The Surprising Context of the Idea that God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways, and God’s Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts

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)

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Look Up! Perspective and Purpose

You were created with purpose and that purpose was to worship through work.

(Republished with permission from Bruce Strom, Executive Director of Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid organization providing the help of a lawyer, the hope of God’s love and the home of the church.)

“Look up on high and thank the God of all.”

Geoffrey Chaucer

There is one God, and you are not Him!

Power of Perspective: There is a story of a man who worked at an aviary in a bird park. He was at an outdoor wedding and kept looking up. A friend finally asked him why. The man simply replied, “Sorry, I’m used to looking up to avoid falling bird poop.” If you want to avoid a lot of life’s poop – look up!

Perspective matters. Go outside and look up. You cannot see yourself, but you can see the vastness of space. Look down. You mostly see yourself and not much else. Circumstances cause us to look down and magnify our thoughts, feelings, and fears. Look up. Set your mind on things above. Don’t make you or your circumstance bigger than God.

Power of Purpose: The Westminster Catechism recites our purpose is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” That is true but can be misunderstood. If not careful, I think it can distort our purpose in the same way viewing Heaven as fluffy clouds where we play harps and sing praises forever can. Honestly heaven is a place of rewards given for work done on Earth. Work continues in Heaven. Work is a healthier view of worship – what it means to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

You were created with purpose and that purpose was to worship through work. The Hebrew word for work is avodah which means work, worship, and service. True worship is rooted in work that serves God and others.

God has work for you in his family business. When you come to faith in Christ you are adopted as his son or daughter and join the business of advancing God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to establish this work – the Kingdom of God on earth. Like any family business, God’s business has a vision, mission, values, guidelines, and positions.

Your job title is vassal, a servant of the King. Your job description is vessel as you allow him to fill you for your work. God’s vision is that none should perish but all should come to faith. In other words, he wants to grow the business by expanding the Kingdom. His mission is to go into all the world making disciples by demonstrating what it means to love God and love others (Great Commission and Commandments).

God has an employee manual with guidelines for living – the Bible. Don’t just skim and sign off on it – read it, memorize it. It is your guide for finding purpose. Then talk to your boss. Can you imagine taking a job and never talking to your boss? I don’t think you’d last long. You will similarly wear out in the work of the Kingdom if you are not regularly communicating with God through prayer.

Finally, live the core values of the Kingdom. He has told you what is required of you: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him (Mic. 6:8). You will discover and live God’s purpose for your life if you see yourself working in the family business.


Consider: What strikes you in this first key: look up through perspective and purpose?

Pray:   Lord, forgive me when I make much of my circumstance and little of you. Help me to find joy in working in your family business of advancing your kingdom of justice and righteousness. Amen.

Lift Up Your Eyes for Perspective and Purpose

Though God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, God invites us into his perspective and purpose.

We live “under the sun”, as the writer of Ecclesiastes describes our existence, filled with existential angst.  We live year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, and moment by moment. The inertia of our lives is focused on the here and now, with our dying always looming in the near distance like a great mountain range rising up to the clouds we cannot conquer.

Our perspective is limited. It is finite. We stand at any given time on a small planet in a small solar system in one of billions of galaxies that exist in a universe. We stand “under the sun”, and our perspective, therefore, limited.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:9)

That verse from Isaiah is a way of saying that God has a different perspective than we do. God has a purpose, and he invites us to consider the difference between His perspective and ours. He desires for us to seek to understand His perspective and to align with His purpose.

When Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden is light, I believe he was encouraging us, at least in part, to understand and to adopt his perspective and his purpose. Our momentary lives include existential angst, dread, suffering and pain, but God has a purpose and a plan for us that is greater than what we see and experience under the sun, and it is liberating!

I see three concrete examples in scripture of the difference between God’s perspective and purpose and ours. (I am sure there are many more.) As God invites us to consider that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, I think it is appropriate to consider and meditate on these three examples.

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The Door On Which We Have Been Knocking

When I attempted to describe our spiritual longings. . . .

Photo credit to Steve Mazur

“When I attempted . . . to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light.”


Photo credit to Deb Zeyher

“For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: ‘Nobody [notices] us.'”


Photo credit to Rudy Vierickl

“A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers.

Photo credit Paul Smith

“And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.”


Photo credit to Kevin Drendel

And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

CS Lewis from the Weight of Glory

Photo Credit Dee Rexroat

Elijah: Closing the Curtain on Bitter Disappointment in the Gentle Presence of God

Most of us can’t relate to the boldness of Elijah’s faith, but I think we can all relate to the devastation of Elijah’s disappointment.

Elijah was the hero of the story that provided the backdrop for a sermon on faith and fear at Ginger Creek Community Church where I attend. The sermon series contrasts faith and fear, but I believe the Holy Spirit nudged me in a different direction. The message about faith and fear was a good one, but the disappointment of Elijah is what caught my attention.

For context, Israel was experiencing a 3-year drought and famine. Ahab, the notoriously corrupt and ungodly leader, was king. The entire nation was enthralled with worshiping foreign gods, and especially Baal, the Canaanite god of weather and fertility[1]

Baal was maybe a natural choice for them in the midst of a severe drought and famine. The popularity of Baal in Elijah’s culture was at an all-time high, but Elijah remained true to Israel’s covenant God, Yahweh.

Yahweh was Israel’s traditional God. The claim from ancient times was that He was the only true God, but it was no longer popular to worship Him. People still clung to a semblance of traditional, cultural practice, but other, foreign gods were much more popular, so, Elijah challenged them: 

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) 

The brashness of Elijah’s faith in God is hard for us to appreciate, perhaps. We get a clue from the fact that there were 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah was the only prophet in the bunch who remained loyal to Yahweh. Elijah proposed a challenge that would put his life at stake. He said,

“’Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’” (I Kings 18:23-24)

The loser(s) in this challenge would be put to death, which was the penalty for false prophets at the time. Elijah put everything on the line for God. 

If the gambling industry in Las Vegas existed in Israel at that time, the odds were stacked heavily against Elijah, but Elijah wasn’t intimidated in the least. Elijah even let the prophets of Baal choose the bull they wanted first and offered to let them go first. (1 Kings 18:25)

The other prophets set to work. They prepared the bull of their choice, and they called on Baal.

From morning to noon, they called on the god of popular culture, but there was no response. (1 Kings 18:26) When Elijah mocked them, they cried louder and cut themselves until they bled, but nothing happened. (1 Kings 18:27-29)

When it was Elijah’s turn, he invited the people to help him rebuild a small altar to Yahweh that had been torn down (a symbolic gesture no doubt). He prepared the remaining bull and stacked the wood.

Then he did the unthinkable: he upped the ante by having water poured over the offering – not once, but three times – until it was thoroughly soaked. (1 Kings 18:30-35) When Elijah was done, he prayed:

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)

Elijah’s wanted to demonstrate the power and authority of Yahweh, to vindicate himself, to renew the covenant between his people and God and turn their hearts back to Yahweh. He was so confident God could do these things, that he put his own reputation and his very life on the line.

Of course, we know the story: God showed up. God’s fire didn’t just consume the offering; it consumed the bull, the wood, the stones on the altar and even the dust, and then the fire “licked up” the water left in the trench around the altar. (1 Kings 18:38)

There are few demonstrations of faith in the Old Testament as bold or powerful as this one. Elijah stood against all his contemporaries. He stood against the king, himself. He was the only prophet still faithful to Yahweh (as far as he knew). He put it all on the line, and God showed up in a powerful way!


The people fell on their faces and acknowledged God. (1 Kings 18:39) Elijah was vindicated, and his prayers were answered. His expectations were met. Or so it seemed.

This isn’t the end of story, though. The rest of the story is where I want to pick up.

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