Did God have to confess failure by the Flood, in that He had to wipe out all mankind for its wickedness? (Genesis 6:5-7).
Was the Tower of Babel a total disaster, and was the confusion of tongues a catastrophe? Or was it necessary to accomplish God’s purpose to humble and scatter man over the face of the earth? (Genesis 11:1-9).
Was it a mistake when Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, killed a cruel Egyptian task-master and had to flee for his life, and ended up living for forty years in the wilderness, tending sheep as a humble shepherd? (Exodus chapter 2). Wasn’t that a terrible setback to the cause and the deliverance of his people? Or was it necessary for Moses to go into exile to learn the lessons God had to teach him to make him the man he needed to be to deliver his people?—Totally dependent on God, not himself.
Did God make a mistake when He chose Saul to be king of Israel, considering the way Saul turned out? Was Saul a failure? Or did he accomplish God’s purpose in training the king God was really after, David? (1 Samuel 9-22). God gets some of His greatest victories out of seeming defeat, and He even causes the wrath of man to praise Him! (Psalm 76:10).
Did God make a mistake when He let David fall for Bathsheba, and fall from grace in the eyes of the kingdom, fall from the throne at the hand of his rebellious son, Absalom, and depart in disgrace to another country with only a handful of his friends? (2 Samuel chapter 15). Did David really fall downward or was this a fall upward? Sometimes God’s way up is down—usually, in fact!—Just the opposite of what we think! God loves to do things contrary to natural expectation, because that takes a miracle and shows that it’s God and not man. As a result, David was humbled and the whole kingdom was humbled, and they were reminded that it was only the Lord who had made them what they were.
From that squeezing and twisting of David’s life came forth the sweetness of the Psalms and the fragrance of his praises to the Lord for His mercy. It was all God and all grace, and none of himself or his own righteousness—a lesson that’s been an encouragement to other great sinners like you and me ever since.
Was the prophet Elijah’s ministry defeated when he ran from the wicked Queen Jezebel, after his great victory over 450 false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel? Was his bravery there completely scuttled by his cowardice in the wilderness? After slaying these false prophets, here he was running from a woman. What a picture! (1 Kings chapters 18-19). The mighty prophet who had towered above all the rest in the power of God on Mount Carmel and had called down fire from Heaven was now running ignominiously from this evil queen! Didn’t this defeat his whole ministry? Didn’t this undermine his entire witness? Didn’t this prove he wasn’t such a great prophet after all? Didn’t this cause him to lose his following? Or was God trying to show him something that was going to make him a better prophet, a humbler prophet, who would come back unafraid, even of the king, much less the queen?
Wasn’t it a disgrace and a terrible blow to the Lord’s cause for the great prophet of doom, Jeremiah, to be hung in stocks before the temple door, so his brethren could spit in his face? Or be dropped in the mud to his armpits by his enemies, so that his dear friend Ebed had to come secretly and pull him out? And wasn’t that finally the most scandalous disgrace of all, that he should land in jail, branded as a criminal who had betrayed his own nation and people?
Yes, but not to God! It was all a part of God’s plan to keep Jeremiah humble and close to the Lord, utterly dependent on God, not on his family or his friends or the king, so God could put him in the safety of the cold storage of prison until he could be delivered and blessed and protected and provided for and encouraged by the ones you would have least expected it from—the cruel, heathen enemies and conquerors of his people. (Jeremiah chapters 38-41).
Why didn’t God take Gideon’s thirty-two thousand men and let them destroy the army of Midian so they could pat themselves on the back and boast what a great people they were? Instead, He instructed Gideon to send most of his army home until only a ridiculously little band of three hundred remained. Then Gideon had his soldiers break clay pots in the middle of the night, brandish fireworks, toot trumpets, and yell their heads off, to the point that they scared their enemies so silly they slew themselves! (Judges 7:1-22).
What a humiliating way to win a battle! What an inglorious way to conquer the enemy! It was stupid, idiotic, and ridiculous—but God did it! Gideon and his band could only thank God for the victory, because all they did was something laughable, like breaking pots, waving torches, and shouting, while God did the dirty work. Who could possibly get the credit for that kind of battle but the Lord? Certainly not a simple man like Gideon, who was crazy enough to believe God and do what He said. But he was willing to obey God, no matter how silly it appeared, as long as he got the job done.
The minute you try to figure the Lord’s plans out in your own natural reasoning, you might as well quit, because it will probably never work out that way anyhow—lest you say, “My own hand has saved me!” (Judges 7:2)
And what shall I say more? For the time would fail me to tell of Barak, and of a nut like Samson! What a wild example he was—long hair, always running after the women, getting in fights and drinking with the boys, cracking jokes and betting! Here was a guy who knocked off a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, yet he acted like an ass himself sometimes! (Judges chapters 14-16). What a reckless, crazy way for God to save His people, by using an unconventional rebel like that! Did God make a mistake? Or was He trying to show that He can use anything—even someone like youand me—by giving us such encouraging examples of His successful failures, His fabulous flops, who dared to trust Him in spite of themselves and gave Him all the glory because they knew it had to be God!
Wouldn’t it have been much more respectable and acceptable for the King of kings, Jesus, to have been born in a palace, with illustrious members of the court in attendance, and with all the honor and praise of society? Instead, He was born on the dirty floor of a barn, next to cows and asses, wrapped in rags and lying in a feed trough, with a motley crew of poor little shepherd boys kneeling on the floor beside Him.
Wouldn’t it have been better for His earthly father, Joseph, to be a prominent potentate instead of a humble hewer of wood? Wouldn’t that have made it easier on Jesus and His followers, and wouldn’t it have advanced His work a little more rapidly if He had had the approval of the established order? And wasn’t that rather humiliating for His humble parents to become fugitives from injustice and have to flee the country like common criminals for having given birth to the leader of a rival revolutionary government—the Kingdom of God? (Matthew 1-2).
And wouldn’t it have been better for Jesus to have lived a little more decently and acceptably, instead of scrounging His food in other men’s fields, sleeping in other people’s houses—including in the house of a couple of lovely young single sisters, Mary and Martha—and being buried in another man’s grave? (Luke 10:38-42; John 19:38-42).
Did He have to always be challenging the religious establishment, defying convention, destroying traditions, and threatening the status quo, so that He had to be executed with two common criminals and leave behind the evil reputation of having been a companion of tax collectors and drunks and harlots, a glutton and a winebibber, a lawbreaker, a disturber of the peace, a demon-possessed fanatic and false prophet of the wrong way? That’s what they called Him! (Luke 7:34; 23:2; John 10:20). Couldn’t God have used less controversial tactics than that, and accomplished His goals in a more peaceable, respectable, and acceptable manner?
And why deliberately offend the established order? Why deliberately pick a bunch of lowly fishermen and a hated tax collector for His disciples? Couldn’t the King of kings have made easier progress and gotten His new movement off to a better start if He had done it man’s way and chosen His disciples from the learned Sanhedrin, with the approval of the synagogues and the permission of the high priests and a license from Rome? Didn’t God make a mistake?
Jesus, certainly You could have had better living conditions! The idea of You camping out on the grass under the trees! You knew that was bound to raise eyebrows and questions about Your character and morality and that of Your disciples, who were a rather questionable group of characters to begin with! Surely You must have been mistaken, Lord, about some of these things, and could have done some of them some better way!
One can understand Your making a few mistakes, but going so consistently and stubbornly contrary to all acceptable reason and logic and custom, wasn’t that a little foolish, Lord?
If You had beaten up the moneychangers in the temple once, the authorities might have overlooked it, but to drive them out with a whip, bust the furniture, and spill all the money repeatedly, You know that was too much! Somebody was bound to get mad and get You in the end! (John 2:13-16; Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15).
Don’t You think You could have improved Your tactics, Lord? Did You have to make it so rough on Your followers from the beginning, so that they suffered undue and unnecessary hardship and persecution due to Your own foolhardy methods and lack of wisdom, Jesus? There must have been a better way!
You’ve made it very hard to explain You to respectable society—why You had to be so unconventional and controversial, such an iconoclast! Couldn’t You have compromised just a little bit on some of these issues and not continued to deliberately run head-on into the religious authorities with Your revolutionary doctrines? Couldn’t You have polished up Your manner and Your message a little bit so it wouldn’t have been quite so hard to swallow—such as when You told Your disciples to eat Your flesh and drink Your blood? Why, they could have thought You were starting to teach cannibalism! (John 6:48-63). Really, You do make it all rather difficult!
Surely some of this was a mistake! We might have understood Your stupid, uneducated followers making some blunders like this—but You, their leader? How could You have been guilty of such disgraceful conduct? What did You expect people to think? Of course they would accuse You of being a drunk and a glutton, a libertine, and a revolutionary! You really didn’t make it very easy for them to accept You, because much of Your method and message was terribly hard to swallow for anyone who was accustomed to even the least bit of respectability! Weren’t You at all concerned about the opinions of men? Didn’t You care what people thought about You and Your followers? Didn’t the stories that were going around about You and the men and women who were following You make any difference to You?
And then You had to pick that fanatic Paul to be one of Your leading apostles. You might have known that the Jewish religious leaders wouldn’t have liked Your stealing one of their top rabbis and turning him into a radical Christian. You might have known that even Your disciples would have doubted the sincerity of such a man, and found it hard to believe that You’d do such a thing, to take their worst persecutor and expect them to believe he was now their trusted friend and fellow apostle, after all the damage he’d done them! (Acts chapter 9)
Lord, how could You do this to us? Why did You have to make it so hard for us to explain You to society? When Your actions are almost inexcusable, what do You expect society to believe? They can only go by what they see and hear, and that’s bad enough!
Lord, please let us improve on Your methods, and polish up Your message a little, and eradicate some of these controversial aspects of Your ministry! We don’t want to make the same kind of mistakes You did! Please help us to be more acceptable in the eyes of the world! Couldn’t we classify this amongst the “greater works” that You said believers would do in Your name? (John 14:12).—That we, unlike You, manage to be accepted by society, even recognized and blessed by it, even working together with it? And in this case, wouldn’t You permit us to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers”? (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Couldn’t You just, in our case, make it a little more equal, so we wouldn’t have to suffer the kind of persecution You and Your early followers did? Shouldn’t we have learned something from Your bad example, of what not to do next time? Surely we could learn something from these mistakes of Yours! Otherwise, if Your disciples are going to follow such a nonconformist example as Yours, they’re going to have nothing but trouble from beginning to end. You know the world isn’t going to stand for it, and Christianity is going to be obliterated!
And Lord, You also should have had much more respect for the temple and synagogues. You know buildings are the foundation of every religion, and without them, where would our religion be? Why, we couldn’t have any ceremonies, and what would we say we belong to if we did not have a denomination? We’d be out in the cold, with nothing to do but tell others about You, and we’d have no support or backing but Yours. Now, that’s not very businesslike, and we’d certainly not last long at that rate! Look what happened to Your followers throughout history who insisted on defying the established religious order and evangelizing with no visible means of support, no homes, and no governmental recognition. Almost without exception, from Your earliest prophets to Your latest martyrs, they were ridiculed, disbelieved, jailed, fined, beaten, and even killed.
But what could You expect, Lord? You might have known that people wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing. Society couldn’t have people like that running around loose without some kind of regulation and control. It might undermine their whole setup and destroy the people’s confidence in their religion, their temples and their religious leaders. You know we just can’t have that, Lord! Everything has to be done in decency and order. We just couldn’t have religious fanatics running around loose, proclaiming “Jesus loves you!” Society is bound to call it “disorderly conduct,” because it’s not according to their order or the usual order of the day.
Haven’t You made a mistake, Lord? Isn’t there some better way You could do things, with a better class of people, more acceptable methods, and a less offensive message that wouldn’t upset people so much and make them so angry at You? Most of us want to be of some reputation and to be well thought of and respected by our communities! Most of us don’t care to be a news headline, especially not in this distasteful fashion. Most of us don’t care to be considered religious fanatics. Don’t You think You and Your first followers set us a rather poor example, which got them off to a rather bad start with the community? True, the apostles did seem to reach a lot of people with the Gospel, but what a Gospel!
And what’s the matter with a little formal higher education? Don’t You think You and Your disciples would have been much more readily recognized by the respectable citizenry if You had been a little more learned and versed in the ways of the world and what it expects of its religious leaders? (Acts 4:13).
And to actually say that the Jewish temple was going to be destroyed! Wasn’t this sacrilege and blasphemy, proclaiming that what they called the very house of God was doomed to destruction? (Matthew 24:1-2). If we said things like that, who would You expect to follow us then, Lord?—No one but the riffraff of society like You had, or Jeremiah had, or St. Francis of Assisi had, or some of those other nonconformists of Yours! This would get us nowhere with society and the general public, just as it got them nowhere but jail and judgment and in some cases, execution! I’m sure we must have learned something from all of this.—And we don’t care to repeat Your mistakes! In this modern day, we must use new, improved, and more civilized methods, more consistent with the scientific age of educated people in an affluent society!
Lord, do we have to be so completely denounced by the world in order to keep us separate and uncompromising, to keep us from drifting back into it? Do they have to reject us entirely to drive us to You? Must we utterly burn our bridges behind us, so that it’s impossible for us to go back? Isn’t this asking a little too much, to make us such offscourings of society as St. Paul was, and as he said the apostles were (1 Corinthians 4:13)—such dregs of humanity as Your early followers were, such misfits, odd characters, fanatics and peculiar people? (1 Peter 2:9 KJV).
If we go this far, we’ll never be able to go back! Society will never accept us again. It might bring division and betrayal by those who are not loyal, like Judas did to You. It might offend so many weaker brethren, we’d have very few left, and we would be able to persuade very few to follow such extremes of loyalty, dedication, and doctrine, like what happened to You after that “flesh and blood sermon”!
Yes, Gideon did lose most of his army through such extremism, but that was a long time ago, Lord, and things are different now. You’re not supposed to make the tests so hard today that You lose most of Your army. Where would the established church be if she did that today? There wouldn’t be much left! Even Your own disciples forsook You over some of Your “hard sayings”! (John 6:60). It’s just too much, You’ll never get a very big army that way! We’ll never be very popular, practicing such extremes as this! We’ll never be generally accepted if we preach and practice everything in the Bible! You surely wouldn’t expect that of us! It’s just too much! It must be a mistake! Please don’t ask that of us! Do we have to be so different? Aren’t You making a mistake, Lord? Isn’t there some better, more proper way?
Forget the “proper way!” The proper way is usually of man! The unexpected and the improper, the unconventional and untraditional, the unorthodox and unceremonious, contrary to man’s natural expectation—this is the way God usually works. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Who can know the mind of the Lord, and who can show Him anything? (Isaiah 40:13-14).
Who do we think we are, anyway, to tell God what to do and how to do it? God knows what He’s doing, and it’s none of our business how He does it! So we ought to stop trying to tell God how He ought to do things. “Now, Lord, You must do it this way or that way so we’ll be accepted and people will understand.” Forget about the people who don’t want to understand! Just trust God that He knows what He’s doing! “Trust in the Lord with all your heart: and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
God loves to do things contrary to the way we think He ought to do them. Is this a mistake? Is God wrong?
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and no one comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). “Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). “Many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ … From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?'” (John 6:60,66-67).
“Let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). For He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant” (Philippians 2:7). “He is despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was taken from prison and from judgment … and they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death” (Isaiah 53:3,8-9). “And you will be hated of all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. … If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19-20). “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40). “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24). “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
God doesn’t make mistakes! Even the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25). There is no better way than God’s way.
Are you willing to enter that narrow gate that leads to life, even if you are considered a fool and of no reputation in the eyes of the world?
- The Sanhedrin was the supreme judicial and ecclesiastical council of the ancient Jewish nation.