Of course, the obvious answer should be “Yes.” But is this actually the truth? I’ve been working in churches for over thirty years now and in that time I’ve had many conversations with people struggling to answer this very question with an emphatic “Yes” because, in their opinion and experience, He doesn’t always seem to. And I have seen many people give up on church in general or just their specific church, because they feel like they have been unable to answer this question positively.
So does God always keep His promises?
Why do so many of us struggle to be able to answer a question which, on the face of it, should just have a simple answer? I mean, God is God right? And in being God is therefore supposed to be better than us right? And I don’t just mean sort of better than us, but immeasurably better than us. In fact…God is supposed to be a perfect, all powerful deity and therefore always able to keep His promises. Right?
Well…yes. As far as I a concerned, God is perfect.
I mean, forget all the Biblical verses I could quote at this point, let’s just think about it this way:
God just has to be perfect or else we’re all doomed. If God is just a version of us only a whole lot bigger, then none of us really have any hope at all because, if you’re at all like me (human that is), then you know what it is to have a bad day…and if God is just a bigger version of us, then we’re all going to be at the mercy of some mega mean mood swings!
No. If we’re going to trust God, then His character should therefore never be in question. Not because the Bible or our Ministers tell us, but because if we end up questioning God’s character, then our faith is instantly weakened if not killed off completely. That’s what I think anyway.
Ok then. So how do we cope with the belief that God always keeps promises in the face of things that we believe He has promised us have never come to pass?
Well, if we can’t point the finger at God for not keeping His promises to us, then we have only one other place to turn: us. Yes…you and me.
As I have already mentioned I have spent years working in faith environments, listening to inspiring messages about how much God loves us and how much He is supposedly interested in giving us or “blessing” us with, if we would only trust Him and get with the programme. And in that time there have been the inevitable conversations with people who have not had their prayers answered in the way they had believed they would be, or who felt that God was just plain ignoring them even though they were doing all the things good Christians are supposed to. I have also listened to many people share “promises” they believed they had received from various sources encouraging them to trust God for very specific answers that are supposedly “on the way” but which, up until that point, had not materialised. And if I am going to be honest…those conversations are conducted regularly in my own head.
So if I am going to believe in a God that keeps His promises and at the same time reconcile myself to what I perceive as unanswered prayers, the only conclusion I can come to is simply this: maybe God didn’t promise me some of these things at all!
You see it’s easier to blame God for supposedly letting me down than it is to admit that perhaps what I was clinging to was my belief and not a cast iron promise from God.
I suppose it’s far easier to take my frustrations out on other people too for the fact that my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it should than it is to look at myself and say “Hey…maybe I got some things wrong!”
It’s probably easier to leave church and turn my back on God than it is to admit that maybe, all I did was turn a sincere hope into an expectation of God and then misread the signs and “messages” I was getting to add weight to it.
It’s always going to be easier for me to blame others…to even blame God, than to admit that maybe I misunderstood things or just plain got it wrong. But look…there’s nothing drastically wrong with that. We all misunderstand things and get things wrong every day! I mean, I live in Ireland…and believe me, trying to anticipate what the weather is going to do on any given day so you can dress appropriately is almost impossible! So it’s wasted energy to beat yourself up every time you wear the wrong jacket…because pretty much most days…you’ll wear the wrong jacket.
You see, I think it’s not the misunderstanding alone that causes the problems, but our failure to admit to ourselves that what we believe to be a promise from God was actually nothing more than a hope that became an expectation that we then projected on to God and the world around us. This then can lead us to interpret any information we receive in the light of us trying to find confirmation for what has now become our belief that God has actually promised us something tangible. When that expectation therefore, isn’t met by God and our prayers seem to go unanswered, even though we’ve been to church every week faithfully for years, cleaned the toilets, helped with the kids ministry, hosted a home group and even had to fumigate the the car after one of the youth group barfed up a pizza on the back seat (true story!) - we get angry and enter a state of suffering.
One of my favourite parts of the bible is in the book of Job where, after he’s had his entire life turned upside down for no apparent reason at all - losing pretty much everything - Job angrily tells his not so comforting his friends his low opinion of God and that:
“If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say to me.”
Job 23: 3-5 NIV
I love that Job wants to get in front of God and give him a mouthful of complaints against Him. How many times have I wanted to do that! But then…a little bit later in the book, God actually turns up! This is it! This is Job’s big moment! God has come to him and now Job can finally give Him a piece of his mind!
“Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”’
Job 42: 1-3
What? Wait! What just happened? This was your moment Job! Why didn’t you give God both verbal barrels?
I guess it’s easy to get angry with God from a distance and shake our fists at Him.
It’s all too easy to stomp out of church away from our friends who have supposedly “let us down” in our hour of need. But it’s not that easy to look at ourselves in the cold light of day and realise that we can potentially create much of own suffering.
There is no obligation on God to explain Himself. None at all. In fact when God turns up in front of Job, all Job gets from God is a load of questions that Job cannot answer. Job has to look at himself in that moment when he comes face to face with God Almighty and what he sees is…well…I’ll let Job describe himself:
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42: 5-6 NIV
There are no easy answers to why things don’t work out in our lives…even if we are the nicest, most God fearing person on the planet (who Job actually was apparently). There are no formulae that anyone can give you to you follow that will magically fix everything. Each of us appear to have a path to walk in this world, and the great skill I think, is to learn to walk that path in peaceful acceptance of life and it’s profound beauty and equally profound screwed-up-id-ness (yes…I know I just mauled the english language, but you get the general idea).
At the end of the book of Job we are told that the latter part of Job’s life was more blessed than the first. And why is that? Well…I think it’s because he learned to be at peace with life and himself through the good and the bad.
We won’t get answers here. We won’t understand everything…or maybe even anything…that happens. But there is One who does understand and who knows and can do all things, and if He chooses not to explain Himself to a mere speck of universal dust like me, then I guess I have the choice to either get angry and suffer…or simply believe that there’s probably a very good reason that I have no hope of understanding fully on this side of eternity and so it’s easier to accept it and relax.
I know which one sounds like the more peaceful option to me.