How not to read God's mindLet me put it bluntly. Upon returning from Uganda and starting my own business as a freelancer, I was hoping for a little more…easy success. I was leaving such a good fit for the way I was made–my technicolor dream–at what felt like sacrifice. And I’ve been writing for so long. I just hoped there’d be a few more supernatural wins involved, you know? I admit to thinking of it a little formulaically: Obey God = Find “favor”.

Hmm. Favor. I mean, you could back that up with verses like “Anyone who comes to him must believe…he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” But as I type, I’m realizing I had a somewhat concrete vision of what that might look like.

Truth: God has been immensely kind–not only in my new job, but to our family in a remarkably smooth transition.

Truth: When the “favor”/blessings/kindness/grace (call it what you want) didn’t materialize, I started in on the “whys.” God must be telling me something, right?

Truth: As my husband reminded me, new jobs take time. Especially those that build a client base. You might say the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Repeat: “Having God does not make me Teflon.” The laws of the universe still apply to me, even though I’m God’s daughter, and even when I obey. But sometimes I presume that I’ll receive grace in the way I picture it in my head. You might even call it spiritual entitlement.

The Mind Game

Have you ever invented an intricate scenario in your mind about why someone didn’t respond the way you wanted?

Example: A friend sends out an email that feels terse. You start thinking about the why’s. Could it be your relationship? Could her marriage be having problems? Is she still ticked that you forgot her birthday? etc., etc. You invent catty responses in your mind while you wash the dishes. You decide if she forgets your birthday, it’s over.

Then you come to find out–she’s not good at writing in general, and her son pushed “send” while sitting on her lap.

Oops.

Geri Scazzero suggests,

The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Yet we break this commandment when we jump to conclusions about other people that likely are not true.*

And honestly, I’m guilty of doing this about God.

Reading His Mind

I can be guilty of adding clarity for God when he hasn’t actually told me anything. I’m piecing together “signs” or “open doors” to decrease my own ambiguity. I second-guess decisions when their outcome looks bleak. Grant it, sometimes I need to rethink my direction. But like the Israelites carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle only to get slaughtered–God is not my good-luck charm.

“The God of my plans”

It’s easy, when accounting the good ways God worked things out from a difficult situation, to justify God’s math for him. All this worked out–so clearly God was doing something there. Now, you know I believe in gratitude as a game-changer in suffering. Do it: Find the goodness, the beauty God creates from ashes.

But we can also be guilty of oversimplifying God’s complex purposes.

So often in our suffering, God doesn’t choose to show his hand. I am still riveted by Keller’s account of an Elisabeth Elliot novel written in the 60’s, No Graven Image. Elliot spins the tale of Margaret, a missionary translating the Bible for unreached South American tribes. One day, she’s walking to the home of Pedro, her translator, the sole translation link between her and the unreached tribe. She’s thanking God for the gift of Pedro; for the elaborate set of circumstances and support and training that have brought her to this point. She’s imagining bringing the Bible to a million people in this region.

But when she arrives at his home, Pedro is suffering from a severe leg infection. Having been trained in medicine, Margaret has penicillin with her, which Pedro requests. Unfortunately, Pedro has an allergic reaction. His family gathers as he seizes; his wife is saying, “You killed him.”

Margaret cries out to God…but Pedro perishes. And her work is over.

Keller reports that Elliot pointed to the last page:

“God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.” She went on to explain to us that the graven image, the idol of the title, was a God who always acted the way we thought he should…That is a God of our own creation, a counterfeit god. Such a god is really just a projection of our own wisdom, of our own self.

….Many readers wrote Elliot and protested vehemently that God would never allow sch a thing to happen to a woman who has so prayerfully dedicated her life to his cause.

….However, Elisabeth told us, her own actual life experience had run almost exactly parallel to this novel–and actually had been even worse.

….She warned against trying to “find a silver lining” that would justify what happened.

….She wrote, “…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this…unless…”***

This story has resonated deeply with me as it seems God pulled me away, or someone could imply “chose not to provide” for me to stay and personally complete the Gospel work in Uganda in the same capacity. Over and over I remind myself, This is Your work. You, potter. Me, clay. 

But don’t we “have the mind of Christ”?

Yes, the Holy Spirit illuminates God’s teaching and helps us to know His mind (1 Corinthians 2:16). But God still holds his secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29); we still see dimly right now (1 Corinthians 13:12). After all, “who can know the mind of the Lord? And who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). Job, too, confesses, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).

God begs us, I think, toward a humility of mind in understanding the immense complexity of how and why He acts.

Yes, ruthlessly locate the grace illuminating even our darkest days. But though we have the privilege of knowing much of his mind…let’s not try to read it.

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*Scazzero, Geri. The Emotionally Healthy Woman: Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2014).

**Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Kindle Edition.

***As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.

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