Through the years, I’ve learned that God works in contrasting ways and I see this throughout the Bible. This helps me realize that God does not lock himself down to just a one-size-fits-all approach as he deals with humanity and history. So, today, I’d like to point out several instances of this, beginning with Luke’s opening verses in Luke 1:1-4.
In particular, Luke says that he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”. Doubtless, he interviewed first-hand witnesses in various places and diligently poured over corroborated accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching. Since Luke was not an eye-witness himself, it would be no surprise if he spent many months to investigate everything. And finally, he wrapped it all up by writing an “orderly account”, which has come to us as the Book of Luke (and the Book of Acts) in the Bible.
In other words, what he has spent considerable time on, and exerted effort in, has turned out to be inspired Scripture to us. Thus, divine inspiration in this case, superintended by the Spirit, is through hard work and not through mystical direct revelation!
Does this mean then, that Luke’s natural efforts is the only way through which God reveals himself and communicates with us? Not at all! The Old and New Testaments show that God speaks to his servants supernaturally too, though we cannot pinpoint its mechanics. (For example, see Acts 11:4-14 and Acts 21:10-11.)
One God but many ways
There are many other instances where God uses methods that seem to be polar opposites to each other in order to achieve his will and purpose.
In 2 Chronicles 20:22-24, God delivered king Jehoshaphat and Judah from a horde of enemies who amassed to attack Judah. God destroyed this horde without the king and his army having to even lift a finger! Yet, in another instance, Nehemiah had to put on his hard hat to lead, motivate, organize and plan in order to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall in the face of fierce opposition (Nehemiah 3-4). The former was clearly supernatural; the latter was much less so. It appears then that God uses both supernatural or natural means as he pleases, though they can be so dissimilar.
In another account, the Israelites conquered Jericho when its walls collapsed supernaturally (Joshua 6) but they conquered Ai through the outworking of a battle strategy (Joshua 8:1-29). The former was God’s direct intervention; the latter was God’s indirect guidance. Again, God is not limited to act in just one way and we should note that Joshua did not insist that they must conquer Ai in exactly the same way as they did Jericho.
In Genesis, the punishment of death for Adam and Eve was delayed but judgment was instant when Ananias and Sapphira sinned (Acts 5). Why it is so, is baffling. Still, we cannot escape the fact that God chose to punish later in one case while he chose to punish right away in another.
For Job’s obedience and faithfulness, he was greatly blessed in his latter life with riches, posterity and a long life (Job 42:12-17). However, for Paul’s obedience and faithfulness, he suffered torture, stoning, jail, cold and hunger (2 Corinthians 11:24-27) and a dangerous final voyage to Rome that almost cost him his life. According to tradition, he too was finally executed as a criminal, just like his Master. So, will obedience and faithfulness always result in wealth, health and a bed of roses? The answer is evidently “No”.
God’s ways are not formulaic
Without a doubt, God works in distinctly different ways even if these ways don’t seem consistent with each other. He is neither bound nor limited in how he works in, and through, people and events, and it would be presumptuous of us to think otherwise and confine him to a box.
So, God’s ways are not formulaic. Shouts and trumpet blast brought down the Jericho walls only once. The sun stood still only once. Apart from Peter, no other disciple ever walked on water. And we definitely do not cast lots, like the Apostles did, to determine God’s will today. It’s a mystery why he works in one way rather than another but it’s a mistake if we insist that he must act in exactly the same way as before.
How then can we know what God would do in a particular situation, or discern what is God’s doing at any given moment? I have no fool-proof answer and the best I can come up with, is that the closer we are to him, the clearer the answers will be.
Still, we can trust him fully along this faith journey, knowing that he is all-wise and all-good, and “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.
This message is prepared by Pastor Mok Kok Hoong on 15th Feb 2021.