Thursday, July 20, 2006

Not Our Ways

It is perhaps cause for both consolation and consternation that God’s ways are not our ways, as He said through the prophet Isaiah (55:8-9). We may initially have more consternation than consolation, so let’s look at that first.

Sometimes it may be looked upon as a kind of Christian cop-out: whatever tragic or absurd thing happens, we say it’s because God’s ways are not our ways. And the unbeliever’s answer is: “Yeah, right. That’s a convenient excuse, but it doesn’t fly in the real world.” It’s OK for unbelievers to question (as long as they don’t get all mean-spirited about it), but then they have to listen for an answer. Mostly, though, they don’t want to hear the answer. They don’t want to accept that God’s ways are not ours because of his infinitely greater wisdom and far-seeing understanding. They don’t want to hear God’s answer to Job, who, unlike God, was not there at the creation of the cosmos and does not know how to set the orbits of the planets or regulate the tides or make the eagles soar. Those who can’t discern and accept God’s ways have their spiritual blinders on too tight.

But even believers don’t always like it that God’s ways are not our ways, and not because they are wrestling with complex theodicies. We don’t like God’s ways being different because we simply prefer our ways. We have certain plans, desires, or aspirations, and (let’s be honest) we don’t want God’s will messing everything up! “Thy will be done” spells doom for our myopic or selfish designs. We don’t want God to have a different take on things than we do, because then we’ll either have to change our plans or else do them anyway, but with the disadvantage of a bad conscience. So we’re a little uneasy with God coming right out and saying that his ways and thoughts are not ours.

Yet we might take some consolation when things aren’t going well for us, or when we’re in some serious jam because of circumstances beyond (or because of) our control, that God has a better vantage point than we do, and we hope that a rescue is imminent. When we can’t figure our way out of a problem, then God’s having different thoughts and ways is a rather welcome revelation.

We shouldn’t, however, let self-interest guide our approach to the mysteries of God, whether from a positive or negative perspective. We should simply rest in the truth of what He has revealed, and then try to get our own ways as far as possible in line with his. Also, if we’re tempted to grumble about God’s ways, we ought to look at the context in which He said this, for it is full of mercy. Our ways are generally to judge and condemn the sinner, and perhaps if we recognize our own sins and failures, our way is to fear judgment or condemnation from God or others. But this is what He says about it: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Notice two things here. God’s ways are ways of mercy, of patience and compassion—which is why they are, more often than not, unlike ours. The “for” (meaning “because”) is an explanatory link in the text: the Lord will pardon because his ways are not ours. And his ways are not merely different than ours, they are higher, that is, more noble, wise, holy, and good.

Therefore we shouldn’t regard God’s ways as favorable or not depending on their perceived benefit to us. Rather, the fact that they are not our ways, and are actually better, higher ways, should be cause for standing in awe of Him, in joy and gratitude and adoration, like St. Paul: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Romans 11:33-36).

Rejoice, then, for God’s ways are not yours. If you had your way in all things, your life would end up a disaster and you would probably lose your soul in the process, for you simply can’t know what’s best for you and what the future holds. That’s why there’s something called faith, something called trust, by which we embrace Him in whom are all the unsearchable riches of wisdom, grace, mercy, and love. He patiently endures our short-sighted critiques of his governance of the universe, for He knows that we’ll see clearly in the end, if we’ll only persevere. It is good to give thanks to the Lord, even though—or rather, precisely because—his ways are not ours!