June 8, 2009

“God’s Inscrutable Ways”
by Pastor George Van Alstine

There is an oft-quoted Bible passage that seems equally at home at weddings and funerals. It is that poem from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

“For everything there is a season . . .
A time to be born, and a time to die …
A time to weep, and a time to laugh . . .
A time to love, and a time to hate . . .”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Usually, the public reader stops with “A time for war, and a time for peace.”

If you make the effort to read the next few verses, you will find yourself in a deep philosophical discussion:

“What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.” (vv. 9-11, 15)

The last phrase is very obscure, but it seems to mean that God’s purpose appears to go around in circles, repeatedly revisiting old patterns. He teases us by putting “a sense of past and future in our minds,” but keeping us from understanding “what God has done from the beginning to the end.” So we keep asking the “why?” questions , but only come up with partial and misleading answers that are merely extensions of our own longings.

The Apostle Paul seemed to be wrestling with similar issues when he wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“How unsearchable are God’s judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’”

Romans 11:33-34; quote from Isaiah 40:13)

But Paul’s expression of agnosticism about God’s purposes doesn’t have the same tone of futility as the Ecclesiastes passage does. The reason is that his words quoted above are embraced by two awesome affirmations, one before and following:

Before – “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”
Following – “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”

The more complete revelation of God’s purpose brought by the coming of Christ into the world gave Paul insight that the author of Ecclesiastes didn’t have. Through the Word (logos) came new Meaning (logic), as God allowed people of faith to have a better understanding of what he is up to.

Paul had no better answer than Ecclesiastes did to the day-to-day “why?” questions. They were still a mystery. But he was reassured that there was an answer, because God had sent his Son as the resounding positive Answer to the biggest and most bothersome human question: “Does God care at all about me?”