When things go wrong

Almost certainly, there will be times in our lives and walks with the Lord where things don’t go as planned or expected. These are times when expectations are dashed – at times cruelly – what we had hoped for fails to materialise and we find ourselves at a loss. It may even feel like our world has come crashing down on us.

We live in a fallen world where disappointment and frustration are the stuff life is made up of. Imperfect as we are we constantly fail to measure up to the standard expected of us – be it from God, from others and even ourselves. We fail, we mess up, we let down. When we are on the receiving end of it and are failed, messed up or let down by others it hurts. Add on to that the wider result of the fall of mankind – sickness, suffering, natural disasters etc – and that completes the picture for us of the numerous factors than seemingly contrive to cause our disappointments.

The most common causes of our disappointments seem to be unrequited love, suffering and sickness, loss of loved ones, and lack of success (“failures”) and advancement in different aspects of our life.

In some cases we are the architects of our own downfall. For instance this happens when we read the script wrong, were too gullible or simply did not pay attention to the signs and warnings coming our way. At other times the causes of our disappointments are entirely outside us. People fail us, suffering overtakes us and loved ones abandon us without as much as us lifting a finger. Expectations are dashed, hopes are crushed or our worst fears are realised. In the words of Job whose book symbolises man’s struggle with the question of suffering, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25). This is not doom-mongering but it is in the very depths of our fallen nature and its innumerable consequences that we discover the character and salvation of the Lord.

These are times when our expectation itself may need to be recalibrated with reality. We need, what is often called, a reality check. What we had hoped for and expected has failed to materialise – for many reasons.

In times like this we all too easily tend to blame God for our predicament. We make Him the scapegoat and readily vent our disappointment on Him. He is either held responsible for it or accused of letting it happen possibly through His neglect of us and our cause whatever that may be. At other times we just feel God has lost all interest in us and in our cause and slowly drift away from Him losing our interest in Him and everything to do with Him.

Such was the case with the nation of Israel in Isaiah chapter 40. Their lives and country had hit rock bottom with their captivity and exile to Babylon. They had been militarily and politically comprehensively routed and overcome by the Babylonians and left without country or land. They were exiles in a foreign land, in Babylon. But they were conscious of their sinful past for or which they were suffering despite repeated warnings by the prophet Isaiah. They could not blame God – He had repeatedly tried to get their attention and get them to turn back to Him but to no avail. But now they had fallen captive to Babylon and their national existence terminated by them, it seemed that He finally got their attention. They were understandably apprehensive and not expecting much from God. With the years passing by so their hopes of God coming to their rescue seemed to fade leading to the undertone of their feelings voiced by God in Isaiah 40:27 –

Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: “My way is hidden from the Lord, And my just claim is passed over by my God”?

Surprisingly, God does not come rushing to their aid in the midst of their predicament and murmurings of abandonment and hopelessness. Rather, He first embarks on correcting their view of Him and His attributes before He calls them back to trust in and wait upon Him for their deliverance no matter what.

I don’t think there is nothing God dislikes more than for His people who represent Him and are called by His name to have a misinformed and misconceived perception of His person and character. This is therefore what He desires to correct first after having remonstrated with them for not getting Him in the first place but holding on to incident-engendered misconceptions of Him.

The abandonment by God and hopelessness they felt was pretty much self-inflicted and a direct result of the disobedience they persisted in. Here the Lord is referring directly to and addressing their fear and concerns. He responds to their erroneous assertions by confronting this negative confession regarding Him that He overlooked their fate and failed to notice their predicament implying that they should have known better. After highlighting their fundamentally flawed and deeply erroneous belief and understanding of His person and nature by way of the rhetoric question He poses, He goes on the offensive. He literally bombards them with a barrage of the traits and characteristics unique to Him that His people should have already known. He embarks on a timely exposé of His nature and attributes.

More than anything else, this is what is desperately needed when “fate” deals us a terrible blow in life – a reminder of the nature and character of God, who He truly is, His unchanging and immutable self. In times of deep disappointment and apparent hopelessness, we need to return to a true and reliable revelation of God’s person, who He truly is and His character. We need to be reminded of His sovereignty, greatness, caring love and power.

It was and is never God’s desire that His nature and eternal attributes be defined or coloured by temporal circumstances that are exactly that – temporal. Events and incidents were never meant or given to us to define and portray an accurate or complete picture of the person and character of God but His own revelation of Himself.

There is no clearer picture of who God is than that which He has portrayed of Himself in His word – written and living.  One need not go anywhere else for a clearer depiction of the nature of God outside His own revelation of Himself in His word or allow anything else to distort it.

God desires His own self-revelation through His word to form the foundation and basis of our view of Him. God designed for us to grow and shape our knowledge of Him based on His self-revelation in His word. Only His self-revealing word paints a true and unmistaken picture of who He truly is. It is not God’s desire for us to walk with ill-defined and misinformed views of our Father in heaven.

Based on their prevailing circumstances, the people of Judah perceived God to have overlooked their cause, abandoned their interest without so much as considering who He was and His abiding character. They totally overlooked that element and got carried away on the wave of disappointment and disillusionment caused by their circumstances. A reminder of God’s character was due, a reminder of his eternal attributes was in order so the Lord literally embarked on that but not without expressing his surprise and alarm at their forgetfulness of His abiding nature and eternal attributes. These are what anchor us in the turbulent sea of life – our Creator’s eternal attributes and unchanging nature. We must never lose sight of or side line them for they represent the foundation and bedrock of all God’s activities and dealings with us.

It is in the unshakeable and immovable God, His unchanging nature and His eternal attributes that we can find stability and strength to confidently tide us over these waves of disappointment and dashed dreams that threaten to sink us under. In times like this we need urgent and powerful reminders of the eternal attributes of God that transcend and triumph over every situation.

In the verses that follow the Lord continues by reminding them of His nature and character highlighting key elements that speak to their current situation. Isaiah 40:28

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

Four key elements that this people needed to be reminded and aware of:

The Lord is the everlasting God – He is a God who knows no limits and has no boundaries. He is without beginning and end and it is impossible to contain Him.

The Creator of the ends of the earth – He is a God whose reach extends to the farthest end of the earth and from whose prying eyes there is no hiding or escape. No matter where they were relocated to or went they were within God’s reach, within the reach of the God who created the ends of the world.

He does not faint or grow weary – He is not subject to fatigue or exhaustion, it is neither in His nature nor His fabric to tire or grow weary. Tiredness and fatigue are not attributes of the divine but human. He is not a God who tires of our cause or of us. It is simply not within His nature to do so.

His understanding is unsearchable – He is a God who searches hearts and minds, situations and circumstances, events and incidents and understands all without limit. He cannot be outsmarted or outwitted, sidestepped or outdone. He knows, understands, comprehends and susses out all comprehensively and without fail. Nothing escapes Him and His view.

With a timely reminder of these four key elements whose common denominator is God’s unlimited nature – in time, in space, in endurance and in understanding – the Lord now turns to what He freely and joyously does for those who look up to and wait upon Him.

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