Written By Andrew Purchase, South Africa
Andrew Purchase hails from South Africa, but has lived in Singapore since 2009. He has experience as a litigation lawyer, has a love of calligraphy, is terrible at choosing restaurants, has too much sugar in his coffee and adores T. S. Eliot. He is married with two daughters and works as a pastor at Redemption Hill Church.
How do I love God when I can’t understand His actions?
This was a question I asked myself some years ago. I was in the middle of a crisis. I had to close down a church that I had planted. I felt like I had been obedient to God. Yet, I felt like I had failed.
It felt like God had called me. Yet it felt like God had abandoned me in some way.
Many people face their own version of the same question: How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers?
I discovered that this is a question with a surprising answer. Part of the answer is flipping the question.
While I was in my dark place—confused by God’s actions and asking how I was to love Him—it felt as if God had flipped the question on me. It felt like He was asking:
“When you don’t understand what I am doing, why don’t you ask whether you can experience My love in those moments?”
O happy day, what an answer that brought!
Love can occur even in the absence of complete understanding. One of love’s greatest virtues is that it can transcend our understanding of our problems.
The Bible is emphatic on this point. We can experience God’s love even in situations where we don’t have complete knowledge or understanding:
. . . that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:17-19, emphasis added)
Christ’s love surpasses knowledge. It’s bigger than human understanding. Love supersedes knowledge.
In my state of confusion, it was as if I had heard an authoritative whisper say, “Let Me love you first; and answer your questions second.”
What’s better? Knowing the details of God’s sovereign workings; or knowing and experiencing the full dimensions of His love?
I decided that knowing God’s love was the superior choice. Focusing on receiving God’s love, as opposed to making total sense of hard topics—was one of the best decisions I ever made.
It’s hard to describe what God’s love feels like. For me—at that time—it was the knowledge that no matter what, God was going to look after me (Hebrews 13:6).
God’s love was also this: Even in my heap of failure, God did not love me any less than when I was ostensibly a success. I realized that His love is greatest when I need it most (Psalm 73:26).
At my lowest, I felt His love go deeper than my low. How far I had tumbled. Yet how much further down His love extended. To find me, it had to go there (Psalm 139:8).
And down there, I had an experience of God. It was the experience of a lifetime. I learned to enjoy God’s company, just for His company’s sake. I learned His friendship. I learned that to worship at a deep level is to worship at a high level. I learned that His presence is ever near—even in the toughest of times. I learned to be conscious that He is close.
And now—years later, when all is well—I have answers.One of my best answers is that difficulties are great times to experience God’s love and to know Him more intimately.
Thus, when we are tempted to ask, “How do I love God when life is tough and God is not providing me with answers to my questions?” we need to take a step back. We need to remember that when it comes to God and love, God is the First Mover. He loves first. It is His pattern, His way.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:10, 16, emphasis added)
He loves first. When we can’t love Him, He loves first. When we lack understanding, we can at least understand that He loves us.
So when we are confused about life and God’s actions, and have mailed a list of 100 questions to God (but feel like we got no reply)—what can we do?
The answer is deceptively simple. The answer is God Himself. He is not just an Answerer; He is the Answer. And His answer is to be with us to love us.
The truth about Christianity is that Jesus has made it possible for us to be with God now, to know Him, and to feel the warmth of His face now. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. He has promised to always be with us. We have the Holy Spirit.
Some questions are illogical and have no answer (“Lord, can a square ever be round?”).
Some questions God does not answer yet as a matter of timing.
Some questions God does not answer because they distract us from asking a better question.
But there is one question God always answers: “Lord, can you be with me now with your love and peace?”
It is a question He doesn’t necessarily answer with words, but He answers it with His own presence and His love.
As C. S. Lewis famously put it: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” (from Till We Have Faces).
In moments of confusion and frustration, the best way to love God is often to simply be loved by Him.