I don’t know about you, but life can sometimes be puzzling. I don’t understand why my life has played out like it has, and it often looks to me about as organized as a rat’s nest in a spool of fishing line. I believe God has a plan and works out every intricate detail, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with it.
My wife and I, along with our 2-month-old, moved from Colorado to Louisville, Ky., in 2007 to attend seminary. We got pregnant again (and again), I stopped going to school, and started working full-time as a manager at an oil change facility. We eventually bought a house, thought we’d settle, but then didn’t. We sold our home and left a church we loved for Illinois. We’re substantially more broke now, through a long list of happenstances you wouldn’t believe if you heard them. It’s been a lot like I imagine Gideon felt when God kept taking away soldiers.
On a lot of days, I wonder in sadness why we came. It’s hard to play the songs of the kingdom when you’re standing brokenhearted by the waters of Babylon. It’s easy to miss Egypt, even if many parts of it weren’t great. Cruel oppression somehow looks appealing when you’re alone in the wilderness. “At least we had __________” rolls through your mind often, and it all feels like a mistake now.
I understand the heart behind the psalmist’s questions when he asks, desperately, “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Ps. 77:7-9).
Because of where we’re at, I sometimes wonder the same things: Has God just forgotten about me? Did his covenant come to an end? Will He ever lift the sunshine of his face upon me again? What do you do when you feel like this? What do you do when your life feels like a cul-de-sac of despair, a treadmill of sorrow?
You do what the psalmist did: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old” (v. 11). So he goes back to the Red Sea crossing (v. 16), he ponders the might of God, and he comes to this conclusion: “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unknown” (v. 19).
Israel had their backs against a wall, and God did a miracle that would define his people forever—they would always remember that day. But His path was also mysterious; He was leading them, but they could not see it. As Jesus told Peter, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7).
I do not now understand why my life is this way—why these heartaches and these pains. But I have the promise of Jesus that, one day, it will make sense and I will praise him for his work, even in this. I also have the promise that he will not leave me as an orphan (John 14), but he will send His Spirit to comfort and aid. I hope in the day when these trials make sense.
Speaking on the day when God reveals his mysterious plans of providence, John Flavel (aka “Flavel Flave”) wrote,
This blessed sight is reserved for the perfect state. It is in that mount of God where we shall see both the wilderness and Canaan, the glorious kingdom into which we are come, and the way through which we were led into it. There the saints shall have a ravishing view of it in its entirety, and every part shall be distinctly discerned, as it had its particular use, and as it was connected with the other parts, and how effectually and orderly they all wrought to bring about that blessed design of their salvation, according to the promise: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God’…
…O how ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act, which we could not understand in this world…All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes so offended, and sometimes amazed, which we could neither reconcile with the promise nor with each other, nay, which we so unjustly censured and bitterly bewailed, as if they had fallen out quite against our happiness, we shall then see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, ‘the right way to a city of habitation’ (Ps. 107:7) (The Mystery of Providence, 21-22).