Over the last couple months, I’ve been reading through and studying the prophetic books of the Old Testament. There are many themes that run through these books: God’s holy and righteous character, His sovereignty, His heart to redeem the nations, looking forward to the Messiah and the Day of the Lord, and of course judgement for wickedness – both of Israel and her enemies. But one more theme jumped out at me, one that I have never seen before. In some respects, it touches all these major themes I mentioned, but in and of itself it seems different. Maybe it’s not even really a theme, but rather an attitude, a state of being, a hope even.
These four passages are what I’m thinking about:
12 "Yet even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the LORD your God?
14 Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be with you, as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph
8 "but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."
3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
who so his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.
These were all spoken by different people (prophets and a pagan king), to different audiences, and at different times in history. In short, the context in each is very different. But something unique stands out to me in each of these passages. Maybe you caught it as well. Notice the uncertainty of outcome. “Who knows?” “It may be.” “Perhaps.”
Now, this is not how we usually like to live. Most of us like to know what’s coming; we like to be able to plan our future. You know, “Plan the work and work the plan.” We want to know that certain actions will lead inevitably to certain outcomes. Personally, I think I’m fairly comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty; maybe it’s my former career in logistics when sometimes things simply don’t go as planned, or maybe it’s having moved and now living overseas in a new culture. But even so, I still like my plans and my maps and my projections.
Sometimes life does proceed according to our plan. Maybe it’s not our original plan, but it is at least somewhat predictable, and we take great comfort in that predictability. But sometimes, we are called to live in the “perhaps.” We are plunged by God into the deep end of “Who knows?”. Where we simply do not know how it will all turn out in the end.
As I write, my family is in a season of “perhaps.” We are one month removed from historic fires that ravaged our city and region, utterly changing the face of beautiful Knysna, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Just a few days after the fires swept through, we nearly miscarried with our third child. Now one month of strict bed rest later, God is continuing to work miracles, preserving the baby against all medical odds. But every day we live knowing that it may be baby Micah’s last. If he hangs on a few more weeks there will likely be very premature delivery and a long stay in the hospital. Then two days ago, we received news that the house we rent will no longer be available and we will have to move in the next few months. In short, we have no idea what tomorrow holds, much less the rest of this year. Indeed, we are living in the “Who knows?”.
Back to these four passages. In each, the audience is implored to repent, turn to God, seek good, hate evil, live righteously. But the outcome of this righteous living is neither fatalistic (“well, might as well try to this godly living thing, but it doesn’t matter because God’s going to do what He wants to anyway.”) nor is it deterministic, invoking a false name-it-and-claim-it reality (“Now I’m going to do what’s right and so God must change my circumstances now.”). Rather, I see a cautious but optimistic hope in these verses. A resting on what is known about the character God. So what about God could bring hope in difficult circumstances? What do we know about Him that allows us to not only survive in the “perhaps,” but also to rest and trust in Him as well?
God is Sovereign (and We are Not)
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand or say to him,
"What have you done?"
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
God is Good (and We are Not)
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
God’s Plan will be Accomplished (and it’s Much Bigger than We are)
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
2 "I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
10 "Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"
8 "Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, 'My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,'
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed it, and I will do it."
God is sovereign, He is good, and He has an eternal plan. Regardless of what life in this fallen sin-cursed world throws our way, these things are true. Rest in that. Yes, God is sovereign so He could change our earthly circumstances. But He also has a plan for the ages, and quite possibly, your circumstances and mine are part of that plan. So then, remember that He is good. He is gracious. He is merciful and abounding in love.
So when we are called to live in the “perhaps”, continue doing what you know to be right (do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God – Micah 6:8), rest and trust God’s character, pray earnestly, and leave the results up to Him. He is always up to something; it is always for our good, and ultimately, always for His glory.