Bit of a stretch: Speculating about God

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I call it the “been-sitting-slouched-for-wayyy-too-long” stretch. You know the one—chest forward, back arched, head titled skywards, arms extended overhead as far as possible (or, if you fancy, out to the side). Go on, try it now. I’ll wait.

. . .

Sigh. It’s a good stretch. Although it once landed me in a bit of hot water.

A group of friends and I had gathered together for a movie night. I would have been 13 or 14 at the time. As the credits began to roll on the first film, I leaned back and stretched out. Then it happened . . .

“Look! Look! Linden’s putting his arm around Connie1!”

Before I realised what was going on, all eyes were on me and a chorus of “oohs” broke out.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that night (perhaps I blanked it out). What I do recall, though, is my “actions” generated a lot of conversation and speculation when we returned to school on Monday.

Just so we’re clear, I was just stretching. There was nothing else to it—no attempt at a “smooth move”; nothing scandalous.

Why is this important, almost 20 years on? Well, it really isn’t. All that resulted from the misunderstanding was some small embarrassment on my part. The same can’t be said of some allegations.

I recently watched the film Just Mercy and learned the story of Walter McMillian—an African-American man wrongfully accused of murdering an 18-year-old college student in 1988. Mr McMillian spent six years on death row in Holman State Prison (Alabama) before finally being exonerated, thanks to the tireless efforts of his attorney, Bryan Stevenson.

For Mr McMillian, the cost of the false allegations stretched far beyond those six years in prison.

“I lost my job. I lost my life. I lost my reputation,” he lamented. “I lost my—I lost my dignity.”2

“I thought I was going to be okay, because I got the truth,” says Mr McMillian’s character in the film. “Then the police keep calling you a killer . . . News people saying you did it. Judge and jury saying you did it. Now you on the row. Two, three, four years. Your friends, and your kids, they ain’t calling you like they used to.

“After a while, you start wondering what they think about you.”

I’m sure there are a lot of people who feel this way. I sometimes wonder if God feels this way . . .

Several years ago, I listened to a sermon in which an Adventist preacher claimed God orchestrated the events of September 11 in order to shake up the world and wake up believers. I’ve heard and read similar claims recently in regard to the Australian bushfires and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In each case the message was the same: “God did it.” No ifs, buts or maybes. God did it. [pullquote]

Or did He?

Stephen Ferguson recently wrote an article about whether or not we give Satan too much credit. Do we also do the same with God? When we accuse or attribute certain things to Him, are we speculating or speaking the truth?

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

This is how God opens up His longest unbroken speech in the Bible. The charge comes on the heels of much talk and speculation (30-plus chapters worth, in fact) on the part of Job and his friends.

God’s response over the next four chapters is noteworthy. He does not explain what He is or isn’t doing; He simply establishes who He is.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).3

I think the book of Job serves as a metaphor—and a warning—for how we, as believers, may be tempted to respond in times of crisis. We sympathise and sit still for a while (see Job 2:11-13), but when the suffering and questions remain, we talk, theorise and speculate. We create hypotheses about what God may or may not be doing, rather than focusing on who He is. Job acknowledged as much in the end: “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

As Christians, we believe in God, and we believe He makes Himself known to us. But we don’t always know the ways in which He acts or moves. “Tame” lions are still unpredictable. But God? Well, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”4 Through Jesus we have seen and known the Father (see John 14:7-9), but that hasn’t removed all the wonder and mystery surrounding Him. His ways are still “higher” than our ways; His thoughts “higher” than our thoughts (see Isaiah 55:8,9).

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).

I think all of us need a healthy dose of “I don’t know” from time to time. It reminds us of our place as finite creatures who don’t have all the answers. This is a good thing. The book of James says that in order for us to be lifted up, we first have to be brought low (see 4:7-10). It’s from that lowly place that God, through His Spirit, can speak into our lives and lead us in our search for answers.

The world is in turmoil right now. Each of us is also in the midst of our own personal battles and struggles. We can speculate as to what God may or may not be doing, or we can simply trust in who He is.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

  1. Name substituted.
  2. Quote recalled by Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014, Speigel and Grau).
  3. Read God’s entire speech in Job 38-41.
  4. Mr Beaver’s description of Aslan in C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950, Harper Collins).
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