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)

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

The Bad and the Good News

All people have a sense of ethics, a sense of right and fairness, regardless of the place a person was born on earth, regardless of access to books.

The Stoics valued virtue, virtue hammered out with self-control and achieved through self-will. The Epicureans valued happiness, and they determined that happiness was found in virtue. Others have championed virtue couched in different terms. Aboriginal people also have codes of conduct. By their philosophies and their conduct, people demonstrated knowledge of the nature of God, which is knowable and, indeed, known by people everywhere. God’s invisible attributes are known and understood. Jews or Christians do not have a corner on the trusth. When people do what is right, they demonstrate that the law is known to them; it is in their conscience. (Rom. 2:14-15)

Do we not clamor for justice when a wrong is committed? We are even  more concerned about justice when a wrong is committed against us! The fact that we have such a sense of justice is a testament to God’s justice that is evident to each one of us, whether we believe or not. That sense of right and wrong is written on our hearts; it is in our consciences.  (Rom. 2:14) God is just.

At the same time, we tend to excuse our shortcomings, usually by comparing themselves to others. Who has not thought, “At least I am not like s/he is!” No doubt, some people are more virtuous than others. God, however, can not be anything other than what He is: just and right. Justice and righteousness (rightness) is the nature of God. While we seek to justify ourselves in comparison to other people, God’s nature is utterly just and virtuous. He can not and will not be anything other than what He is.

All people, on the other hand, are imperfect. Who has not lied, been selfish, been lazy, etc? Every single person on the face of this earth has fallen short of the standard of virtue, regardless how it is measured. After all, “to err is human”. (Alexander Pope)

If God is utterly virtuous, His nature is nothing but virtuous, how can a person remain in His presence? Like one pole of a magnet repels the other pole, how can we stand in God’s presence with our sinful selves?

It is written that all have sinned and all have fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23) All people are sinful; not one person is righteous as God is righteous. (Rom. 3:8-9)

If heaven were the distance of Japan from California, and we had to swim the ocean to reach it, the distance would not be greater than the distance between a righteous and holy God and ourselves. Thinking that any one of us could swim the ocean is foolishness. Some people are better swimmers than others, to be sure; but none of us, not the very best of us, could make the swim to the other shore. So it is with God and ourselves. We would be repelled like the wrong end of a magnet in the presence of an utterly virtuous, righteous, holy God.

We who have sinned, and sinned against God, are deserving of that justice. That means all of us. Who among us in perfect? We are, therefore, alienated from God, repelled from Him.

The Good News, the Gospel, is that God made a way for us! He provided a remedy for the problem of our sin. Through Jesus, and his sacrificial death on the cross, we are reconciled to God. (Col. 1:20)

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Jesus paid the price that justice demands! We are utterly unable to stand before God in our own flesh because of sin; but God the Son, who became man, and who was blameless, stood in our place to fulfill the requirement of justice.

We accept that sacrifice and the mercy of God shown to us in that act by simple faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom. 3:23-25 ) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

Now is the time for repentance. There is no excuse. Right and wrong is known to all of us. (Rom. 1:20). If we confess our sinfulness, he is faithful to forgive us! (John 1:9) He forgives us not because we deserve it, but because He desires it. God became man, fulfilling the prophesies given to the Jews; He proclaimed the message, performed miracles, healed the sick; and commanded the attention of the World. Then He died for our sins; and He was raised from the dead to reconcile us to Himself.

Jesus is/was the “image of the invisible God….” (Col. 1:15) He is the “firstborn from among the dead.” (Col. 1:18) As sin came into the world through the first man, Adam, and along with it, death, so that all became sinners; so righteousness has been introduced through Christ, and along with it life, so that all who believe shall be deemed righteous and shall have eternal life. (Rom. 5:12-19) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:17-18)

The bad news is that we are imperfect beings separated from a perfect God by the very fact of our imperfection, like the opposite poles of a magnet. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to be reconciled, to flip our magnetic pole. And once we have been reconciled, nothing can separate us from God! (Rom. 8:38-39)

Post script

(John 5:24-29):

’Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.’

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9) The time has come, and the time is now for us to turn from sin and turn to God. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short. His mercy is great towards us nevertheless! Even while we are sinners, and dead in our sin, Jesus died for us. We certainly did not and do not deserve such mercy, but He is faithful to forgive our sins. Indeed, that is God’s intention. He created us in His image and desires for us to have fellowship with and partake in God. In order to accomplish that, we had to have a choice, a real choice, to choose harmony with God or to choose our own selfish way. Sin, death, all of it is a necessary consequence of God creating us in His image. If we could not choose to sin, we could not really choose to love Him. We could not choose God and his righteous without knowing unrighteousness. In the end, we cannot accomplish any of God’s plan without God giving us what we need, accept for the faith and heart to accept it. We can not make ourselves right; we can only receive the salvation that God freely provides to us to bring us in right relationship with God; but we must choose to receive it. To receive it we must come to the end of ourselves, and there, utterly helpless, reach out to God like a child reaching out to its parent. In that moment, God’s perfect plan is accomplished. We are welcomed into His kingdom as sons of God, having freely chosen God, and we become partakers of His nature! We are born again, not of this world, which is sinful and dead, but of the spirit. We become partakers of His eternal life with the assurance that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised to eternal life with Christ who was the firstborn from among the dead.