s going to do next. For example, take His coming to earth in human form (Jn. 1:14). No one could have predicted that! And who would make something like that up? It’s too unexpected, too surprising. It sounds crazy, except that there is enough evidence to know that it actually happened.
Now, if you heard or read the message on how “The Time is Now,” to start serving God with all your heart, and you have decided to do it, then it is time to get to know this seemingly incomprehensible God. But, the first thing you must know is that God is not a heavenly Sugar Daddy. He is not a fairy godfather, waiting to grant your every wish. Many people think that God is there to fulfill their every whim. They are quickly disappointed. God loves us beyond measure, and His goal is to mold us into His image. His goal is not to make us rich and happy in this life, but to prepare us to reign with Him in glory in the next life. It means we might not get everything we wish or ask for here on earth. But in heaven it will be glorious!
Nor, on the other hand, is God a cosmic cop, waiting to crack down on our every infraction. Many people see God this way, and can’t get past it. Guilt rules their lives, and this should not be. Feeling guilty enough will not earn forgiveness from God. All sins were already forgiven two thousand years ago on the Cross of Calvary. We need to just ask. If we mess up we should be sorry, ask for forgiveness and move on. This is what God wants us to do.
So what is God, then, anyway? That is what God wants us to discover! God came to earth in the form of a man, Jesus, and He showed us what God is like. He is just like Jesus: loving, caring, graceful, compassionate, forgiving. Yet He is also holy and perfect. He wants a relationship with us, but He also never wants us to forget who He is.
So, is it possible to get at least a little clarity on His character and aims? Of course. We do that by examining what has been revealed about Him in Scripture. And there is one Scripture that sums things up pretty well. Isaiah 46:9-11 says:
“Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”
We must remember, first and foremost that He is God and we are not. He is not here to serve us. Rather, we are here to serve Him. But He doesn’t treat us like slaves. We are so lucky to be a part of “His good pleasure.” We must just trust that He loves us and will work in us and through us for both our best and for His glory. It is important to keep all of this in mind as we look further into His character.
Another thing we discover from the very first words in the Bible is that He is very creative. Genesis 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He did not have to create anything. But He wanted to. Why? We may never fully know, except that it glorified Him to do it. So He did it.
But we’re not done yet. Let’s look at what He did create. He set up a world teeming with life and beauty and goodness. He made it wonderful, with sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures that could only come from Him. He did not have to. He could have made the world black and white, and food could have been tasteless, and so on. We would never have known the difference. But He didn’t do that. Why did He create such extravagance and beauty? He did it for our pleasure. This is yet another thing we learn about Him. He loves us and wants us to enjoy His creation.
And back in the beginning, there was little need for rules. In fact, God had only one rule for Adam and Eve. Sadly, they chose to break it. That is why there is so much sin and pain and death in the world now, and why we need so many rules. And yet the world is still a beautiful place.
Yet another thing we learn about God as we read and study the Bible is that God is constantly pursuing man and creating relationships. In fact, Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, in their article “Why It’s Both Possible and Impossible to Know God” said, “Certainly, if theology were man’s quest to discover God, it could never break free from agnosticism. However, Christian theology arises from God’s pursuit of man.”1 In other words, if it was always just us trying to understand God, then it would be hopeless. But it’s not. God continually pursues man and reveals Himself. Why? Because He wants to. Because He wants a love relationship with us.
We also know that God is about restoration, not retribution. Retribution is a last resort with Him. And it all began way back near the beginning. For example, take a look at Noah, found in the sixth chapter of the very first book of the Bible. If the math in the genealogies is close, then Noah was born a little over a thousand years after Adam and Eve were created. It sounds like a long time, but since Adam lived to be more than nine hundred years old, Noah literally just missed him! But we know that by then mankind was so corrupt that God was already planning on destroying them. However, since God had called mankind good in the beginning, He would never fully destroy them. And to prove it He chose Noah, the only faithful person left (Gen. 6:8). Through Noah, God saved mankind from the devastating Flood.
Then, God chose Abraham, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem, on which to bestow His love and care (Gen. 12:1-4). As we know, Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. God chose Jacob and renamed him Israel (Gen. 32:28). Jacob/Israel had twelve sons, which became the twelve tribes of Israel. God’s plan was to bestow so many blessings on the tribes of Israel that the other nations would come streaming to them to serve this marvelous God (Gen. 22:18). The Israelites were supposed to follow God fully, and tell the world about Him so that they could come and worship, too. As a side note, this is the very same thing Jesus has called His disciples to do: remain unstained from the world while sharing the love of God to the world and freeing them from their sin.
Sadly, the Israelites chose not to share the love of God with the other nations. Instead, they turned inward and kept everything a secret. But God never stopped loving them. He never un-chose them. He may have disciplined them for their wrongdoing, but He always promised them restoration.
And speaking of discipline, this is one of the objections I hear the most often. People say that the God of the Old Testament was not loving at all. Rather, He was always punishing people. He was nothing but a great big meany, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting, innocent humans. The truth is far different, however. What people miss is just how long it took before God started to punish anyone. He told Abraham He was going to give him the Promised Land, but He couldn’t do it just yet, because the “sin of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). In fact, God waited 400 plus years before having Israel come in and destroy the inhabitants of the land and take it over (see the books of Joshua and Judges for the full story).
Even after the Israelites had moved into the Promised Land and fell into their own sin, God waited. And He sent prophets to warn them, and warn them, and warn them. See the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and some of the minor prophets like Hosea for more information about this period of time. You see, decades and even centuries would pass while God waited. Only when the sin became too much would God act. And it was never His first choice. Not only that, but God never did anything without first telling everyone what he was going to do (see the verse above, along with Amos 3:7). And, He always had a message of restoration to accompany the message of wrath. The Israelites knew what they were supposed to do and they knew what would happen. If they chose to sin, it was their own fault when God booted them out from the land. But, being His chosen people, He promised them restoration. And this is still true today. Though the Jews have been set aside temporarily while the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (Rom. 11:25), God will again deal with Israel at some point in the future.
The God we know today has not changed one bit. He tells us exactly what He expects from us, and He provided the Holy Spirit to help us. Yet we act surprised when we get caught in our sin. But we shouldn’t, because God has put into our very hearts His moral code. So some things about God are very easy to understand.
However, some things about God are difficult to understand. Why doesn’t He shower blessings on His beloved children? Look at Mary – she carried Jesus yet she had to travel and have a baby in a stable (Lk. 2:7). Couldn’t He have made her life more comfortable? And look at Joseph, having to take Mary as his wife even though he wasn’t sure about her circumstances. Was she out playing around on him? He had to take it on faith and live with the consequences (Mt. 1:18-25). And then they had to flee into Egypt to save baby Jesus’ life (Mt. 2:13-15). God could have miraculously saved them, but He didn’t.
And look at Jesus. He had to live a life just like us, and suffer and die. God could have done something else. But He didn’t. Look at Peter, Paul and the other apostles. They died for what they believed. There was no picnic, no prosperity gospel, no fancy living. God often lets His most beloved suffer. Why? As I said before, we often forget that God is preparing us for eternity. In eternity, it will always be His perfect will. So here on earth, He does what glorifies Him most, and what is the best course of action for the most people for the longest time. It may not be what we think we need. But we have to trust that God knows best. After all, we can see down the road only a little ways. God can actually see around the corner!
Sometimes God surprises us by answering a prayer that we honestly did not expect Him to answer. Sometimes He is so close and personal we swear we could reach out and touch Him. Sometimes He makes things so wonderful we wonder why we ever doubted in the first place. Is God capricious? Not at all. We just don’t understand how He works. And we never will. We just need to trust that He has our best in mind.
Unfortunately, though, it is this uncertainty that causes us to doubt Him and His goodness and His wisdom. We think He doesn’t care, or we think He’s not paying attention to us. Because we can’t understand what He’s doing, we don’t trust Him. And because we don’t fully trust Him, we can’t fully commit to Him. This is the whole sticking point right here. We want to trust, but we feel like God has let us down. So now we’re scared to commit. It is easier to sit on the fence, hedging our bets.
How do we resolve this dilemma? There is no magic formula. You have to see God in the big picture in order to trust Him in the small one. That is why I advocate so strongly for daily Bible reading. Only when we can see His constant goodness and unfailing love to those whom He calls His own can we let go of our doubt and start to trust that, no matter what happens, this is exactly God’s best for us at this time.
You see, when God chooses a people for Himself, He never un-chooses them. It is forever. He bestows His love and mercy without measure on those He loves. It may not always come across to us that way. But we must understand that one of God’s attributes is love. He simply cannot not love His children. It is part of who He is. He came down to earth two thousand years ago and was born of a woman… for you and me. He, I’m talking about Jesus now, who was God in the flesh, who died on the cross two thousand years ago, already knowing every sin we would ever commit, died for us anyway.
I am reminded of a Hallmark greeting card I saw once. It said, “You’re the answer to my prayers. You’re not exactly what I prayed for, but apparently, you’re the answer.” We may not understand everything He does, but that’s all right. We just need to know that God loves us more than we could ever comprehend. And He has our best in mind. He will deal with us in this life until we are perfected. It may be painful, but it will be worth it.
So here’s the thing. Because our own personal stories are not finished, we should start from here and make the ending way better than it might have been. As James R. Sherman said in his 1982 book entitled Rejection, “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.”2
It’s time to get to know the God we are choosing to love and serve. He is a great God, a caring God, a loving God. And He wants to perfect us here so that we can enjoy eternity with Him in absolute bliss, free from sin, and pain, and tears and doubt. Will we start seeking Him?
1. Beeke, Joel R., Smalley, Paul M. “Why It’s Both Possible and Impossible to Know God.” 2019, Crossway.org, www.crossway.org/articles/Why-Its-both-possible-and-impossible-to-know-God.com.
2. Sherman, James R. Rejection. Pathway Books, 1982, Golden Valley, MN.