God’s ways are not like ours; they’re better.
I wrote recently about one of my (sadly common) adventures in failing to trust God. I even compared myself to the Israelites during the Exodus, who saw the mighty works of God, received his promises, yet didn’t trust him in spite of those things.
Then, a few days after writing that, God led me to a passage in Jeremiah:
“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
the firstfruits of his harvest” (Jer 2:2b-3a, ESV).
I laughed a bit when I read that. I thought, “Clearly God is remembering things differently that I am.”
When I cast about for examples of devotion, the wilderness period in Israel’s history isn’t where I go first, hence my previous comparison. They complained almost nonstop and kept wishing that they hadn’t left Egypt. Every time some new obstacle arose, they wailed that God was trying to kill them, even if it was an obstacle God had faithfully overcome before. At one point they even made an idol to worship because they were worried that they’d been abandoned.
Yet God calls them devoted like a loving bride.
I laughed and joked a bit, but while joking I realized that I had been comforted. God had addressed a need I hadn’t appreciated: shame.
I had felt ashamed, like a failure. I had remembered my faith giving way under pressure, like a dam made of tissue paper. I had appreciated the beauty of God’s loyal provision–something very typical of him, which is also beautiful–but that very beauty made me want to hide my ugliness.
I felt like faith was a sort of lightswitch. When I had faith, I trusted God and was in relationship with him. When I didn’t trust God, that meant I didn’t have faith, and had therefore stepped away from my relationship with him. That he accepted my return so graciously only made my departure more painful to remember. Suddenly I didn’t know how to relate at all. Did I act as though I’d never left and try to relate on our old terms? Did I admit leaving and therefore have to start from scratch? What sort of relationship was this new one that had started after the light switch was returned to its correct position?
Through Jeremiah, God’s answer was something like this: “What made you think that not trusting, complaining, and all those other things meant that we weren’t in relationship?”
The loving bride image is particularly apt. People sometimes refer to the newlywed period of marriage as though it’s a time without conflict. Maybe my wife and I are difficult people, but at least in our marriage the newlywed period proceeded along rather different lines. We had conflicts about everything, in so much as we were very different people trying to figure out how to weave our lives together fully. The conflicts didn’t lessen our devotion to each other though. The two were entirely different subjects, in fact.
Relationship with God is at least as complicated, because the encompassed differences are greater. I’m a sinful, fragile, moody creature, whereas God is my righteous and unwaveringly loving creator. Peaceful coexistence is rendered unlikely by the mere fact that I’m involved. Nevertheless, God wants my involvement; he wants to include me because he wants to be in relationship with me. Furthermore, his grace is sufficient to embrace me even when I’m a cantankerous companion.
That was the comfort God offered me: that relationship with him was allowed to be complicated. Those complications didn’t jeopardize it or impeach it, so long as I still wanted to be in it. Of course I ought to strive to avoid them, but I don’t need to be ashamed of them when I fail, because my relationship with God will survive them.