What do you do when it seems like there are incredible blessings that God has purposefully placed in your life, but it also seems like He is leading you to let them go? How does one make sense of that? Why should it be that way?
It’s complex. It’s complicated. It’s frustrating. It doesn’t make sense.
It makes you doubt why God gave it to you in the first place.
It makes you speculate why God caused it to happen after all.
What do you do when the complexities of the heart and the mind are intermixed at such a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty, and yet you have to make a decision—not only for yourself, but also for others who are equally affected? What do you do? Where is your guidance? Is there an encyclopedia that specifically tells what to do when ‘Situation 403-A’ happens?
What do you do when you want something and/or want to want something, or when you long for something and/or when you long to long for something, and yet there is an inexplicable ‘something’ that restrains you from what you desire most?
Have any of you ever experienced something like this? I haven’t really experienced anything like this until I graduated from college. Relationships. Vocation. Finances. Future.
It was no coincidence that I ‘decided’ to start reading through the book of Genesis around October and finished in December. I had no idea how many stories in the book of Genesis specifically relate to what I have just described. Noah. Abraham. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. All of these figures’ lives look like roller coasters on steroids. Ironically—and providentially—it’s interesting to note that each of these major figures went through situations where they were given a desire, given a promise, given the fulfillment of that desire and promise, and then it looked like God stripped it away from them—yet, only so that God could later give them the truer and better fulfillment of that desire, promise, and gift all along.
Let’s just rehash some of these stories so we can take a better look at what I’m trying to get at:
Noah followed after God’s call to build an ark, even when it made no sense. He didn’t want to do the incredibly ‘stupid’ thing according to all standards of logic in his day. But he felt like God was leading him to do so, and so he did it anyways. He built a massive ark to preserve groups of life forms. Amidst the humiliation and discouragement from everyone around him, Noah did what he felt like God was calling him to do. Do you think Noah ever doubted this call? Of course. Maybe it was just all in his head. Maybe he was making it up. It didn’t make sense, so how did he know? Noah did it anywhere, against all logic. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Noah was blessed. God promised to never flood the earth again, and God used Noah and his family to repopulate it. Through the process of uncertainty and illogic, God was stretching Noah’s trust and dependency on him. God’s will of uncertainty for Noah was seasonally specific to his overall promise for Noah—and all of humankind for that matter. This ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Noah’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him afloat through the storms of uncertainty. Noah didn’t sink. (Excuse the cheesiness)
Think about the life and story of Israel’s main patriarch, Abraham. God called Abraham out of his comfortable living to go somewhere. Where? Abraham wasn’t told and he didn’t know where. God just told him to go. So he went. In the process, God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation and that he would have children. Abraham and his wife were way too old to have children, yet God miraculously gave them one child, Isaac, when they were both over the age of 90. God came through; he delivered upon his promise. God blessed them with what their hearts yearned for most. But when Isaac was a teenager, God told Abraham to take Isaac up to a mountain and to offer him as a sacrifice. What? Why? God promised to make Abraham a great nation, and he miraculously gave them one son as proof that He had, and was making good upon, that promise. Now God is calling Abraham to sacrifice this ‘providential’ promise? This goes against all that Abraham had wanted and all that could possibly make logical sense. Was Abraham even hearing God correctly? Why did he feel this way? Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Abraham was blessed. God provided a ram in the thicket to take the place of the sacrifice instead of Isaac. God was stretching Abraham’s trust and dependency upon him. God’s will for Abraham was seasonally specific to his overall promise for Abraham. This ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Abraham’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him active in the ambiguity of uncertainty. Abraham didn’t become paralyzed.
Think about Israel’s other great patriarch, Jacob, too. Jacob was the younger son of Isaac, which culturally meant that Jacob would not receive the blessing of his father. However, Jacob felt like God had given him the blessing. He felt like the traditional blessing for the older brother was his calling and his promise from God. Those feelings that he had were not sinful. In fact, God had placed those feelings in him for a purpose because it was God’s will for him to receive the blessing. However, the obstacle of culture and the obstacle of his older brother and the obstacle of his father seemed to inevitably prevent this promise from occurring. Why were those obstacles there then? It was God’s will. What? If it was God’s will then those obstacles wouldn’t be there, right? Wrong. Logic was so at odds with what God had placed on Jacob’s heart. Therefore, Jacob had major uncertainty in God’s will. Was he just imagining God’s will for his life? Was he just making it up in his head? Did he think or feel a certain way that was uninformed, or in a way that he was mistaken? No, we all know that he wasn’t. Here’s the catch that is mind blowing: even though Jacob sinned against his father, and stole from his older brother, and rejected God’s moral will, somehow—in the amazing providence of God—that was part of it. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Jacob was blessed. Through Jacob’s running away, arguing with his lords, and having kids with women who were barren, God’s promise over Jacob’s life was nevertheless fulfilled. How? What? Why that way? That makes no logical sense. All of these factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Jacob’s promise to God’s providence. God was stretching Jacob’s trust and dependency upon him. Jacob resisted and rebelled. But even so, the end result was the same. God’s will for Jacob (even though Jacob rejected God’s moral will) somehow did not contradict his overall promise for Jacob. As such, this ‘uncertain’ will of God looked completely contradictory to this ‘certain’ promise of God. We actually don’t even know how God’s will would have happened if Jacob followed God’s will—but nevertheless, God providentially worked it all out. The promise and the fulfillment was the same. Ironically, Jacob’s lack of trust in God’s sovereignty didn’t thwart God’s promise in the puzzlement of uncertainty. Jacob’s destiny was insured by God’s promise.
Think about Joseph, one of the most beloved characters in Genesis. Joseph—coincidentally just like Jacob—was the youngest of his family, which culturally meant that Joseph would not receive the blessing from his father. However, Joseph believed that God had placed a calling on his life to be the blessing for his family. He felt like God had given him a promise that he would be the leader and savior-figure over Israel. Once again, we find another situation where God’s call goes against all logic of the day. Joseph most definitely battled with this ‘direction’ of sorts, himself. He might have asked himself, “Is it God who has made me feel this way? And why?” He didn’t know. God didn’t tell him. It went against all his logic. And could you even imagine what Joseph’s older brothers said to him? They thought Joseph was psycho, a lunatic, and an arrogant dreamer. As we see in the story, Joseph was abandoned by his brothers and sold into slavery to Egypt. Joseph thought God’s promise for life was to be a ruler? He’s a slave right now. That doesn’t make sense at all. Then, while Joseph is slaving away at a wealthy home in Egypt, he gets falsely accused of raping a woman, and so he gets thrown into an Egyptian prison for years. Do you think Joseph doubted God’s promise? Maybe Joseph was making up all this stuff in his head after all. Surely, this wouldn’t all happen if God had place a specific promise over his life. It doesn’t make any sense. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Joseph was blessed. The slavery, the jail time, the abuse, the rejection, the unreasonableness of his logic, the unbelievable chances and sequences of events that all added up to make things the way that God wanted them to be was simply unreal—simply an attestation to God’s providence. All of those factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Joseph’s promise to God’s providence. Through the process, however, God was stretching Joseph’s trust and dependency upon him. God’s ‘uncertain’ will for Joseph was seasonally specific to his overall ‘certain’ promise for Joseph. This will of God looked completely contradictory to this promise of God—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Joseph’s trusting of God’s sovereignty kept him hopeful in the hopelessness of uncertainty. Joseph didn’t grow helpless.
And finally, think about Moses, arguably the most significant figure in the entire Old Testament. God had put a divine calling on Moses’ life long before he was even born. It was in God’s providence that Moses would lead the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt. Providentially, in the massive abortions all over Egypt, baby Moses was miraculously kept alive because his sister floated him down a river that led into the Egyptian court where the princesses bathed. Moses providentially became adopted and grew up in Egyptian royalty, even though he was supposed to be killed at the order of Pharaoh. To much surprise, God providentially kept Moses alive in the good gracious of Pharaoh. Thus, because Moses grew up in royalty, it seems logical and natural to assume that God’s promise over Moses’ life would come to fulfillment. Through this platform, Moses would save the Israel. That seems logical, rational, and reasonable. Nope. There’s a massive plot twist. Moses flees from the kingdom in the fear of death because he murdered a guard out of anger. Did he just ruin God’s promise over his life? Moses is now abandoned in the wilderness with no chance of ever returning. In fact, he stays in complete desolation for 40 years. Do you think Moses doubted God’s promise over his life? Oh, yeah. Maybe Moses was just hearing voices or feeling funny all along. The whole ‘promise’ thing had to be a sham. Surely, this wouldn’t all happen if God had placed a specific promise over his life. It doesn’t make any sense. Uncertainty for 40 years in the wilderness must have reduced his hope to hopelessness. Yet, we all know how the story ends: through it all, God providentially brought about what He promised, and Moses was blessed. The prior platform, the promise, the past, Moses’ skills and passion and connections, the wilderness, etc.—none of these things were wasted. Even though Moses murdered a guard, somehow it was in God’s will for him to be where he was, and sure enough, God was preparing him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. All of those factors sequenced a chain of events so insane that one could only credit the fulfillment of Moses’ promise to God’s providence. Through the process, God was stretching Moses’ trust and dependency upon him. God’s ‘uncertain’ will for Moses was seasonally specific to his overall ‘certain’ promise for Moses. This will of God looked completely contradictory to this promise of God in Moses’ life—but God providentially worked it all out. Indeed, Moses’ trust in God’s sovereignty kept him confident in the confines of uncertainty. Moses didn’t become complacent.
What I am trying to highlight through those stories is this:
Uncertainty in a major area of life is scary. It just sucks. And it’s even worse when uncertainty plagues many—or even all—aspects of your life. Uncertainty undercuts the strongest, most valuable, and most dependable pillars you have built your life on. And it makes it seem like everything has fallen down because of it.
Just like these old characters in the book of Genesis, God has given each of us a specific desire, a specific promise, and a specific blessing to fulfill those desires. But sometimes it just isn’t ‘logical’ when he seems to prevent them from fully happening. Maybe it’s getting a girlfriend that you really liked that never would have happened otherwise without God’s blessing and grace. Maybe it’s getting a job you always wanted that never would have happened otherwise without God’s blessing and grace. But then, against every bit of logic and desire, ‘it’ seems unfit, for whatever reason. And you have to make a choice. And uncertainty sets in like a weight in your stomach.
This past year, and these past two weeks in specific, I have experienced more uncertainty at one time in my life than ever before. It’s awful. The problem is that it doesn’t affect just me, either. You are forced to make decisions. You are forced to make decisions that you don’t want to make. You are forced to make sacrifices that you don’t want to do. You are forced to do what you think is best. You are forced to interpret the circumstances as God’s glorifying will for this season of life. And you are also forced to hold on to the idea that God’s will for this season of life is not contradictory to—but actually a crucial part of—his overall promise for your life. Somehow this is part of God’s ‘uncertain’ will that is not working against his ‘certain’ promise over your life. Through these times, God is making us and changing us into people we couldn’t otherwise be. And through these times, God is leading us and bringing us to places that we couldn’t otherwise be, too.
Who knows how these wills of God will unfold. Maybe they are simple. Maybe they are complex. Maybe they will intersect. But if anything else, it gives me hope.
And while there is uncertainty in life in a zoomed-in view of the details, there is never uncertainty with God in a zoomed-out view of his character. We can trust what God does (in the past, present, and future) because of who he is—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And we see the clearest demonstration of who he is and how he feels about us on the cross. For example, if he loved and died for us when we were his enemies, how much more so can we trust that he will lovingly guide us where we should go, now that we are his beloved children? When we can’t know his hand, we can know His heart, which in turn causes us to trust his hand all along. When we can’t exactly decipher the ‘what’ or ‘why’ behind our circumstances, we can know the ‘Who’ behind it, which in turn causes us to trust Him with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ all along. We can trust God with what we can’t or don’t know because of what we can and do know: his unconditional, steadfast love for us in Christ. Certainly, the gospel speaks peace to our anxious and weary hearts by reminding us we have a loving Father who is in control—not an indifferent, detached deity.
I love what Kevin DeYoung says in his book, Just Do Something: “We can take risks because God doesn’t” (45). He later comments, “If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something” (104). Meaning, we can take risks with God-honoring intentions because He is sovereign over all things, doesn’t take risks with us, and will allow, deny, and confirm our choices accordingly to his greater plan. Even though we can’t see the future, he has already paved it out. Tim Keller also poetically writes about the mysterious way our free-willed decisions intricately work in junction with God’s sovereignty for his glory in his sermon entitled, Christ Our Head, saying:
God is so great that he works out a plan, a plan to work everything out for your good if you belong to him, and his glory, which takes into consideration your choices, and still works his plan out infallibly.
To conclude, let me give a brief analogy that will wrap this all up.
I have heard that potters from back in the Ancient Near Eastern times would spend much time, detail, and energy crafting their masterpiece of pottery. Hours upon hours upon hours would go into this beautiful pot. They would mold it over and over and over again. They would sandblast it over and over and over again. They would glaze it over and over and over again. The amount of time that was invested into these pots was simply staggering, and maybe a little excessive. Essentially, the potters made sure their pots were absolutely perfect before they hit the market. In fact, each pot would sell at a very high price already.
But what the potters would do next was shocking. After all that investment of time and energy and skill, they would take their precious pot into an isolated room and just completely destroy it. In a matter of seconds, they would turn their extremely valuable masterpiece into hundreds of worthless pieces.
But that’s not where they stopped. In fact, the destruction was part of their pottery process. Those hundreds of ‘worthless’ pieces were actually not worthless at all. They were actually more valuable. See, while the pottery was being smashed to pieces, gold was being melted and refined in the back room. And skillfully, the potter would reconstruct his broken masterpiece with the glue of this fine gold—making his masterpiece exponentially more valuable than it was to begin with. Once the pot was pieced back together to completion, it gleamed from every angle with intricate golden streaks all around. It was even lovelier, even more desirable, and even more valuable than it had ever been before.
And I think this is a picture of what God does to us sometimes in our circumstances and in the process of his providential promise over our life. He gives us a beautiful gift. In fact, He gives us an amazing gift of undeniable value. But then, against all our logic and against all our control, it seems like he completely destroys it.
Many of us interpret events like this. It’s natural too. But fortunately, it is not the end. It is the process. His will is seasonally specific with these circumstances. Ironically, this ‘uncertain’ will of God at this moment is not contradictory to the ‘certain’ promise of God over your life. It’s part of it. Ultimately, he’s adding value to your life in some providential way. Ultimately, he’s making you into someone you need to be. Ultimately, he’s bringing you to somewhere you need to be. And somehow, in divine providence, all these things wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Being the ‘clay’ isn’t easy, and we can’t always know what the Potter’s hands are up to, but we can trust his heart, because he is the Potter, after all. And that makes the process worth it.