He who scattered…will gather. (form verse 10)
Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Romans 11:33)
It is beyond our natural understanding, and perhaps even our willingness to understand, that He who gathers also scatters and that He who tears also mends. Oh God, how many times have you befuddled us, so that all we can say is, “Your ways are too high; we cannot comprehend them!”
I have faced off with the unsearchable in both bitterness and peace. Bitterness, one of the most wasteful attitudes I have ever chosen, came, in part, out my demand for understanding from God. It was a straightforward line of reasoning to me: God is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing. This places Him at the scene of every catastrophe! If God knows about something and could have prevented it, is He not either the agent of cause or an accessory with unsearchable motives?
My stumbling heart asked, “Why is tragedy and suffering permitted?” There may have even been a little why-was-I-not-consulted going on as well. Did the unwelcome situation happen because God the Judge was exacting payment for someone’s sin? Is God incompetent? Indifferent? Did the devil just overpower Him and steal something right out from under His, or the angel’s noses? Perhaps there are so many lives God is overloaded, making personal involvement impossible. Even though I was stumbling beneath the burden of the imponderable, in Christ I was fortunately stumbling forward. In God’s economy, even futile speculations do not go to waste.
I’m not proud of this—it seems foolish now—but there was something like a demand in me: “Why do bad things happen to undeserving, unwitting, and good people!” If you have shopped in the theological marketplace, you have discovered there are many vendors, hawking their dogmas as to why-God-this and why-God-that. Dogma stays in great demand because it contributes to the myth that we can manage our lives with knowledge—control things with what we understand. Not knowing, on the other hand, forces us to have faith, which feels out of control.
When you encounter these vendors, without a tear or a question, marketing their confident assertions regarding the unsearchable, may I suggest that you politely, yet quickly, say, “No thank you.” Knowledge and understanding are not without value but they will never replace simple childlike faith. Faith connects us to eternity. Knowledge is helpful, but faith is essential.
A question. Could God gather us if we were not scattered? Could he mend us if we were not torn? Could we appreciate His drawing if we had not been driven? Would we appreciate His presence if we had not felt His absence?
Our hearts can become paralyzed in their capacity to believe by the mountain of apparent evidence that calls God’s motivations into question. We are left by our inquiries into evil with the notion that there is something incompatible here with God’s love, care, and power. Even though we rarely make a formal indictment against Him, our hearts can nurse questions about His love and/or His competence. I suspect many a busy, noisy life has been crafted, both consciously and sub-consciously, to squelch this line of thinking. This is why slowing down, retreating, and opening up to God is so essential to our spiritual formation. Warning: weeping and supplication may follow. Do not fear—they are better allies than certainty.
With weeping they shall come,
And by supplication I will lead them;
I will make them walk by streams of water,
On a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
For I am a Father to Israel… (Jeremiah 31:9)
As to the why we have been scattered, torn, or driven, we are typically uncertain. For our sake, He spares us from explanations. When I finally stand before God, I don’t want an angelic document-search to reveal I have open files, in which God is still a person of interest in some bitter outcome. If open files are to be found, I want one of them to be my “Mystery” file where I store my unanswered questions. The other file can be my large and getting-larger file called “God’s Goodness,” where I have been recording my observations of His goodness. While God’s ways and judgments may be unsearchable, His nature and personality are discoverable. God is knowable.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
We come to know Him experientially, situation-by-situation, face-to-face. We can gain experiential heart-assurance that all His dealings with us are motivated by an incomprehensibly strong love. He desires that we learn to rest progressively in His love. Here is a hard thing though: it may require some tearing. It may involve a sense of separation. But, if we acknowledge His nearness, we will discover we have somehow been drawn into His heart and even mended in the midst of our pain and disorientation. We will discover that a Father-filter has been installed, which will aid us in our filing habits. We will stumble far less when we are resting in His love. This is where we will discover the songs, the shouts, and the praises that are so becoming and native to His sons and daughters.
Father, we do not understand pain. It is disorienting and incomprehensible. Grant us hearts that hold You harmless. Grant that we would not stumble over Jesus as a rock of offense. May we not be offended at Your eternally focused, love-driven dealings with our hearts. Amen.
Suggestion for those who are extra hungry: Read the passage again. Acknowledge God’s presence and ask yourself about your files and filing system. Pray along with David (from Psalm 139:23-24) and the others who have ultimately become satisfied with God’s goodness:
Search me Oh God and know my heart,
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)
So be it.
For those who are “at ease in Zion,” your post won’t make a lick of sense. For those who have ever found themselves in the box canyon known as the “why pain quandary” – especially emotional pain or relational pain – your post is a gentle and loving signpost showing the way out. It doesn’t answer all questions but it is not truly answers that we need: we need faith in His goodness and His strong grip on our hearts until the night has passed.