“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]
Enjoying our breakfast at a rural B&B, we were seated with a young couple. Upon discovering they were PhD candidates at the University of Chicago, we asked for an explanation of their research. Our eyes glazed over as the husband, studying physics, used words like photons, leptons, mesons, baryons, and hadronic interactions. By the time his wife explained her materials research and mentioned macromolecular interactions, microstructures, interface dynamics, nanoparticles and stress variations, I think we would have preferred a flippant, “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you!” response to the ones we got. As nice and patient as they were and as dumbed-down as they made their explanations, we barely knew more about their studies at the end of our conversation than we did at the beginning.
Perhaps a better answer to our questions would have been, “You wouldn’t understand even if we told you!” While actually true, we would have been offended by that answer and insisted we could figure it out. Their world, however, is so far removed from ours and their vocabulary so specific that it would have taken them hours (more likely days) of explanation before we would have even a vague understanding of what they did and why they did it. Nevertheless, we managed to find common ground in our fondness for the town we both were visiting.
Although the Bible explains that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, that answer is neither satisfying nor comforting in the face of tragedy. Although we want an explanation, God is strangely silent. Perhaps that’s just His way of saying, “Trust me, child, you really wouldn’t understand even if I explained it all to you!” While it’s not found in the Bible, the old maxim, “God works in mysterious ways,” is still true. If the world of physics and material science is beyond my limited understanding, I know I’m incapable of ever understanding what makes God run the universe the way He does. I’m still having trouble understanding a love so great that He gave His son as propitiation for our sins! I can’t fully grasp an all-powerful God who has always existed and always will—an all-knowing God, unconstrained by time or space, who can be everywhere at once—a God who can see yesterday, today and all the variations of tomorrow at one time. If I can’t fully comprehend God’s traits, what makes me think I could ever comprehend His reasoning?
We mortals want a detailed explanation of our lives from God but, even if He offered one, we’d never understand it. Moreover, I’m not so sure I really want to know—the weight of such divine knowledge would be overwhelming. As we did with those grad students, however, we can find common ground—in God’s case, that would be His love for us and our love for Him. For now, that will have to suffice.
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! [Romans 11:33 (NLT)]
The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand. [Psalm 119:130 (NLT)]
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.