Tuesday, 26 August 2008 08:56

God's Confusing Ways

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And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again. [II Kings 4:18-22]

This chapter brings us once again face to face with the burden of knowing the sovereignty of God. He does whatever pleases Him, and His thoughts are not our thoughts nor His ways our ways. How often His providence seems to contradict and cancel out His promises. He seems to say one thing, and then do another! Abraham was promised to be made a great nation and to inherit the land of Canaan. But he is a childless stranger in his old age. Joseph is promised he will rule over his brothers, but he sits in an Egyptian prison as a jailed slave on made up charges. David is called to be king of Israel, but spends years as a homeless refugee in the wilderness. The Shunammite woman of this chapter was promised a son from God, but now her world is turned upside down when this promised son gets sick and dies in a single day. How can this be? Is your life full of painful questions like this too? We find the answers to such questions in this chapter, though today we will spend more time on the questions than on the answers.

What a difference the text shows us! The Shunammite woman has years of blessing and joy as her child grows up as a special gift of God. Her joy and thankfulness were double because of how she received this boy. You can be sure that when Elisha visited her home, he followed the growth of this little boy with keen interest.

Then comes a dark brutal cloud covering over the sunshine of Gods gift. One hot day during harvest, the little boy wandered away from home as little boys do, because he wanted to see his father among the reapers. The intense heat made him sick, and he complains to his father, My head, my head. A servant brings the boy home to his mother. He sits for a few hours on her lap, and then dies there. The grief this brings cannot be described for those who have never lost a child this way.

Her grief is made all the heavier because she had received this child as a special gift via a special promise from God Himself. Now it seems like the promise means nothing, like God was tricking her and pestering her. This becomes a severe test of her faith. How quick the devil is to use this as an opportunity to get you to turn against God. He whispers, See, God cant be trusted. Not when He says yes and then no, not when He gives and then takes away after you have started to enjoy the gift. Suppose you give a starving man a plate full of hot food, only to take it away again after he has eaten two bites. Isnt this what it seems like God is doing?

This is the second time this woman is deeply tested by a trial. First she was tested by her childlessness, in which God was asking her, Do you love me in spite of it all? The answer of her whole life was, Yes Lord. The second test God is giving is this: Do you trust me, do you believe My promises no matter what? Do you hang on to my promises even when everything I am doing seems to cancel what I have said?

What questions this raises. Why would God of all people send such a trial to this woman who loves Him and serves Him? Hasnt she had enough sorrows already? Were her years of childlessness not enough? Doesnt she have enough worries of trying to raise a godly family surrounded by wicked ungodly people? Forgive me for saying it this way, but you want to ask, Cant God pick on someone else? Why do some people get wave after wave of sorrow, while others seem to have much less than their fair share humanly speaking?

To add to these questions, we are not really told why. God does not always make clear why He does what He does. That silence is meant to teach us to trust Him without knowing why, or to teach us to search His Word to find reasons why. We know from Scripture what some of Gods reasons are. Jesus said in John 15 that those branches that do bear fruit are pruned so that they will bear more fruit. When God uses the sharp pruning clippers of His Word or the sharp pruning saw of what He gives or takes away, He is making sure His children bear more spiritual fruit. He cuts away at sin and shortcomings in His people.

One commentator raises these very insightful questions. Was it harder to be godly with Gods blessings than without them? Was the boy raised to be too much a joy to his parents, and not enough for God? Was this little boy an idol for this woman? Perhaps the Shunammite woman did not ask herself these questions until later, when she had time to think. Knowing human nature and even the hearts of Gods children, it is possible, isnt it? You can have an unhealthy pride in your children, and be more concerned with your own name than with Gods honor in their lives. Sometimes God has to topple our idols!

I remember a friend once telling of praying for a godly husband. To her joy, she soon had a boyfriend. But one day she confessed with tears that she had become so thrilled with her boyfriend that her relationship with God had taken second place. She had to promise the Lord, If need be, I will break the relationship because You alone may be first in my life. In the end she learned to put God first and still enjoy His gift. But God had to prune her heart to teach her this. What about your life? Is God turning your world upside down, perhaps for this very reason?

We need not necessarily assume this was happening in the Shunammite. Jesus says in John 15 that it is precisely those branches that do bear fruit that are pruned so they will bear more fruit. Job was a godly man, and yet had to go through deep trial for his further growth. It was possible that the Shunammite woman suffered through this trial for that reason too. Ultimately, God may not make the reasons known until eternity, if ever. Can you live with such a God directing your life? Can you trust Him even in the darkness, when you have more questions than answers? How are you responding to His pruning of your life?

When you look at the Shunammite woman, you expect one of two things. Either she will run to her husband in panic and throw herself into his arms and plan a funeral or she will turn her back on God and say, How can you trust such a God? You sometimes meet people who leave church and turn their backs on God for this very reason. They are angry at God. They feel deceived, forsaken, and cheated. Their bitterness eats them up from the inside out. You can pity them, even when they are wrong. It does reveal though that they apparently were trying to serve God and their own dreams too, rather than worshipping a sovereign God who has the right to do as He wills in our lives!

This is not how the Shunammite woman responds, and yet we will not jump to her response right now since this deserves an entire message of its own. For now we will simply stop here and ask ourselves what Scripture has to say to the person who is overwhelmed with sorrows, maybe even to the point of being ready to shake your fist at God. After all, I cannot guarantee that you will be listening to the rest of the series, and I would not want you to be left only with the sting of the sorrow this woman faced!

One passage of Scripture that sheds light on such sorrows is Lamentations 3. The book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah in some of the most desperate days the church of Christ went through in the Old Testament times. Jerusalem, the chosen city, was now a heap of ruins, a garbage dump. The temple was gone, the people were killed or driven off to the far country of Babylon. It seemed like there was no future or hope left. Then the Holy Spirit inspires the prophet Jeremiah to write a lament, a song of sorrow. Right in the middle of this song, we find amazing words of hope in verse 21-33. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lords mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail notThe Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh himBut though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

These last words are especially touching. God does not willingly afflict or grieve. What does this mean? God is not cruel. He does not send sorrow and trial to play around with people. He is not doing experiments without concern or care. He never ever sends sorrow or trial without having very good reasons to do so! Whatever our griefs may be, there is an answer in the compassion and mercy of God!

The ultimate answer is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lamentations 3:30 describes Him, speaking of giving your cheek to the smiters. Remember how He was hit on the face during the trial leading up to His death on the cross? There the Son of God, who also became one of us, was put to the cruel death of the cross. He suffered the anger of God against sin, and paid the price. There was never any sorrow like His sorrow! Yet He went through the cross to the crown!

In His sorrow is the comfort and hope and secret of being able to face sorrow now. If you are a believer or child of God, you can be sure that whatever your sorrow means, it is not a foretaste of hell. It is simply the way God is taking you to heavenly joys and glories. Sorrows are some of the paving stones God uses to prepare the pathway to heaven for His people. No matter how dark it may seem, there is light at the end of the tunnel because of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Perhaps you listen to this as someone who is not yet a child of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the answer also in your sorrow and desperate need. You are a sinner who needs forgiveness. You may well be a sufferer who needs comfort. Jesus Christ has come into this world to give both forgiveness and comfort. Put your trust in Him, and follow Him! We will learn in the weeks to come just how He comforts as we continue our studies.

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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