Monday, February 02, 2009

Is God Capricious, or Just Unpredictable?

Yesterday at church our pastor's son Jay (who is studying to be a pastor as well) gave the little introductory talk at the beginning of the service, I don't know what you call it, the invocation? He generally talks about the Psalms, about which he is writing his paper, so he knows whereof he speaks. I listened pretty closely (other than when Tim did his various things to distract), but in discussion time afterward I found that another woman had caught something that I missed.
She asked, "You said that God is unpredictable; what did you mean by that?" I think the reason I didn't catch it was because I so agreed with it. Who knows what He will do next? I never thought of thinking that He was predictable; at least I don't think I did. From the discussion that followed, it came out that she thought that Jay might be saying that God is capricious, which isn't what he meant at all. I thought it was a good question for an interesting discussion and meditation afterward.
I can arrange plans for my days, but God rearranges every one of them from the very start. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." I am living testimony to that verse! At the beginning of a homeschool year, I tend to plan out what assignments and activities we might do every week, but I have yet to have a week that turns out anything like I planned. I don't expect that will ever happen, and yet I make my plans because I still need to! I think I would have a heart attack if things turned out the way I expected them to. But the surprise element is wonderful. Who knows what is around the next corner? The only time I didn't like that feeling was when I went through about six years of health troubles, and it seemed like those surprises would often incapacitate me for a season. I forgot that those times might come to an end, and by the time that they did, that end was a pleasant surprise as well. I find it reassuring that the proverb says that the Lord directs man's steps. There is an intended direction, a course that God has in mind for us, even though it overrides our own.
Perhaps we think that God would approve of our plans because we see ourselves acting in obedience, but then He doesn't allow us to carry them out. We don't see things from His viewpoint. The first chapters of the Book of Job give some insight to how God might carry out His purposes in such a confusing way that from our perspective is beyond reason. It all is designed to show His glory. Job didn't understand a series of devastating events that seemed like an extreme, unexpected, unpredictable punishment; but God orchestrated all of it not as a punishment at all, but rather to show off what a faithful man's response would be regardless of his circumstances and his confusion--which ultimately, even today, continues to give Him glory. It's never just the central person and circumstance itself, but like a ripple from a pebble thrown into a pond, every event impacts the people who surround it and the consequences of our response to what God gives us may go farther and last longer than we would ever dream, sometimes (if not always) into eternity.
Psalm 139, usually quoted in reference to how God creates each human being, can also be viewed in terms of all our life. 139:5 says, "You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me." Our lives are hemmed in by His loving hand such that we will not wander from His plan. Amidst the unpredictable nature of life, that gives me great comfort and confidence. Verse 9 says, "If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me." Jonah always comes to my mind when I read this verse. The stomach of a fish seems like a most unlikely and remote part of the sea, the most improbable place to have God involved in a person's life, but Jonah found Him, and His loving intervention, even there.
God does not direct our day on the spur of the moment. He had them planned from long ago; Psalm 139:16 says, "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." I am more capricious in setting plans out for the whole school year by September than God is in setting out one moment of my life, because I don't foresee how any of it will actually play out, how we will interact with others, what greater opportunities will supersede my plans and what misfortunes will grind them to a halt. But God knows! He knows every moment ahead of time, down to every detail. He has set out His work for us long before we ever started each day (Eph. 2:10). And His plans are never frustrated, as mine are!
I can pray for a certain outcome in my life, but any specifics I present it in prayer never seem to happen, even if the outcome is only a small variation on what I offered up. (I'm not saying God doesn't answer my prayers--He answers even the most feeble ones, much to my amazement! He just doesn't do so as I picture in advance, but in His more excellent way.) Perhaps God changes the outcome in part to remind me that I'm not in charge, and because I don't have enough wisdom to determine the best outcome. But God is not capricious. That is, He doesn't act in such a way that there were two possibilities, and He chose one over the other for no reason at all. I believe that every act that He does perfectly presents Who He is...represents every aspect of His character perfectly, even if we don't see it that way; any other outcome would be flawed. Whatever answer to prayer, whatever unexpected turn of events in our day, it's a perfect reflection of the character of God that He sovereignly directed that outcome. If it surprises us and we didn't think that God would act in that way, it only shows us how insufficiently we understand His character.
Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.

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