How to Have Faith in the Face of Unanswered Questions

There are things about God you and I will never understand.

I’m being reminded of this a lot lately. As I teach through the entire Bible, chapter by chapter, questions arise.

Questions I once asked but now know the answers to… Questions I once asked but never found the answers to… Questions I once asked but was too lazy to go find the answers to… Questions I now ask and go find the answers to… Questions I now ask and never find the answers to… Questions I now ask and am too lazy to go find the answers to… And questions those I’m teaching ask that I’ve never considered…and may or may not know the answers to.

[See the analyticalness in that last paragraph? I have to cover every base, every combination and permutation of options. It’s a sickness, really.]

My natural bent is to feel unsettled when I have questions I can’t answer. I like information. I like all the information. Having it gives me a sense of control–a false sense, by the way–and when I don’t know something, I feel uneasy.

This feeling once drove me to totally deny Christianity and the existence of God. Because Jesus couldn’t be proven in a lab, I would not accept His claim to be God as a possibility.

Do you know what changed my mind about Jesus?

I’ll give you a hint: I never got all my questions about Him answered to my satisfaction. I didn’t finally meet someone who could smush Christianity into my tiny box-of-logic.

What changed my mind about Jesus is 1) I realized I needed God, and 2) the God of the Bible made a lot of sense to me. Notice: the Bible didn’t make total sense to me.

As I began to study the Bible with an open mind, God began teaching me about His character. I discovered more and more who He is and what He is like and, conversely, what He isn’t like.

Over time New Testament scriptures proved true in my own life, enhancing my trust in the Bible’s validity, and, in turn, in the Bible’s descriptions of God as wholly trustworthy and good.

I still had plenty of intellectual hurdles I couldn’t clear in regards to Christianity. And I still do. But I’m a lot more comfortable with the unanswered questions than I used to be. Because the questions I can answer–Will God forgive me? Will He abandon me? Does He love me? Is His Word true?–all confirm His character.

So when someone asks a question like, “When babies die, do they go to heaven?” I can say, “I don’t know–the scriptures don’t expressly speak to that–but I know God is good and just and loving, so I trust Him to do the right thing by those babies.”

And when someone asks, “Why did God even give Adam and Eve the option to disobey Him in the garden? Why even plant that tree? He set them up for failure. Who is kidding who?” I can say, “I don’t know why God allows evil. It may not make sense to us, but I know God is wise and in total control, so I trust Him to use evil for good.”

To put it philosophically, the sensibility of God (that is, the fact that He makes sense), does not depend upon man’s (in)ability to completely make sense of God. There are things about Him that will never make sense to us humans. But He has given us enough glimpses of Himself in the scriptures for us to reasonably believe He does, in fact, make sense in all ways. It is not He who is illogical from time to time but us.

And that thought provides me comfort and peace in the midst of unanswered questions.

Overflow

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome as a blessing after exhorting them to be unified and accepting of one another.

Not unlike the Romans, God is attempting to teach me about the power and freedom of acceptance and trusting Him with the question marks in my life.

This preposition-laden verse catches my eye because Paul is saying a lot of important things in one poorly crafted sentence.

(Can I say that? Can I say his grammar was awful and the English translators need some lessons on when to use commas? I digress.)

It strikes me that God has a job–to fill us–and we have a job–to trust in Him. As we trust, He fills. The two actions are meant to occur simultaneously.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that if we don’t trust, He won’t fill. However, I’m willing to bet that more often than not we have to get the ball rolling by trusting Him first.

Why?

Because of what God is filling us with: all joy and peace.

Dare I say it is probably impossible for us to experience all joy and peace while not trusting Him?

I do.

I dare.

So we start trusting Him, and He fills us, and we skip off into the sunset, hand in hand, in this beautiful unending bliss of simultaneously trusting and filling forever and ever, amen.

At least that’s how it is supposed to be.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t only fill us with joy or peace but with both. Again, perhaps we can’t have one without the other.

I also find it interesting Paul asks God to fill the Romans with all joy and peace. Not some; not a lotAll.

In the same vein, God fills us with these things. He doesn’t just offer a little of each; He gives us as much as we can take.

Paul isn’t shy about praying for an abundance of awesomeness. Maybe I shouldn’t be either…

So we trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace.

But why does Paul want this for the Romans?

Well, the obvious human answer is because joy and peace feel good. Paul must want the Romans to live their best lives now…or then, as the case is.

Maybe. But the scripture says more.

We trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace, “so that you may overflow with hope…”

Ahhhh.

Paul wants the Romans to overflow with hope, and their trusting God is the first step on the path to get there.

When God fills us, on account of our trusting in Him, we overflow with hope. He fills us with all joy and peace, and then we flat spill over with hope.

Wow.

I can’t remember the last time I brimmed with hope. I have to admit it sounds appealing.

Why would Paul want the Romans to overflow with hope?

Maybe because it’s a privilege Christ-followers have that is worth taking advantage of…non-believers don’t have access to the True Source of hope.

And/or maybe because when we reflect hopefulness to the world, they are attracted to Christ in us. Our overflowing with hope is an evangelism tool, if you will, which sounds like a win-win to me.

What’s interesting is the cooperation between God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit in this process. God does the filling with joy and peace, and the Spirit empowers the overflowing of hope. I don’t really know what to do with that observation, but I’m sure Paul stuck it in there for a reason.

All this to say, trusting God sounds like a pretty good idea.

I know, anti-climactic.

How God Uses Our Stupid, Sinful Choices

I don’t know why, but it struck me this morning how comforting it is that God uses our sins for good.

I’m not saying our sins are good, obviously. I’m saying He takes our stupid decisions and eventually uses the results for good purposes.

Of course, the go-to verse on the subject is Romans 8:28. Paul is going on and on about how the Spirit prays on our behalf, and then Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And what, pray tell, is “the good” to which Paul is referring? Next verse, “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

God works ALL THINGS–including our sinful choices!–to make us more like Jesus. 

I kind of want to jump up and down and celebrate this. Because I sin a lot. But God is too good to waste my disobedience.

That’s about all I had to say on this subject until I went to Bible study this morning, and God brought the topic up again. (Yes, God attends my Bible study.)

We are studying Ruth, and it turns out her story is the prime example of God working sin for good. 

Back in the day God was very clear to the Israelites that they were not to marry non-Israelites. He knew if they did those foreigners would draw the Israelites into idolatry.

God was trying to protect the Israelites from the gravest sin of all–worshiping something other than Him–by saying, “Hey, you guys? We’re gonna go ahead and call ‘intermarrying with Gentiles who don’t worship me and me alone’ sin because it will hurt you if you do it, and, also, it will dishonor Me.”

[Side note: these are the two reasons God labels anything sin. He’s not trying to ruin our fun or pull rank for the sake of pulling rank. He’s trying to PROTECT US and ensure He is properly glorified. If we could only get that through our ridiculously thick heads…]

All that to say, the book of Ruth opens with an Israelite family moving to a foreign land and the sons of the family immediately marrying foreign women. In other words, SIN (we have no evidence Ruth was a Yahweh follower). Mahlon’s decision to marry Ruth, a non-Israelite was a direct violation of God’s law.

Fast forward to the end of the book and we see that Ruth, who has since become a Yahweh follower (1:16), births a son named Obed via her second husband, an Israelite man named Boaz. Obed grows up and has a son named Jesse, and Jesse grows up and has a son named David. As in King David, the greatest Israelite King of all time, and the ancestor from whom Mary and, subsequently, Jesus would come.

DO YOU SEE WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE?!

God used one man’s sin not just for “good” but to PROVIDE A WAY FOR ALL OF HUMANITY TO BE REDEEMED.

Are you kidding me, God?!

really want to jump up and down and celebrate this one!

There’s more.

Ruth had Gentile blood. Boaz had Israelite blood. Their son, Obed, had a bit of both. And all the descendants after Obed–including Mary and JESUS–had mixed blood as well.

Why should we even care about Jesus’ blood type?

I think it is PROFOUND (clearly, given the amount of all caps I’m using in this post) because Christ didn’t just come to save the Israelites; He came to save Gentiles and Israelites.

God has always been for all people groups (this is a theme throughout the Bible, starting with the Abrahamic Covenant back in Genesis 12), even though He had a “chosen nation” in Israel. He has always wanted to redeem any person of any race who wanted to follow Him.

And you know how He did that?

Not via a pure Israelite Messiah. Nope. By a Savior who had blood ties to Gentiles and Jews alike!

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. (Actually, the latter is not related to the former in any way.)

Anywho, reeling myself back in, my point is TAKE HEART; God can and will use all of our sins for good purposes.

Regret your sin.

Acknowledge the wrongness of your sin.

Seek forgiveness from God and the person(s) whom your sin hurt.

BUT DON’T STOP THERE!

See the silver lining, and trust God to use the results of your sin for eternal good–the formation of your soul (and the souls around you) to look a little more like Christ than you did before you sinned.

Relying on God

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. – 1 John 4:15-16

The chick on the Bible study video, Kelly Minter, honed in on the word “know” this morning… she pointed out the Greek is more specific. “Know” here doesn’t mean intellectual assent, like I know my telephone number. Rather, this particular “know” means to understand as a result of experiencing, like I know my husband as a result of interacting with him daily and deeply for 10+ years.

We are to know the love God has for us because we’ve experienced it.

Bible study lady was making a fascinating point, and she proceeded to examine other times John uses both kinds of “knows”, but I found myself zeroing in on a different word in verse 16: rely.

We know and rely on the love God has for us…

It struck me that rely is a verb. It’s an action. To rely on God is an action we have to deliberately take or it won’t be done.

As I pondered what it is to rely on something, it also struck me that it can’t be done halfway. You either rely on something, or you don’t. But you don’t “sorta” rely on something. To “kind of” rely on something is to not rely on it at all.

Sometimes I get hungry. But I hate cooking. So I go to a restaurant and rely on people there to cook something for me. Except on Christmas Day. I know that 99% of restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, so I don’t rely on them to feed me then. (I rely on my mother-in-law then, but that’s neither here nor there…) What I’ve never done is “sorta” relied on a cook at a restaurant to feed me. I’ve never brought my own sack lunch, just in case my meal was burned or the chef got sick. I’m either all in or all out, wholly depending upon the restaurant or not depending on it at all.

In fact, I can’t think of one situation in which I’ve ever “kind of” relied on something.

So when John tells us to rely on the love God has for us, I’m fairly certain he means to whole-heartedly count on that love. Which we can do, logically, given that we know His love is trustworthy from past personal experience.  

We are being called to trust God’s love 100%. We are being commanded to put all of our hope in the fact that God loves us… no matter the trials that may come… no matter the suffering we will endure… no matter the bleakness of the current state of affairs. We can and should totally rely on God’s love for us.

Two emotions surface for me thinking about this concept:

First, I have a sense of utter desperation. Waking up to the news telling me about the slaughter of Christians all over the world countless times in the past six months is enough to make me feel like I can’t rely on anything for safety and protection from the evil in this world. If people are executed in American churches, the “safest” places on earth to worship, where else are we going to go to protect ourselves? My feeling of desperation says, “Thank God we can rely on the love God has for us because we can’t rely on anything else…” 

Thankfully, though, that first sentiment quickly gives way to another: peace. The love of God is not some consolation prize. We don’t merely rely on His love because that’s all we’ve got to choose from. (We can find plenty of other woeful substitutes with which to self-medicate… or so I’ve been told…) No, we stake our lives on God’s love for us, trusting Him and Him alone to take care of us in all the right ways at all the right times, because His love is rock-solid. It is wholly trustworthy to support us and nurture us all the days of our lives. The fact that I can rely on something as infallible as the love of God for all my needs is a reassurance like no other.

But just because it makes sense and brings me peace, it doesn’t mean relying on God’s love for me is easy. It’s not because relying on God isn’t my default setting. I’m a fallen human, just like you, so I’ve been programmed to rely on me. And that’s what I do unless I make the intentional decision to consciously rely on God. And the moment I stop focusing my thoughts on doing so, I slip right back into “self-sufficiency” without even realizing it.

Since I can’t rely on myself to rely on God’s love for me, it’s apropos to end with this: I’m going to rely on God’s love for me to help me rely on God’s love for me.

(I think those are His favorite kind of requests, by the way… when we stop pretending like we can do any single positive thing without Him wholly equipping us to do so… we are a desperate people… thank God we have a God who loves us and who not only allows us to rely on Him, He invites us to rely on Him.)

Grief and Joy

I’ve been mulling over an oxymoron the last 24 hours or so.

At church yesterday, somebody (Keith Thomas – give props where props are due) brought up the idea that, as Christians, we can have hope and joy in the midst of grievous situations.

We can trust Christ is at work – doing His best work, in fact – and the hope we have in Christ will not disappoint us, according to Romans 5:5. The person discussing this issue said, “We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time.”

It was an interesting concept… He used an example of a mother losing her teenager whom she knew was a believer. Deep grief, yet tremendous joy…

To be honest, the idea didn’t really take hold of me emotionally the first time I heard it. Sure, I agreed with it, but it remained in the philosophical compartment of my brain for the next hour.

Then I went to service, and as the Lord is wont to do from time to time, He put His finger on a part of my heart I’d been trying to pretend wasn’t hurting and communicated, sans words, “You are experiencing deep grief and tremendous joy simultaneously right now.”

He was right.

I’d been trying for so long to convince myself I was only experiencing the joy Jesus was offering in my situation, subconsciously believing that if I never admitted to myself that I was also extremely sad, then I wouldn’t be. I’d be able to keep the feelings of grief at bay.

Except I couldn’t anymore.

Things came to a head, and I – superior emotional wall-builder that I am – couldn’t keep the bricks in place any longer. The wall fell, and I felt firsthand the truth I’d been exposed to earlier that morning… we can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time…

I scribbled something down on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget it…

Grief and Joy

From experience, I think this is a true equation. Prior to my becoming a believer in Jesus, I was hopeless in times of grief. After I became a believer, I was hopeless in times of grief when I neglected to focus on Christ. But those rare moments, like yesterday, when I’ve considered Jesus’ faithfulness and goodness in the midst of my grief, I’ve found hope and joy.

But, to be honest, it doesn’t matter at all if I think this equation is true. My feelings and experiences don’t make something true. Truth is defined in the Bible, and our experiences only serve to confirm truth. But that’s another post.

My point is, I don’t want to post this idea without biblical proof. And Peter gives it to us.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter writes to believers, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Joy during suffering and grief…

How? What are they rejoicing in while they suffer so greatly?

If we back up to verses 3-5, Peter tells us.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Verse 6 begins, “In all this…” That is, the believers are rejoicing in the 4 things (at least) I highlighted in verses 3-5 while they “suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

So, it can be done…

You, me.

We can experience the depths of grief and the heights of joy at the same time… if we keep Christ in the center of our suffering. 

 

How to Be Satisfied with God When You Feel Dissatisfied with God

Sometimes it’s easy to feel God’s love.

For whatever reason, every worship song you hear and Bible verse you read floods you with absolute confidence in the Lord’s personal affection for you. You walk around with a smile on your face, knowing, like the psalmist, that His love really is better than life, and you have the warm tingly feeling in your soul to prove it (Psalm 63:3).

Other times, not so much.

No amount of Chris Tomlin lyrics or scripture perusing resonates. You feel empty as a tin can and can’t figure out why the Lord doesn’t seem to satisfy you. Your attempts to draw near to Him fall flat. And you feel guilty.

After all, He’s supposed to be all we need… He wants to be our heart’s main desire, everything and everyone else paling in comparison.

And we want that to be the case… but sometimes it just isn’t. We don’t feel His love all the time, and when the feeling escapes us, we often grow dissatisfied with Him.

Does it have to be that way?

What if we could learn to be satisfied with God even when we don’t feel warm, lovey feelings for or from Him?

I’m just throwing out the question because, as the valedictorian of basing beliefs on feelings instead of facts, my personal opinion is this tall order feels dang near impossible. (There I go again, letting my feelings tell me what’s true/possible…)

In Romans 5 Paul talks about how we have peace with God through faith in Jesus, and that brings us hope (Romans 5:1-2).

Verse 5 reads, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,” (Romans 5:5).

In other words, believers have God’s love in their hearts… all the time… whether they feel it or not. It’s a permanent condition of our souls, to be inhabited by the love of God. It’s a fact.

So even when we don’t feel love for or loved by God, we can choose to believe the truth that we are loved by Him, and we have His love within us (and Romans 5:5) to prove it.

God’s love is in our hearts – the feeling component of ourselves. If we aren’t feeling it, something is askew. We need to ask Him to help us feel His love again.

In the meantime, perhaps we can choose to be satisfied with the knowledge that His love has not left us and that He will help us feel it again, sooner or later.

How to Stop Feeling Disappointed

Sometimes I feel disappointed.

You too?

It really doesn’t take much to cause us to feel disappointed. That’s kind of just life’s default setting. Even for you optimists it takes effort and intentionality to overcome our hard-wired inclination to feel less than impressed with a lot of facets of life.

But why do we feel disappointed so often?

I suppose the clinical reason is because our expectations aren’t met.

Expectations

Lower your expectations, they say, and your expectations will be more easily met. So, in theory, you’ll be disappointed less often.

Can I say that emotional math has never really sat right with me? 

We are created in God’s image, and I don’t think God restrains His desires and dreams and feelings in an effort to self-protect against disappointment. So neither should we.

We were created with the ability to feel deeply, just as the Lord does. And with those feelings come expectations… of ourselves, of other people, and of God.

And that’s okay!

Expectations are perfectly logical and reasonable things to have.

The trouble comes when we misplace our expectations – when we set them on people (including ourselves). It turns out people can’t handle the full weight of other people’s expectations. And when we think they should, we set ourselves up to be disappointed at some point or another.

So if people can’t bear the weight of our undiluted hopes and dreams and passions and feelings, and if dialing our emotions back a bit in an attempt to self-protect isn’t the answer, what is?

What are we to do with our God-given emotions that naturally produce expectations?

In the book of Isaiah the Lord says, “Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed,” (Isaiah 49:23).

When is “then”?

For the original audience of this prophecy, “then” was after the Lord brought back the rebellious Israelites to their homeland, after 70 years of living in exile in Babylon. So, basically, after they realized the gravity of their idolatry and repented, then Israel would know that God is God.

Our “then” is along the same lines. After a period of discipline for committing idolatry in our own 21st century ways, after we’ve come to our senses and repented and the Lord has chosen to forgive us and restore us, then we will know that God is God.

And whether it’s old school Israelites or modern us, when we know God is God, when we choose to put Him where He belongs – on the thrones of our hearts, above all other loves we have – what we’re really doing is hoping in Him. In other words, we’re placing our expectations on Him.

And when all of our emotion-driven desires are placed on God, we will not be disappointed. 

Where disappointment comes from

This is a promise! And an exciting one, at that. This is emotional math I can get behind.

We don’t have to dial back our passions or build self-protective walls of “_____ isn’t that important to me…” No, we can feel the full effect of our hopes and dreams and have no fear of disappointment if we put all of our hopes in the Lord

Are you feeling disappointed about something today? Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What expectation do I have that isn’t being met?
  2. In whom or on what am I placing that expectation?

Then pray something like this, “Lord, I feel disappointed about ______. I have wrongly put my hope in ______ to fulfill my expectation about this. Forgive me, Father, and help me to put my hope in You about this situation. The Bible says if I hope in You I will not be disappointed. I’m taking You at Your Word and trust You because You are faithful.”