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How Can I Trust God When He Does Not Act the Way I Think?

How Can I Trust God When He Does Not Act the Way I Think

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When things do not go according to our plans, and the losses keep mounting, it’s only a short step from walking away from God and the caring friends who are willing to persevere with us and our suffering. It is possible to get to that place of giving up, a perspective that buys into the belief that things won’t change to a more favorable outcome. It’s a tension between humans and the Divine when God does not act as we think He should. Though we know how this tug-o-war will end, it does not alter the tension or the temptation to quit.

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Reality

We’re aware of our mortality. Everyone dies. At some point in our future, we’ll lose everything in our lives—the things we value and those things we would not miss if they vanished today. Death is undefeated, and we’re marching toward that inevitable end. Except for Christ, we will gain nothing that we will not lose. This stark reality does not have to be spiritually debilitating from a Christian worldview. Though it is a dark way to introduce a chapter, it may do some of us some good to re-enter reality, particularly those who hold too tightly to what they cannot control. The central question to interact with is how we are to respond to the slow and incremental death of all things. When Paul pondered these things, he said,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

What kind of death is currently happening in your life? What cherished thing is slipping through your grip? What losses are you accumulating? Sin is the tsunami that eventually runs over everything. Because of the law of “cause and effect,” there is no escaping. Adam sinned against the Ruler of the universe. Because of his offense, death entered our domain (Romans 5:12). I am talking about the deteriorating effect of death and its finality that comes into our lives. Marriages that began well slowly die as they drift from the rejuvenating power of the gospel. Families split apart because of sin. Relationships break down because of a lack of gospel intentionality. Death has many shades from which nobody escapes. How do we respond when that which once was is no longer ours? These inquiries are the ultimate, unavoidable, and inevitable questions that force us to look in the mirror to examine our faith’s authenticity.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you linger in such a morbid meditative state, though it is vital to consider for a moment what you value, the limitations of its pleasure, and the ultimate prize we have in Christ, an eschatological reality that transcends sub-lunary lovers. Our cultural counterparts and a few Christians, too, go to great lengths to shed reality, supplanting it with temporal pursuits that kick the can of inevitableness down the road. Mature Christians weigh the results of losses and gains while never letting the plus and minuses obscure the transcendent pleasures found in Christ alone. If you’re game and want to explore more along these lines, please continue Let’s examine together by looking at our old friend, Job, who came up against the ultimate immovable force that would not bend to his pleas to keep the status quo.

Reaction

Sometimes we can want something so badly that we unwittingly embark on a process of blinding ourselves to how much power that thing has over us. It’s a blind spot, something that was happening to Job. It would be essential to interject that Job was not your average lover of God. He did not show up for church on Sunday morning and live as he wished during the week. God was his worldview and lifestyle, a warning to lesser mortals who might assume they will persevere better than he did as the losses mount. After you juxtapose his legitimate goodness with how blind he became, you can see how the power can captivate minds. The incredibly righteous Job was swirling down the drain of life, grabbing at the air while his friends were giving him bad advice. After thirty-seven chapters of fruitless groping at the darkness with his counselors, Job had wholly given in to the justification of his actions, even by blaming God for why things were so awful.

I don’t know if you have ever accused God in such a way. I have. Sometimes we can want something so much that we blame God for not giving it to us. The implied reasoning is that God is not acting as we believe He should, and like Job, our blame game is not always evident to us. When the hayloft of our minds is on fire, the smoke blinds common sense. I have done this more than once while caught in unmitigated suffering, which is why Job is such a poignant reminder of my propensities. For the longest time with Job, it seemed like a battle between friends who disputed theological ideas. Job’s friends were making some good and poor observations, and he became sinfully angry. Whenever our reaction to disappointment is sinful anger, rest assured that something more sinister is in play in our hearts. Poorly chosen reactions to our fears indicate something is amiss with our experience with the Lord.

People accused Jesus of many things that were not true, but He never resorted to sinful anger. The man or woman submitted to the practical gospel of Christ has nothing to fear, protect, or hide. Christ embodies this truth perfectly; Job does not. Christ understood that His Father was good, and if there were something He was not getting, His theological senses informed Him that God had something better in mind. Job became sinful because there was something more meaningful to him than God’s sovereign and protective care. The Lord dug this theological cancer out of Job once Job wrapped up the final round of questions with his friends. The Lord asked, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8) Job’s mind had become so twisted that he was willing to blame God because he did not like his new reality. His reaction informs us too.

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Reason

When dealing with an angry person and wanting to know what drives him, open the door to his heart—the core of our being and where our resident problems find their genesis. A person’s heart will tell you everything you need to know to help them. Job was angry about what happened to him, but his anger was not the core issue. Job’s main problem was that he was afraid. He was scared of losing what meant most to him. He had already lost many cherished things, e.g., family, wealth, and health. But all was not lost, and he would fight to the bitter end to keep from losing the final paltry remnants of his life. That final thing was his rightness; Job did no wrong. He did not deserve his trouble, which is true, but the fatal flaw is how being good and doing good do not guarantee a trouble-free life. Remember the devil’s accusation? Does Job have an improper view of profit and loss? Does he live the good life by doing everything the right way?

Job believed his treatment was unfair because he worked hard to live a righteous life. Though he had lost everything else, he would not give up the rightness of his position, even if it meant anger toward God. Suffering can shake us so much that we begin to think differently about God. Job did this. He was losing touch with reality, as evidenced by his growing inability to see what he needed to see. His suffering led to anger, which identified his fear. He doubled down by defending himself as fear mounted. God waited until the useless discussions and distractions subsided. He could get to the real issue: Job was afraid of what God might do. Job’s friends felt this dilemma, and though some of their points were not wrong, they could not make any headway because Job saw himself as a righteous man who did not deserve these awful things.

Dilemma

The righteous victim creates a dilemma for those who want to care for them. Once you put your finger on the fear of what they do not want to lose, they may bite your finger and sever the relationship. This tension has been my biggest dilemma when caring for hurting people. At some point, you must identify their fear and try to help them understand what is controlling them. If the fear is too deep and their love for what they are losing is too captivating, they will retaliate with anger. They shoot the messenger. A wife once told me, “I don’t care about Christ and His suffering; I just want my husband to love me.” I do not believe she meant her hyperbolic retort the way it sounded to me, but I understood her point. Her fear of not being loved the way she wanted her husband to love her altered her thoughts about God. She did not hold back her anger as I tried to reorient her thinking to a higher plane and a different trust in the Lord, knowing He had something better for her.

Though Job’s friends proffered partially poor counsel—the only kind humans can give—Job became arrogant and angry and retaliated by spewing self-justifications for his actions. Job wanted what he wanted and would find no consolation in anything else. If anyone challenged his thinking, there would be retribution because Job was not humble. His stubborn refusal is why the Lord stepped into the situation. Job could talk others down; he could put them in their place. His combination of theological knowledge, the gift of argumentation, and selfish motives were formidable. Job was too smart to be assailable. Then there was the Lord. Job ran his mouth just long enough to call down the thunder of God on his self-righteous and angry whining.

There is a lesson here for all loving caregivers. Our job is the water and plant, not to pressure or coerce change out of anyone. Repentance is a gift that God grants, and our role is to present the Bible’s truths the best we understand them while resting in God to push forward His will. We pray and expect the Lord to interject Himself into all discipleship situations. Though Job could blow others off with his pedantic verbosity, he would not move God. The Lord made sure of this by stacking the cards against Job. You can read the Lord’s counsel in Job 38-41. When we refuse to listen to the appeals of our friends, there is no other place for the Christian to go but to the court of the Lord. Every worried spouse, parent, and friend need to find hope in this perspective; God will care for His children. It may take longer than we hoped, and it may come after the exhaustion of our arguments, but it will surely come. In this, we can rest.

Response

Job’s dilemma brings us to the driving question in this chapter: How can I trust God when God does not act as I think He should? The problem is that Job was seeing God through the lens of justice rather than wisdom. He was more concerned with fairness than sovereign wisdom. When this happens, there is a good chance a person will shipwreck his religion, life, and relationships. Life will never be fair in a fallen world. Thus, we need wisdom, not an ideological worldview that sees all things through the lens of equity or the retributive principle: “I do good, and good will happen to me,” or “when I do wrong, I should expect evil to come.” Wisdom is the ability to look behind what is happening on the surface of your life and to trust that God is working out His wise and good plans for you, even if it does not align with equity ideals or retributive principles. Job’s anticipation of justice obscured his need to understand God and His wisdom.

We are like this too. How quickly can we retaliate with anger when someone hurts or disappoints us because we want justice? The reasoning goes like this: “Someone must punish sin, and if he has done wrong, I must give him a piece of my mind.” Or, “she hurt my feelings; she did not give me what I hoped for, and now I will pout until she gives me what I desire.” Pouting is anger turned inward, which usually leads to manipulation, which is anger turned outward—the intentional desire to control someone. It is so easy to play the “justice card” when things are not going our way while missing the “wisdom card,” which speaks of a loving and sovereign Lord who is always working for our good (Romans 8:28). Whatever is under your suffering is under the Lord’s control. He is in complete charge of our lives. Though the reality of death’s shadow is ominous, there is one better thing—God’s ability to raise the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Who has first given to me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine (Job 41:11).

Suppose you have a God who is wise enough and powerful enough to overlook your anger with Him, choosing rather to allow the suffering in your life. Isn’t it also true that you have a God who is wise enough and powerful enough to have reasons for allowing it, even though you are angry with Him? You do not live in a gospel-less world. One of the reasons we become so miserable and angry when suffering comes is that we assume we are supposed to understand how God should be working in our lives. The gospel is more counter-intuitive than you ever imagined. Only the Lord can use sin sinlessly. Look at the cross to remind yourself of this truth. A genuine and loving God will not elevate your wishes to what needs to happen when suffering is the best way to accomplish what needs to happen. Similarly, a wise, courageous, and loving friend will not cave to the sufferer but will love their friend, which may mean confronting the faux righteousness, even though they so desperately want to end.

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Big or Small

If you believe the Lord should have kept your suffering from you, then you have a small god. If you think your friends should not press into your life to help you work through your disappointments, you have a small view of friendships. A small God and small friendships have this one thing in common: it allows you to be in control. Being out of control, especially when tragedy strikes, is the last thing we want. We like controlling our world when things are going swimmingly. How much more do we want to be in charge when life takes a downward turn? Once we go down that road, we deceive ourselves and our friends.

We can keep our fears hidden while justifying our actions with arguments if we keep our friends and God pushed away from the actual motives of our hearts. It is rare for a person not to be self-aware of these shenanigans, making the practice of deception premeditated. As you care for this person, you will need the courage to speak past the front they are putting up that masks the truth they don’t want you to see. I am unsure how self-aware Job was about his hidden fears—or his angry smokescreen. It would be an argument from silence to speculate about how dialed-in he was to his heart motivations. Though most folks are self-aware of these inner workings, a few can be unaware of their self-sabotaging thinking. Fear has gripped their hearts, and they are out of tune with these inner machinations of the soul.

Perhaps you are like this because you are unaware of how fear has gripped your heart as you think about your suffering. One of the easiest ways to diagnose how fear has captivated your heart is how you respond to your suffering. I mean, that was the test in Job: will he bless or curse God when you rain down the fire from heaven? We will either harden or soften our hearts. The first reaction is pride, while the second is humility. Think of these responses like doors that lead you somewhere. You may not know what is happening to you, but your thoughts about God will become evident. The prideful heart will grow cold as the angry soul distance themselves from the Lord. The humble heart will soften as they warm to the future possibilities that the Lord is working in their lives. Both responses are acts of faith; they believe they must respond in a specific way, whether it leads to freedom or more suffering.

Call to Action

  1. Are you self-aware enough to see how your fears motivate you not to trust the Lord and tempt you to distance yourself from the community of faith? Perhaps you’re not like this, and if not, I celebrate with you. There are many mature believers who respond in a godly fashion when trouble happens.
  2. How do you respond when you think about what you may be losing? It’s okay to fear, at least initially. None of us have perfect responses, but when we respond incorrectly, we must make the proper corrections quickly.
  3. Do you become angry at God and others when bad things happen to you? If this is a response pattern in your life, what do your reactions reveal about your lack of theological depth? Will you start a plan to change?
  4. When someone begins to address your fears, do you respond by lying, worrying, or becoming angry? If you can openly talk about your fears while seeking help from your friends, you are heading in the right direction. If you cannot do this, blindness has already begun to dull your mind.

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