One who lives a life of centralized faith in Jesus probably believes that God is good—quite good. But that same person is constantly at war with his temptation to define God’s goodness in earthly terms or with a human equation. We cannot lower God to the sums of our substandard concepts of good. They will never equal or even be close. Those who are disappointed or frustrated by the actions of God are almost always guilty of boxing their concepts of God.
I have often heard self-proclaimed postmodern preachers tell their congregations that many Christians are guilty of putting God in a box. I’ve used the “God in a box” terminology myself a few times. But truly, the thought is preposterous. You cannot be guilty of boxing up a God who cannot be contained. It’s as if we’re saying that it’s actually possible to limit God. You can’t limit an omnipotent God. You can only limit your openness to the breadth of God. Jesus knew this, and it’s why He talked to His disciples about how they should anticipate the actions of God in their daily lives. And we must trust His words.
Jesus said in Luke 22, “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!” (NLT). Just as His Father clothes the lily with bright color and douses it with alluring perfume, God will do that and more for His children.
Again in Matthew 6, a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He addresses these same concerns: “Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries” (NLT).
In the years when Jesus was 100 percent human and 100 percent sovereign, He tasted the fear we humans cling to that God is complacent in our lives. He, too, was tempted to fear God’s seeming complacency in His own life. On the cross, Jesus cried out toward heaven, “Why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus’ words portrayed His own terror that God had somehow left Him. But Jesus addressed that kind of fear; He did not leave us stranded. I believe He realized how easily our faith can be pulled astray when we doubt whether God cares for the human race. Jesus was the ultimate evidence that God always has our best interest in mind. But, of course, God does not promise that we’ll understand His ways or be able to demand a miraculous performance. He says we must simply trust Him. And that is difficult—often overwhelmingly so.
I do believe God is merciful toward our unbelief. But He longs to pull us out of our jaunt of mediocre faith and allow us to see that He is trustworthy, faithful and always good—always. We must trust this.
I must admit that sometimes I have been jealous of God’s work in the lives of others. Sometimes, He seemingly speaks and moves all day long in the lives of some believers. But I’ve learned that in my pursuit of provocative faith in God I must never look at the way God is dealing in the life of others and wish Him to do the same in my life. Like Jesus said many times, God knows what I need. My needs are different than yours. Your needs are different than your pastor’s. Do not look at the lives of others and compare. That’s not faith.
Often we say we’re trusting God, but instead of trusting for His best, we’re looking for Him to provide a particular outcome to our experience. And when we trust Him for a specific event to occur or a circumstance to happen, we really aren’t trusting at all. We’re hoping, wishing—but not trusting. We’re telling God what to do instead of asking Him for His ultimate goodness to be revealed.
God is good. We may not always understand His goodness, but we must learn to keep our hearts and minds open to the truth that Jesus understands us. He knows how our minds work, but He also knows what we need—truly need. And that alone is miraculous enough for me to believe.
[Matthew Paul Turner’s new book to be released this year is called Provocative Faith: Walking Away from Ordinary. You can contact him at [email protected].]