Sometimes, it seems like God has a sizeable mean streak.
Not only when She won’t give us the snazzy stuff we feel like we need, or won’t instantly heal our infirmities, prevent our genocides or divert hurricanes away from our populated areas.
I can use Isaiah 55:8 (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord) to get my head – if not my heart – around those kinds of decisions not to interfere with free will, or with nature.
But there are moments in the Bible when God – the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, as John 3:16 tells us – does choose to get involved. And more alarmingly, She seems to have it in for certain people who belong to the world She gave Her son for.
Consider the Pharaoh:
In Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27 and 11:10, it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, seemingly to make sure the Egyptian monarch didn’t let the Israelites go before his entire nation had been completely decimated by the 10 plagues.
I’ve heard it explained that Pharaoh wasn’t beginning to change his mind about whether to let the Israelites go, but only lose his nerve – so God’s hardening of the heart merely strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to follow through on the decisions he’d already made.
WTF, God?!? If Pharaoh’s resolve is weakening and You’re disposed to interfere with free will in this instance anyway, why not take advantage of this vulnerable moment to soften Pharaoh’s heart even more, and help him change his mind about letting Israel go? Think of the lives You’d have saved! Egyptians were Your people, made in Your image, just as much as the Israelites were, weren’t they?
Furthermore, in Jonah 4:11, You rebuked Jonah for wishing You’d wiped out the Ninevites, who were Israel’s enemies and wicked in their ways (not unlike the Egyptians of Moses’ day), as follows: ‘And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
There were also much more than 120,000 people, and also many animals, in Egypt, Lord. What about them?
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In the S-Word series last year, I wrote about two other significant WTFs – one where it says an evil spirit from the Lord tormented King Saul, and another where the Lord put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of prophets, who enticed King Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead.
In the latter story, God also empowers Micaiah to reveal the deception, so there’s a confusing but mitigating plot twist there – but the notion that Almighty God would ever send angels to deliberately deceive (or worse, demons to torment) His children is mightily disturbing.
When we use the word ‘allow’ in this context, does it mean ‘give overt permission to’ or ‘choose not to interfere with’? And when it comes to an inexhaustible, all-knowing and all-powerful God, is there a difference?
Therefore, the WTF stands.
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It’s easy for me to fixate on God’s seemingly malevolent interference in the free will of his children in these verses and get stuck in a What-The funk. But when I look up from my brooding a bit, I return to where I began this blog post: Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
And I’m also reminded of the last four chapters of the Book of Job, when Job – who arguably had legitimate reasons for questioning God – actually dared to do question God. And then, (gulp), God answered him.
Apologist Ravi Zacharias sums this encounter up beautifully and then provides insightful comment in one of the tracks of his Top 5 Questions CD:
‘… Job was saying, ‘Only that which I can comprehensively understand in my mind will I fully accept. And God says, ‘Alright, Job. Since you want that kind of comprehensive understanding, tell me where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Where were you when such and such happened?’ He nailed Job with 64 questions back-to-back, to show him that the many wonderful concepts he had imbibed he did not have a full and comprehensive understanding of (either).’
Similarly, while I maintain what I said in Part 2 of this series, that it’s good and godly to wrestle with these questions and even lay our WTFs at the feet of God, I don’t really want Him to answer me.
For one thing, if God lambasted me with the same kind of questions She levelled at Job, I think my spirit and soul would be a puddle of goo at the end of it. But maybe more importantly, I probably don’t actually want everything God does to make sense. I need His ways to be infinitely higher than my ways. I need for His interactions with the world to be mysterious and befuddling.
After all, if we could fully understand God, would She cease to be God?
Peace be with you.