This sermon was delivered during the Coronavirus “stay at home” order, and so was conducted virtually as we held our services over Zoom.
God Cannot Make a Mistake; God Cannot Waste Our Suffering
CrossWay Community Church
April 26th, 2020
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God Cannot Make a Mistake
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his 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
Think back over this past month, or even this past week: How many times do you reckon you said the words, “I’m sorry”–and not even for those things you did intentionally; but just for mistakes you made, despite your best intentions. Maybe things you intended to do but forgot; things you attempted but failed; or even just “accidents” (misfortune) that foiled your plans. When we look back, we see that we leave behind a wake of mistakes in every area of our lives, everything we touch.
In fact, on a folk level we speak of mistakes as a very part of what it means to be human: “to err is human.” Consider, for example, if I were to plan a trip for my family. I consider myself a pretty organized, detail-oriented person. But do you know how many times I’ve forgotten to bring something like my toothbrush–something I use everyday, something I think we’d all qualify as “important”? In other words, you’d think I wouldn’t forget it. But the answer is, I’ve forgotten it many times. And I suspect I’m not alone. In fact, apparently this is a common enough mistake among our kind that hotels now frequently stock such items out of the likelihood that we’re prone to forget them. Now, my excuse is that I keep my toothbrush on the counter, and not in the drawer with all the other supplies I grab when packing; and so I easily overlook it. But why is that? I’m prone to overlook things, even as I consider myself someone who’s typically on top of things. I miss details. I zone out. I get in a rush.
Or consider all the other sort of things that could go wrong on a trip. Maybe I’m lazy and take too long getting out the door and risk missing my flight (we’re irresponsible). Maybe I didn’t realize there’s a ballgame downtown, and traffic is backed up way more than I expected (we overlook things). Maybe when I arrive at the airport, I accidentally go to the wrong gate and don’t realize ‘til the last minute (we get confused).
Once my wife and I were flying out to Portland, OR where I was scheduled to speak at a church. But the night before, an huge, unexpected storm hit, and our flight was canceled. Eventually, after several connecting flights later and only a couple hours of sleep, we made it just in time for me to preach. Now, that storm was obviously outside of my control. So you might not exactly call that a “mistake” on my part. Sure. But whatever you call it, it only goes to show my limitations: e.g., I wasn’t able to see the storm coming in order to schedule my flight a different day.
The examples could go on. In short, we make mistakes, not only because we are sinful (we err morally), but because we’re weak (we err due to our limitations). There’s things we don’t know; abilities we don’t have; and circumstances to which we’re subject.
But not so with God. Remember, Christian, God is not like us. Consider who God is. God is, what we call, “omniscient,” meaning he knows absolutely everything–not only of things past and the present, but also of all things future. But not only so. We confess that God is also perfectly and infinitely wise. Wisdom, we might say, is the ability to apply one’s knowledge well. So perfect wisdom means “perfect knowledge applied perfectly.” God’s wisdom means that not only does he have all knowledge–he knows absolutely everything–but also that he always uses that knowledge with perfect precision.
This means he will never make a mistake. In fact, he can’t make a mistake. Everything he does is in accordance with his perfect wisdom. You’ll never hear God say, “Oops!” You’ll never hear Him say, “Well, I did my best!” Not even, “Good enough.” No, God’s wisdom means, in everything He plans and does, He always acts with perfect skill to maximize His glory and the good of His people. Consider that again: God’s perfect wisdom means that everything He does for you, every course of life into which He leads you, every circumstance you face, everything you’ve ever gone through and ever will, is not one degree shy of what His perfect wisdom demands in accomplishing your good. He’s not capable of making a mistake.
Consider Paul’s words in Romans 11:33ff. After reflecting on God’s plan on redemption wherein he “weaves” salvation to include Jew and Gentile alike, Paul concludes,
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
God’s wisdom is beyond our grasp. In fact, it’s so deep, it’s unsearchable to us. If we could invent a radar for detecting wisdom, God’s wisdom would crash the system. Comparing God’s wisdom to human wisdom isn’t like converting inches into centimeters. There’s no conversion formula. They’re not even on the same plane. They’re a different breed altogether. As Paul says elsewhere (paraphrasing), God’s “foolishness” (as if he were to have any)–even that would be wiser than humanity’s best wisdom (1 Cor 1:25).
Not too long ago I was involved in leading a church plant in my city. Long story short: After a couple of years in, the resources and manpower didn’t come through as I had planned or expected. Now, we were fine. But things weren’t where I wanted them to be.
I had made huge sacrifices for this church plant: I uprooted my family and moved to the area. I left an existing church and ministry that I loved. And I declined opportunities to work in ministry (which I very much wanted to do) with jobs at other churches, and instead worked full-time in the “secular” field as a way of supporting our efforts.
Towards the end of this road, I struggled deeply: “Was all of this pointless? Was this all just some huge waste of time and effort–a worthless detour in God’s plan for my life?” If I’m honest with myself, I probably thought God could have benefited from some of my counsel at that moment. “You know, God, don’t you think it would have been smart to avoid all this? I can think of a lot of other ways we could have used this time that would have better accomplished your purposes.”
But as Isaiah 40:13 reminds us (paraphrase), “Can a human being provide God any counsel?” Ha! What are you going to teach God that he doesn’t already know? Or what advice can you give him wherein you possess wisdom that he lacks? God has all knowledge, and always applies his perfect knowledge perfectly.
God never acts rashly, failing to take into consideration all the available information. He never acts foolishly, exercising poor judgment. He never goofs by overlooking some small detail or forgetting something. And whereas we, despite our best intentions, sometimes lack ability to carry out our intentions, he never does. His designs are always backed by perfect power to carry out his perfect wisdom. He never falls prey to “chance” or misfortune, because he always knows what’s coming (and not only that, but he’s planned it!) In short, God cannot make a mistake.
Now it’s easy to believe this when things are going well. It’s easy to believe in God’s wisdom when there’s relatively nothing in our circumstances that seems to challenge it. But what about when things get difficult, when we face situations that press in and suggest otherwise, that cause us to think, “Does God know what He’s doing?” or, “Maybe He does allow mistakes in every once and a while”? You see, whenever we grumble at our circumstances, we are functionally disbelieving the wisdom of God in that moment. We’re saying, “God, you messed up!” or at least, “You could have done a bit better.”
What we need in these moments (for these moments) is a big view of God that eclipses and stands above our circumstances. Don’t hear me wrong. This doesn’t mean we’ll never face anything rough. It doesn’t mean we don’t experience pain caused by the mistakes and wrongdoing of others. For sure, we will. We do. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever experience things that are unfortunate, even tragedy. To be clear, the reality of God’s wisdom doesn’t make these things go away. Rather, it infuses these circumstances with an underlying confidence that God knows what he’s doing. And not only does He know what He’s doing, but He can’t not work these things according to His perfect wisdom.
And so when doubts assail us–when we go through something that feels like it straight-up rips us apart, when something cherished is torn away from us, when plans we desperately wanted end up failing, or when we feel like we’ve been dealt a bad hand in life–we rest with confidence in what we know to be true about God notwithstanding our circumstances. We allow our view of our circumstances to fall in line with our view of our God. In other words, we combat unreality with reality–the unreality of our doubts vs. the reality of who God is: Our God is wise. He makes no mistakes.
Prayer: God, I trust and I affirm that you are a God who makes no mistakes. If I’m honest with you though, it’s not always easy for me to believe this. In my sin, I trust myself and my own assessments above yours. I may not say this out loud, or even say it to myself in my own mind, but I often live with the functional belief that I know better than you do. God, rid me of my pride that thinks I, a lowly, sinful creature, somehow knows better than you, the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of all things. Do so that I might experience the holy pleasure of trusting in you more fully, resting in your providence more peacefully, and cherishing your goodness more steadfastly. Thank you for the deep wisdom you exercise over my life, even as I, in my pride, call it into question–even as I show I don’t deserve this grace. You are so good to me. Amern.
- What is the most recent time you have questioned or wondered if God has made a mistake?
- What are ways in which you struggle the most to believe this truth about God?
- What scripture (maybe a passage that describes God, or an account of something He’s done) can you “carry with you” in your heart to be ready the next time doubts attack?
- What is one way you have experienced this truth in your own life, in the past, that can encourage you today?
God Cannot Waste Our Suffering
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” – Romans 8:28-30
In the familiar words of Romans 8:28, Paul tells us that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” Now, the “good” he specifically has in view here is not just any idea of “good” as we might like to define it, e.g., wealth, prosperity, ease, comfort, health, etc. Rather, the good which God has in store for his children–the good towards which he orchestrates all things in their life–is the “good” of their continual and final conformity to Christ. As Paul says in the following verses: What is this good purpose to which God has called (i.e., summoned; v.28) and predestined us (v.29)? Answer: Conformity to the likeness of Jesus. In other words, God has chosen and sovereignly pre-planned to make us like Jesus–to rescue us from the muck of our sin by rebuilding us to be like Christ. And it’s towards this end, Paul says, that God causes “all things” to coordinate and contribute (v.28).
This is a promise specifically for believers. As Paul says, it belongs to “those who love God…” (v.28). And what an amazing promise it is! Think about it: God promises to use every circumstance, every experience, every detail of your life–no exceptions–to the end of making you more and more like Jesus. And as Paul goes on to say, absolutely nothing can separate the believer from these loving, saving purposes of God (vv.31-39). If God has purposed to do, nothing can revoke His plan. If He has saved us in Jesus, nothing can challenge that redemption.
At this point, some of us are probably waiting for the asterisk. “What’s the catch? Where’s the exception?” Most of us have probably had the experience, where maybe we’re out to eat, looking over the specials, and our eyes spot a dish that catches our attention, only then to realize later an asterisk sitting next to it: “This special does not apply to this particular item.” Where’s the asterisk next to Paul’s promise here? Maybe there’s a footnote in my Bible that says, “…except for all the bad stuff that happens.” Maybe Paul’s just speaking in generalities here? “Presumably,” some of us might think, “there are obviously exceptions to this promise. For instance, what about all the suffering we go through? That obviously can’t be for our good.”
But what’s interesting is that when you look at this passage in its broader setting, suffering is hardly an exception to this promise; in fact, it’s the very context, the backdrop, even the target–we might say–of this promise (both what precedes – vv.17-18; and what follows – vv.35-39). You see, it wouldn’t mean much if Paul were to say, “all the good stuff works together for good.” Well, duh. No kidding. What’s surprising though, and it seems at least partly the point of why Paul even goes out of his way to say any of this in this first place, is that God’s good, saving purposes (unexpectedly) include suffering.
A couple years ago, my wife and I bought our first house. And to my great displeasure, as we were moving in, we discovered that the previous owners had failed to remove a good amount of their junk from the basement. In one room in the basement there were loads of old broken furniture, which proved to be a pain to move out. Most items were too big to fit through the doorway. So I had to disassemble most of it, and carry it out piece by piece, and then find a way to dispose of the massive pile of junk that accumulated. Now I wasn’t very happy about all this. I just saw it as a huge waste of my time and energy. Let’s just say, I didn’t find much of anything redeemable in the situation.
I imagine, however, some of my friends who are more handy and resourceful than myself might have experienced this situation a bit differently. Some of them, in fact, may have been elated and quite grateful for all the material left behind. “Free wood. Furniture that maybe I can restore or resell. Oh, look at this! That could come in handy.” For all I know, maybe the original owners thought they were doing me a favor by leaving me all this “junk” behind.
My point: We’re not always the most resourceful. And even if you might be resourceful when it comes to finding junk in your basement, you’re probably not so in every area of life. Furthermore, consider even those areas where you are resourceful. For instance, sometimes when you’re cooking, you might make a mistake; but you’re still able to salvage things and turn it into something else that’s usable. Fine. But even that we still refer to as “making the best out of a bad situation.” No matter how good it ends up being, it’s still not what you originally had planned.
But remember, God isn’t like us. God coordinates literally everything according to His pre-planned purpose of accomplishing our good (i.e., our continual conformity to Christ). Now if that’s true, think about what this means for your suffering. This means, your suffering isn’t somehow an exception to his otherwise good plan for your life. No. Rather, even your suffering itself fits within God’s purposes for your good. For example, as both Romans 5 and James 1 tell us, we can actually rejoice in our suffering. Why? Because God uses our sufferings as a “furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10) to burn away the impurities and refine our character.
We want to be careful at this point. To be clear, Paul is not saying that everything we experience in this life is good in and of itself. Sometimes I’m afraid Romans 8:28 can get applied simplistically to people’s situation in a way that’s insensitive or discounts the very real suffering they’ve gone through. It’s an inaccurate leap when we twist the verse from saying, “God is working all things together for our good,” into, “Therefore, all things that God is working are in and of themselves good.” That’s just not true; and it’s not what Romans 8:28 is saying. It’s not as if this verse means we relable everything that’s bad, and call it “good.” No, we can call evil what it is: evil. It’s unhelpful to do otherwise. In fact, Romans 8:28 assumes that not everything we face will be good in and of itself. That’s actually precisely the point! God works these things for our good nonetheless, even though they are bad! As Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 (paraphrase), “What you intended as evil for me, God intended for good.” God took the evil Joseph faced–e.g., being sold into slavery by his brothers, hauled away to a foreign land, falsely accused of rape, imprisoned for years, etc.; and God co-opted it for His good purposes.
In fact, at the very center of our faith, stands this truth’s greatest example: What sinful human beings performed as an act of unspeakable evil, crucifying and killing the very Son of God, God intended all along for good (see Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28): that through Jesus, like Joseph, many lives would be saved (Gen 50:20) and “all the families of the earth would be blessed” (e.g., Acts 3:25-26; Gal 3:8-9; cf. Gen 12:3). In other words, God’s use of suffering for good is not some mere tangential doctrine within the Christian faith–something you encounter only now and again. Rather, it is at the very heart of the Christian gospel and what it means to believe in Jesus.
Here’s what this means then: All of us have to deal with the problem of suffering’s existence. The “problem of evil” isn’t unique to the Christian. And it’s not even unique to the Christian that believes in God’s sovereignty over evil (as I do; as the Bible teaches). I once heard someone remark that they thought it a more comforting idea that God is not in control of evil, that it falls outside the scope of His plan and purposes. The idea would be, God certainly cares about our suffering; and so he would do something about it if He could. But He can’t. I don’t find that comforting at all, and I don’t think you should either. What that effectively means then is that evil and our suffering are potentially, even likely, pointless–meaningless. They serve no purpose, in which case I’d frankly just have avoided it altogether. However, if in fact God is in control of my suffering (and He is), this means that none of it is meaningless. All of it has purpose.
And the fact that God works all things together for my good means that He won’t even let a single ounce of my suffering go to waste in His loving purposes for me. None of my suffering is pointless. None of it is the mere meaningless pain we thought it was in the moment of our trauma or abuse. None of it will be wasted. If I have to go through suffering in this life, I can at least rest assured that He will leverage absolutely all of it for my good. He will use every last drop of it. None of it will go to waste.
Prayer: Father, what a comfort it is to know that nothing I experience in this life is beyond your control or purpose for my good, that whatever suffering and evil I face exists as only on your leash. Help my wounds and past scars to heal under this ointment of believing in your good providence. Father, I anguish from past abuse, trauma, tragedy, even the pain from my own stupid decisions. My heart and body feels ripped to shreds under its weight. But I know that you see my suffering. It’s not hidden from you; nor is it an aberration from your good purposes for my life. Help me experience the relief of knowing that whatever suffering I face is not meaningless; but you will use it for my good. You will not waste my suffering. You will not squander a single ounce of my pain for my good. And I can find consultation in that even in the midst of my tears. Amen.
- Consider: Is there an area in your life where you can find relief by entrusting to God an experience of past suffering, knowing God will use it for your good?
- Consider any areas where you might be harboring bitterness or emotional scars from past pain or trauma. How does knowing that God will not waste your suffering help you process your pain?
- Who is someone you can encourage with this truth, that God cannot waste their suffering? How might you best help them see the goodness of this truth while still remaining sensitive to their sorrow?
- Does this promise cause you to think differently about suffering? If so, how?