In 1989, the company I worked for was dying. A multi-year sales drought had dried up our bank accounts, and our owner’s cash cistern was dusty as well. I was asked to demo our software to one of our sales prospects (actually, our only sales prospect).
If the demo failed, I would lose my paycheck and my prestigious, corner … cubicle.
The night before my demo, the client’s consultant told me that our competitors had badly bungled their demos, wasting half the time showing off “cool” but unneeded features. When the client asked to see solutions to their problems, our competitors ignored them, and continued showing off the coolness of this or that particular feature.
Our competition failed because they wouldn’t yield control of the conversation to the client. They doggedly stuck to their agenda, completely oblivious to the client’s needs.
The consultant suggested I start the presentation by asking the client to describe what they needed. He suggested I then use the rest of the demo to show how our software solved those problems. I did. They liked it. We got the deal. And I kept my cubicle.
What does demoing software have to do with hearing God? Everything.
Several years ago, I faced a major decision that needed God’s guidance. Almost every day I asked God for direction. I prayed, begged for wisdom, asked friends, read scripture; and all I got from God was silence. I read Paul’s prayer that we be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9).
I prayed (a little self-righteously), “That’s all I’m looking for, God; just your will.”
I felt God answer, “No you aren’t. You’re just looking for your own will.” The answer didn’t come as handwriting on the wall, just a slight tug on my heart. (But heart tugs are fine. The guy who got handwriting on the wall heard this, “You’re gonna die tonight.”)
I really didn’t want God’s will. I wanted an answer to “this” question (and “this” question alone), ignoring God who was talking about a totally different topic.
I was like my looser competitors who couldn’t get past their own agenda. I dominated the discussion—with God!—by disregarding his agenda.
Everyone does it
It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions. He does; but our obsessions with our questions blind us to what God wants to say. It’s like asking God how to redo my closet as he builds me a mansion next door. Here I am, out shopping for doorknobs.
I felt that God was missing the point when he wouldn’t answer my question. But I was the one missing the point; he was answering my question by addressing a deeper (but seemingly different) topic. I wouldn’t listen because I had hijacked the conversation.
If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, isn’t there a tiny chance he knows what he’s doing? Instead we merrily demo along our way, certain that our questions are key:
- We see a fork in the road and we ask God, “Should I turn right or turn left?” God answers, “Turn around.”
- We see a ball curving its way toward us and we ask, “God, should I swing at this pitch?” God says, “Uh, you’re playing football.”
- We fast, pray, and beg for advice, “God, should I marry this girl or not?” God responds, “You’re an eight year-old boy; go outside and play some soccer.”
God is always offering more than we ask or think. We just miss it. He really does think outside the box, so his answers often lay outside the little cubicles of our questions.
If God is powerful enough for us to consider asking him, he’s also powerful enough to know (and do) things we can’t understand. We can’t have it both ways. If he is powerful and good, he will definitely act in ways that bewilder us.
Try explaining to your four year-old son why he has to learn addition, so he can learn multiplication, so he can learn algebra, so he can learn geometry, so he can learn trigonometry, so he can learn calculus, so he can become a rocket scientist.
All we can say is, “Just go out and play some soccer.”
I once learned more from a long, eight-month job that I hated than I learned in any five-year job that I loved. God didn’t explain it. He just took me through it.
Missing the real issue
There are times when we are desperate to know God’s will. Should we marry this person (assuming we’re of age)? How do we help our handicapped daughter with her lack of friends? How do I handle a job that is sucking every last ounce of my soul?
God’s silence seems … criminal. The lack of guidance hurts. How do we handle that?
The entire book of Job is dedicated to the topic of conversational hijacking. The first twenty-nine verses give a thumbnail sketch of a bit of history. Then the next thirty-six chapters paint multiple masterpieces of people hijacking the discussion.
Finally, the youngest counselor offers some reasonable advice. He tells Job to stop controlling the conversation, “O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). When Job finally stands still, God reveals himself.
The thing is, God never answers Job’s question, “Why did you do this?” God never even breathes a hint at an answer. Instead God does something else. When Job gives conversational control to God, God simply reveals himself to Job.
Job finally responds, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). Job is satisfied. We can hijack the discussion, or we can have God.
So God, let’s talk. Uh, you first.
I have to disagree with this post, but you do say one thing that I agree with:
“God’s silence seems … criminal. The lack of guidance hurts.”
There are a lot of questions that are very important and we could use some answers.
The fact that God made gay people and then Paul wrote that gay people are not going to heaven is one of the more confusing parts of life. People are getting persecuted, lawsuits are being thrown around, families are being divided and little kids are getting hurt over this question. I think it’s totally reasonable to require that God say something to clarify this mess.
We have an ancient book saying that God created everything in 6 days about 6 thousand years ago, but we have geological, astronomical, biological, and anthropological evidences all pointing to a much older Earth. Why did God write down one story but a different story actually happened? This confusion has lead to lawsuits over what can be taught in public schools and kids are leaving the church as adults because they feel that they’ve been lied to their whole lives (I’m one of them). What does God have to say about the matter? Nothing. Because God is silent.
President Lincoln had his own questions that he wanted God to answer. The entire issue of slavery is supported in the Bible and Lincoln would have loved for God to take this issue away from him. This is attributed to Lincoln:
“God has allowed men to make slaves of their fellows. He permits this war. He has before Him a strange spectacle. We, on our side, are praying Him to give us victory, because we believe we are right; but those on the other side pray to Him, too, for victory, believing they are right. What must He think of us?”
All of these issues may be small in God’s eyes, but on the scale of humanity, they are all rather dominating. God’s choice or inability to speak has contributed to a lot of pain and suffering. People die. Division lines are forced between families. It doesn’t have to be this way if God were to stop being criminally silent.
Thanks for participating. You seem like the kind of person who speaks your mind, so I suspect you’ve already heard answers for your questions, and didn’t like them.
But there are very good, reasonable, rational answers. For example, the key problem with Biblical slavery is that we view so much of life, history (and the Bible) through our own cultural blinders; and so we miss what life, history (and the Bible) say.
Biblical and Greco-Roman slavery was mostly like indentured-servitude and had almost nothing to do with 17th, 18th, and 19th century New-World slavery.
The same word is used but not the same idea behind the word. For example, in Biblical (and Greco-Roman) slavery,
• Slaves were not distinguishable by race or clothing; they lived and looked like everyone else; they were not segregated
• Biblical slavery condemned slavery by kidnapping
• Slaves were often more educated than their owners and held high managerial positions
• Slaves made identical wages to non-slaves
• Majority of slaves were slaves for only ten years, and most were free by their mid-thirties
Many argue that today’s factory worker (and, frankly many high level executives) are more slavish than first century Greco-Roman culture. It’s the same word with a different meaning.
By all that, I do not condone the millions of evil things Christians have done by their own cultural blindness. But neither do I condone the millions of evil things non-believers do out of their own cultural blindness.
If there really is an all knowing, all powerful God, by definition his actions are beyond us. We can judge him no better than a cauliflower can judge the space shuttle.
And if there is no God, there is no place to be pissed at God or evil people; because all our sense of justice would simply be constructions created by humans. And that will all burn out.
So your obvious outrage puzzles me.
It would seem to me, jcchurch, by your opening statement, “there are a lot of very important questions and we could use some answers” suggests you missed the point Sam was making in the article, i.e. yes, we have our questions, but we aren’t listening to what God WANTS to say to us; we just continue to ask the questions that are on OUR agenda. God has answers for your questions and mine, but we don’t like the answers we read; so we continue to wait for God to answer those questions according to our presuppositions and personal beliefs. I have my own questions I’ve waited several years for God to answer – why He allowed a difficult, disappointing, in many ways devastating, circumstance to happen to me. I’ve not yet heard the answer to my “why” but I’ve learned so much about myself and the God I love who is my Savior.
If one starts from a position that God “writes down” different things than are supported by human facts, or is “unable” to speak, the first question that should be asked and answered is, “Do you believe in the God of the Bible? Is He Sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, good, gracious, infinite, eternal? If so, from whose perspective is it “reasonable” to require that God say anything?
While Sam writes that God’s silence “seems criminal” it seems you are suggesting it “IS” criminal, and that’s a very important distinction.
Thank you for the article, Sam.
I especially appreciate how you share a personal story of having an unanswered, difficult question. It’s one thing to know something academically and another thing (altogether) to know it personally.
And yet knowing personally is the real goal of the gospel. God wants us to literally know him, and often that means trusting him even when we lack the answers we crave.
When I was in business, I had to hire people. I did the best job I could to investigate their fit (resumes, interviews, reference calls, etc.). In the end I had to commit. I didn’t know until I experienced them.
It’s fine to have questions for God; and he does answer many–maybe most–directly. But in the end we have to commit.
Hi. Since you took to the time to ask me questions, I’ll answer them.
Do you believe in the God of the Bible?
No. Not any more.
Is He Sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, good, gracious, infinite, eternal?
Your definition of god immediately requires us to discuss the inherit problem of evil. Thus, no. It is a logical impossibility for God to be all of the things that you mention.
If so, from whose perspective is it “reasonable” to require that God say anything?
From my perspective, a God by which no appeal can be made is not a God worthy of worship.
And, thank you for taking time to answer my questions.
I don’t believe one can’t appeal to God, I was questioning the semantics of whether or not it’s “reasonable” – i.e. I believe God to be gracious in communicating with us, but I don’t think we have the right to demand He reveal all we expect. From my perspective, I exercise great care in questioning God’s character.
The problem of good versus evil does indeed take the conversation down a different track than the one begun here by Sam, so I’ll simply thank you for a civil exchange. I’m sorry for whatever circumstances in life have led you to not believe any more.
JC, I’ve been thinking about your posts since I read them. I don’t know if you will cynically reject this or take it in the spirit with which it is intended, but I am praying for you.
Thank you. I appreciate your thoughts.
You had my complete attention from the first line on this one! I’ve experienced your practical example too many times to not be hooked immediately into the complete discussion. And unlike the gentleman who disagreed with this post, I agree with you. I have to tell you that this has happened to me multiple times and I watch it happening to other people and watch them get frustrated with God or at least think that God is mad at them because they aren’t “hearing” any answers. I learned long ago that when seeking the Lord for answers, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with, “Lord, I’d like you to talk to me about this situation,” and go from there!
Thanks for joining the discussion. Great point.
I really am puzzled by people (and, alas, me) who go to God expecting miracles, and then are mad when his answers are beyond them.
We either have a tame God (like Santa Claus) who really can’t do much; or we have a real God who is completely beyond us. But who came down to us humble, poor, giving, and loving.
Frankly, the most puzzling part about God is his love for us. Someone once said, “No one disbelieves God because he isn’t good enough; we all disbelieve God because he’s too good.”
Love this: “I wouldn’t listen because I had hijacked the conversation.”
I also love your examples indicating that God has something GREATER in mind than we do. He wants to give us more, not less. It’s just not necessarily what we are yearning for in the moment. Yet he is after the thing BEHIND the yearning.
I do believe that God’s GREATER plan is the reason we need to actually fall down and worship him. We finally give up our dinky plans and small hopes and accept his great care for us.
And we realize his is always after something deeper, behind, beyond, beneath.
I recently went through a period in which God seemed quite verbose about one difficult decision I needed to make. However, after the decision, at this time when I feel I need the most reassurance and guidance, I hear nothing. There are hints in what is going on that He is still involved, but sometimes I wish God would be more obvious.
I have asked God to help me not be demanding or petty and to forgive me for the times I have been. One thing God told me once has helped me every time I’ve remembered it. I was asking for direct revelation and guidance about something and I heard Him say, “You’ve asked me for wisdom and I gave you wisdom – now live in it.” As I simply walked in Biblical wisdom, without special revelation, I did find that I was able to resolve many issues with just that. I am not denouncing special revelation – it’s so cool and refreshing when God does that – but God has taught me that the silence is often part of the method of making me like Christ.
I have four boys, and I want them to be safe and happy, but I also want them to grow up to be strong, good and confident men. If I tell them how to do everything – if I never let them make mistakes – they won’t have a chance to make good decisions either.
As for some of the things jcchurch says, I have a few responses to that. It is true that God made gay people and gay people won’t be in Heaven; it is also true that God made a straight, arrogant, selfish, merciless man and that man could not go to Heaven either. That man was me – I was going straight to Hell – but God sent Jesus to take the penalty for my sins. I just had to trust God to accept that sacrifice on my behalf. What I could not do was make excuses for my sins or say that there was nothing wrong with me remaining selfish or merciless or proud. Repentance means turning away from the sin. If you’ve been reading Sam’s blog for long, you’ve seen his explanation that Christianity is not about behavior, but about grace. Every Christian is a saved sinner.
Regarding the six-day creation, the evidence really points to a young earth, not “billions of years” so it’s not that God told a different story but that man chose to make up and cling to the wrong story. Yes, children are being lied to, but the lie is actually evolution. I could spend pages defending this, but you can look up the different arguments and the truth is readily available if you are willing to accept this.
Finally, regarding slavery, Sam gave you a good response to this already. In President Lincoln’s paragraph there is an answer as well: God allowed the slavery and He allowed the war. I hate seeing the modern slavery of drug and sex trafficking, but has also allowed it, for now. The day is coming, and it is coming soon, when none of this is allowed any more. The wicked will be punished and God will restore eternal righteousness. The downside (at least for those who hated and rejected God) to this is that there will be punishment. This time of suffering is our chance to show our allegiance (or lack thereof) to God and all that is good.
Thanks for taking so much time to express yourself.
(I think you’ve been saving it up.)
Less than a year ago I buried my best friend after his battle with cancer. He was in his mid 40’s leaving behind a beautiful wife and two teenage kids. I miss him greatly and in my grief, I asked, “Why Tony? Why now?” God was silent. Still don’t have an answer or understand. I prayed for a new friend whom I could share with like I could with Tony, and God brought Mick into my life. Fifteen minutes before reading this posting, I got off the phone with Mick, who just informed me of his leukemia diagnosis. As we were on the phone, tears began to well in my eyes, and I said, “Oh God, please no … not again.” Mick apparently heard the upset in my voice and said, “Listen, Mike, I don’t know why this is going on. I don’t have an an answer, either. The only thing I have to go on is the love of the Answerer.” Come to think of it, that’s sort of where Job ended up, too …
Thanks for sharing your personal story.
Most of the time, most of us are looking for an air-tight argument, but they really don’t solve anything. Like you looking for a friend, we mostly need an air-tight friend.
And, say what you might about God, he came to be with us to be our friends; he loves this world enough to enter into our suffering himself.
We don’t (or can’t) know all the reasons for suffering, but we know God doesn’t lack love.
I appreciate your response. You’re right, of course. I am grateful for the time and friendship I had with Tony and have with Mick – at least for a time. Grief is the temporary price we pay for loving. I am simultaneously thankful for the relationships I’ve had (and learning to have increasing gratitude for the ones that exist presently) and sad over the losses. Just as God and His plans are deep and mysterious, so we who are created in His image can be grateful and deeply sad at the same time …
You sound like a man who is blessed with some wonderful friends! A dear colleague of mine (teacher) passed away suddenly about a month ago. He was only 45, left behind a wife and 2 children, and he was a ROCK in a very troubled, inner city school. He was a Christian, as was most of his family. I knew people couldn’t help but question God as to why this man would die at this time. His uncle spoke at his funeral; he clearly loved and respected my friend. To the unspoken “why,” he ended with “Thanks God, for 45 years.” It made me think of all relationships–this man was married only about five years–if his wife had known ahead of time, would she have chosen not to marry him because it wasn’t going to last very long and the heartbreak would be so great? Wasn’t 5 years worth it? (implied: yes) My nephew died at age 16 due to health issues–we can ask why, but if we knew ahead of time, would we say that 16 years with him was better than if he had never been born? If God said your friend would live only to mid-40s, would you tell Him to forget it? We all experience this heartbreak–and it is real… but I want to position myself in thankfulness. I don’t understand any of it, but I want to be grateful for whatever short time we have with our loved ones…. and the older I get, the more I realize that even 80 and 90 years or more seems too short as well. Thank God for eternity!
Great perspective on celebrating the lives we experienced vs. begrudging the lives we lost. And good reminder that our lost loved ones are in a far better place.
But I think it’s also fine–human and godly–to weep and wail at loss and death. When Jesus saw Lazarus in the tomb, he snorted in anger at the ugliness of death, that public defacement of the beauty of his creation.
I think it fine to cry out to God, “Why? Why now? How him [or her]?” God doesn’t always give us answers to our direct questions, but he always gives us himself.
I think what I love about the Psalms the most is their honesty. The writers cry out, weep, ask, wonder, and wail. It’s not the modern, conservative, “Stuff your feelings” nor it is the modern, liberal, “Vent your feelings.” It is the ancient, Biblical, “Pray for feelings.”
I agree… and death is still our enemy, thankfully a defeated enemy! Missing someone, the pain of separation on this earth, etc.–all worthy of grief and sadness. I don’t want to imply otherwise–I was making my comment more in terms of how sometimes people’s faith actually becomes “shipwrecked” because they think they should get answers and/or that God should have acted differently, and they actually carry an offense toward God. (This is how I identify why your “hijacking the conversation”–thinking that WE get to control how God acts, or are right to be mad at Him when He does His own thing.)
Because I see death as an enemy, I also bristle some when people seem to welcome death– “death is our friend” sentiment. It’s not our friend, I fight against it, and fight for life. (“He’s in a better place” is for comfort to those left behind, not something to try to hasten.) I also think it is appropriate to always pray for resurrection. I believe God COULD answer that prayer immediately, but that it is a prayer that He will always eventually answer with a “yes.” And don’t get me going about the poems/sentiments like “He always takes the ones He likes the best….” I welcome the day when death is no more, and He wipes away every one of our tears!
I agree with you. Great comment. Thanks.
I welcome that day too.
We can hijack the discussion, or we can have God. – Love this!
Sharing with someone who really needs this. 🙂
Hey, share it with me. I need it!
Really, when I write about something, it invariably is about something God shows me I lack or need.
But writing about it doesn’t mean I’ve fully learned it. Being able to write “rocket scientist” doesn’t make me one.
We … really … need other other.
Thanks for sharing.