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When God doesn’t do what we expect

I recently read Lamentations again. The people of Judah suffered, grieved, and mourned. Their enemies, the Babylonians, had destroyed Jerusalem. They killed people and many died of hunger and diseases. The Babylonians took some away as captives and those who were left behind were in distress. God had warned the people of Judah many times, but they hadn’t listened—or listened to the wrong prophets. They were mourning the destruction of the beautiful city of Jerusalem and its temple, grieving the loss of their fertile country, and lamenting that God had punished them and turned his back on them.

I continued reading until a verse in chapter four somehow stood out and made me pause:

“The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath, was caught in their traps. We thought that under his shadow we would live among the nations” (Lam. 4:20 NIV).

The Lord’s anointed was the king, no doubt. He was supposed to guide them, keep them and the country safe so that they could live in peace with everyone under their own vine and fig tree. But the king had sinned, too. He was also punished.

They didn’t understand. They had thought God would let their king live and continue to provide for them. But those hopes, their expectations for a bright and peaceful future were dashed as thoroughly as Jerusalem had been razed to the ground.

We hoped . . . but they crucified him

Then my mind jumped to a different time, many hundred years later, when two sad men were mourning the death of their best friend. He had been “powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. Yet the chief priests and rulers had handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but [they, his friends,] had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21 NIV).

They had hoped, they had thought, that he would set Israel free from the Romans, from their enemies. That he would bring glory and prosperity, and God’s righteous rule to everyone. However, it hadn’t happened. Their expectations for a bright future had been cruelly destroyed.

I wonder whether they remembered that verse in Lamentations. It would have expressed their feelings perfectly.

We hoped, we thought

I felt drawn to this expression of “we hoped that . . . we thought that”, because we experience that, too. We thought that God had put everything in place for a wonderful [OMF Japan] Field Conference. We thought we could go on, or return from, Home Assignment as planned. Children thought they’d start school, sit important exams, graduate in style. A father thought he’d lead his daughter down the aisle. A grandson thought he could attend the funeral of his grandma.

This coronavirus crisis has probably led to more instances of “we thought, we hoped” than we’ve ever experienced before. We’re puzzled and can be disappointed with God. Despite reading the Bible and getting to know God as intimately as possible, there will be times when we don’t understand, when we don’t get it. When God doesn’t do what we think he’d said. When God does or allows something that, in our opinion, is not in line with who we know he is. Why does he do that? Why does he not do this? We thought, we hoped, God would heal the sickness, protect the marriage, grow the church, speak to us . . . instead we may encounter silence, grief, and darkness.

I’m grateful to know that the people in the Bible struggled, too. I’m thankful that God wasn’t angry when they expressed their questions, disappointments, anger, or grief. I tend to get over those feelings too quickly. I tend to not allow myself to show or feel my disappointment and grief too much, because it’s so painful. Deep down, I also think that God may be disappointed with me if I spilled the beans. Yet he has allowed those feelings and questions to be written in the Bible. Therefore, I know it’s OK for me to lament, too. What a relief!

But the story doesn’t end there

Of course, I’m even more glad that the story doesn’t end there.

We know how it continued. The Lord’s true Anointed came alongside the disciples on their way to Emmaus, encouraged them to share their sorrow and disappointment, and listened patiently. Only after they’ve poured out their grief and struggles, did he open their hearts and minds, and explained the Scriptures to them. A short time later, Jesus revealed himself to them. He was very much alive! Even more so than before, he’d become their very life breath, and they would indeed continue to “live under his shadow among the nations” (Lam. 4:20).

And so do we. As Jesus walked with the disciples, so he walks with us. He turned their sorrow into hope and joy, and he will do that for us, too, eventually. He truly is our life, our life’s breath, as he fills us with his pneuma, the Holy Spirit. Even if God doesn’t explain why so many of our plans now fall through, why a minuscule virus wreaks such havoc, why he allows so much suffering—we can trust that he knows the answer. There may come a time when God will explain. In the meantime, we can trust that he’ll walk with us through every calamity and shelter us under the shadow of his wings as we proclaim him among the nations.

By an OMF missionary in Japan

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for everyone as we deal with multiple disappointments in this COVID-19 season.
  • Pray that Jesus will turn our sorrows into hope and joy.
  • Pray that through this period we will grow in trust in our Lord.

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