Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trying to Make Sense of a Sometimes Inscrutable God

I need help figuring something out.  I know pastors are often expected to have more questions than answers, but here's a question.

James 1:5 says "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

I have had two profound occasions in the past several weeks where I have been presented with decisions, and prayed this prayer.  Each time I have not received an answer.  Moreover, once in the past, over a very profound and life-altering decision, I prayed that prayer over the course of several weeks.  To this day, I do not think I made a wise decision.

Here are the two decisions I was faced with.

One of our children presents us with especially difficult parental decisions.  I don't want you to misunderstand -- he is not an inordinately unruly child, he simply requires special handling.  I find myself praying this prayer often over how to respond to the challenges we face in dealing with him.  The decision is not simple because, if I made it the way I think his choices warrant, it would have a profound and sad effect on another group of people (namely a sports team which has an inadequate number of players and cannot sustain losing one).  I don't so much want advice on the decision --there are a ton of factors I have not presented here.

I am just curious, though, how to make sense of the promise in James 1:5.

Then, yesterday, as a presbytery, we were presented with a momentous decision which has the most profound implications in the life of one of our members.  We were not presented with this decision or the facts leading up to it until we walked in the door of the meeting, and we were expected to decide this individual's fate within the course of a few hours.  Again, throughout the meeting, I prayed this prayer.  I received no response.  I didn't expect writing on the wall of the sanctuary, but merely to be swayed by arguments one way or another.  Receiving no response I abstained from voting.  I probably abstain more than any other presbyter, for this reason.

I know the "Job's friends" answer would be "Well, you must not have fulfilled the conditions of James 1:6."  My response, "Lord, I believe.  Help thou mine unbelief!"

I am curious, though, for some help and thoughts on this matter.  The promise seems definite, but my experience is that the wisdom is not always forthcoming in the time frame that demands a decision.


  1. Perhaps the wise thing was to abstain. God may be giving you wisdom in your honesty that you don't have answers. Wisdom does not always mean having the answers. Wisdom means realizing when I don't, who to turn to, and discerning when it's been given. Too many people jump at that prayer, pray it, then give their own conclusions thinking God has given them wisdom. Just a thought...

  2. First of all thanks for your transparency in acknowledging this struggle. I have wondered that at times myself. Honestly, as I was thinking about this for a few minutes before responding, several things ran through my mind. One was something I heard my senior pastor (you) say in a sermon a few months back. You were talking about how we want answers and God does not give us answers, he gives us a person. So, in our asking for wisdom, it seems that answers can and do oftentimes come, but are they not secondary to first being drawn to the source of wisdom and the recognition of my inability to function or make wise decisions without God? God always draws near to us when we draw near to Him. And as this is more about having a relationship with our Redeemer is not the gaining of wisdom a process, a part of our sanctification process? I wonder as smalltownpastor if in the second case it was wise not to vote, and you did make a decision. Where your son is concerned, are there not little decisions that are being made all along the way and just that continuing to grow in your dependency upon God in that regard and is that perhaps wisdom in itself? The other thing I thought of is the counsel regarding wisdom in the scripture other than the James passage that informs us about wisdom that is available to us in the counsel of many, and it seems to me that you have at least in part exercised that in asking for help here on your blog.

  3. As a pastor with similar questions I can at least tell you how I try to deal with this dilemma. First, just because I "feel" like I didn't make a wise choice, doesn't mean it was in fact unwise. My feelings don't determine wisdom. Second, I am a firm believer in (and absolutely count on) providence. I do the best I can and leave the rest up to God. God said He would give wisdom, but not that He would make it so plain to you that you would with absolute certainty know that you had gotten the wisdom from Him and therefore knew that you had made the perfect decision or choice. I know it isn't much of an answer, but basically we need to trust God and leave things like this in His Hands for truly His ways are inscrutible. I know it is trite, but it is true... I feel your pain bro.

  4. I would agree with smalltown that abstaining from a vote is in fact a decision. You were looking for God to sway you one way or the other. He did not and so you made your decision based on what he provided you.

    If things like this tend to be sprung, how about a motion to table?

    As for parenting, far be it for me to be the expert, but it is often difficult to make the right decision for your child when that decision affects others negatively. But, would a child not be more effective in the future if they were made to sit out? They might take that privilege a little more seriously if they know that it is in fact a privilege.

    Understand I realize that is a lot easier to say than to practice... And there is more details to that specific scenario that you have wisely not included.

    Daniel E.

  5. Please disregard my grammatical issues above. Posted from my BB and it was hard to review before posted...

    Daniel E.

  6. In my experience, teens and young adults struggle with this same feeling when they are faced with a Solomonic decision: innocent by-standers will suffer negative consequences because the young person is doing the right thing. Perhaps it's something that middle-aged persons struggle with as well? I can see that in both of the examples you provide you could be looking at a Solomonic decision.

    Most people seem to be comfortable when the saying "you made your bed, now lie in it" is applied to someone who's done the wrong thing. But good, wise behavior has consequences too, not always pretty, predictable beforehand, short-term, or contained to those who "deserve" it. Not merely because we lack an adequate amount of wisdom, but because the world is broken and so even the most wise person making the wisest decision is completely powerless to control all consequences or cause them to occur "fairly" according to whether those around them have been bad, good, or simply uninvolved in the situation. We are always "making our bed" through all actions, good and bad, and through inaction as well. And because we exist in community, none of us can stop the ripple effects of our lives on the lives of those around us.

  7. Excellent thoughts, all. Denise, great insight. Yes, I'm afraid we "middle aged" folk struggle too! Perhaps it is just grief over a fleeting and misspent youth.