How many times have you heard someone say, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways”? Think about the context in which those words tend to be spoken….
The death of a loved one, a difficult time you are going through, plans that don’t work out, change you long for doesn’t happen, or unexpected change throws your life into chaos: these are the kinds of circumstances in which these words are often spoken.
Bad things are happening, or the good things we hope for seem never to come. That’s when someone says, “You know, God’s ways are not our ways.” The implication is that we should trust Him anyway, and that is good advice, but it’s often not very comforting in the moment.
Speaking those words in those kinds of circumstances also takes them completely out of the context in which they were spoken by the Prophet, Isaiah, whose words they are:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near. Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely forgive.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Isaiah 55:6-9 CSB
Until today I had not considered these verses in the context of the previous two verses. Or in the context of the whole chapter, for that matter. In fact, Isaiah 55 begins with the words, “Come, all you who are thirsty!”[i] I encourage you to read all of Isaiah 55, which I have provided at the end of this article.
But the focus of this article is the two verses spoken right before the enigmatic words of comfort that we often hear: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.”
These verses are spoken in the context of encouragement to seek God and return to him so that God may have compassion on you, for God freely forgives. This is the context for the statement that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our our ways.
The implication here is that God forgives where we are not likely to forgive. God has compassion where we fail to have compassion. God freely forgives where we have much difficulty forgiving, and He has compassion when we would not have compassion.
That God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts is often mentioned in the context of things we do not understand about life, such as the death, tragedy, catastrophe, and hopelessness. We think of the negative things that happen to us and the good things for which we hope that never seem to come about.
While it’s true that God sees things we do not see, and He has purposes that He is working out in history, throughout the earth, and even in our own loves that we do not understand, Isaiah’s statement that God’s way are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, was not spoken in that context at all.
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts because He has compassion that we do not have and do not understand! God’s ways are not our ways because God freely forgives those who turn to Him.
Thank about that: This means that God is much more compassionate and forgiving than we understand or give him credit for.
We sometimes fixate on God’s judgment. We struggle with God’s wrath and the problem of pain and suffering in the world. In these contexts is when we heard it said that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways.
God is much more compassionate and forgiving than we understand or give him credit for
The real import of these versus, however, it’s not that God is mysterious in some dark and tragic way, but that God is mysterious in a compassionate and forgiving way!
We may actually have more difficulty understanding the compassion of God, than the wrath of God sometimes. We may have more difficulty understanding the forgiveness of God than the judgment of God. We may not like the idea of God’s wrath or judgment, but we somehow grasp it in a twisted kind of way, even if only to hold it against him.
Yet, we sometimes struggle to understand His great compassion and forgiveness.
Why would God empty himself of His glory, give up His divine privileges, make Himself nothing (Phil. 2:7), and enter into His creation in the most vulnerable way? Why would He humble Himself in that way and be obedient like a servant (Phil. 2:8) to submit himself to the worst that his own creation could do to Him? Humiliating and excruciating death on a Roman cross!
And then, after all of that, the words of Christ, who was God Incarnate, spoken as he died on a Roman cross are the most mysterious thing we could ever imagine:” Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)Continue reading “The Surprising Context of the Idea that God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways, and God’s Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts”