When God Doesn’t Make Sense (Giving Up on God Part 2)

Young man thinking

By Mark Vermilion

I trust God. I’ve learned that he’s trustworthy. But as I shared in Part 1, I don’t always understand him and the things he does. I have doubts at times. And I have questions. Lots of questions.

Maybe you do, too.

In Part 1, I shared that suffering is an evidence that God loves us. But I don’t understand why God allows so much suffering in people’s lives all over the world. (Does he have to love us so much?) I’ve heard a number of very smart people take their best stab at it, but their explanations seem thin to me. Some of them sound like they’ve appointed themselves as God’s public-relations rep, trying to spin a negative into a positive.

And I don’t understand why God allows evil people to prosper with wealth and health while some of his most committed, all-in followers struggle with both. I know there are great biblical explanations for it. In my mind, I get them, but the explanations still go against my human sense of justice.

And I don’t understand why God doesn’t often answer my prayers of faith. Yeah, I can hear the clichéd answers bouncing around my head. I think I’ve heard them all. But some parts of scripture make it sound like my prayers should be accomplishing more than they are.

I could go on with my questions, but here’s my point: There are times when I don’t understand the God I’m following.

And that makes following him very difficult at times. It can cause me to doubt.

When I share this with others, I tend to get two opposite responses. The majority of people respond with a sense of relief, because they, too, have similar questions, and they’re relieved that a high-mileage Christ-follower like me has questions that don’t have easy answers. Questions that sometimes lead to doubt. And I think some are relieved that someone who has publicly and passionately committed his life to following Jesus is raw and honest enough to confess these questions.

Others get concerned or offended. I’ve been told that these questions are a sign that my faith is not very strong and rooted. I’ve been told that I certainly shouldn’t share these questions or doubts publicly because I might plant them in someones mind or legitimize them.

But regardless of your response to my confession, stay with me. This is not the end of the story. For me, for you, or for anyone who has questions and doubts.

I’ve experienced firsthand that these kinds of questions can make us schizophrenic in our faith–and I’ve seen them derail the faith of some. But as it turns out, they may also be a way that God tests our commitment to him.

True or False
In John 6, we find one such test. In the early part of Jesus’ ministry, he went from place to place, healing people and doing miracles of all kinds. And as he did, he started to attract large crowds of followers. But he knew they were more like “groupies” than disciples.

They were following Jesus around to see the next “show.”

“…and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he performed” (John 6:2).

They were not only entertained by his miracles, but they liked the free meals he provided for them along the way.

“Jesus [said to the crowd], ‘…you are looking for me…because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:26b).

The crowds were experiencing the blessings of being a “Christ follower.”

That’s when Jesus decided it was time to see who were his true followers and who weren’t. Who was in and who was all in. He preached a hard sermon that quickly thinned the ranks.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he said. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).

Upon hearing this, verse 6:52 says the Jews “argued sharply among themselves.” Why? Because they thought Jesus was calling them to eat his literal flesh—and the Old Testament declares that eating human flesh is forbidden.

But Jesus didn’t correct their misinterpretation. In fact, he added to the controversy by telling them that they must not only eat his flesh, but also drink his blood! This was also forbidden in the Old Testament law.

They undoubtedly had some questions after hearing Jesus’ controversial teachings.

And apparently to stir them up even more, Jesus repeated these “blasphemous” phrases seven times!

By the seventh time, I’m sure they had lots of questions about the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Big questions.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60).

Time out. Are there any of Jesus’ teachings that have stirred you to think, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Is there anything that he’s done or hasn’t done that has caused you to ask, “Who can accept this?”

As I’ve already shared, I’ve struggled with some of Jesus’ “hard teachings” and “hard realities.” And apparently, even the twelve of Jesus’ closest disciples struggled with some of the things he taught, too.

“Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?…The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:61 and 63).

Ironically, it’s verse 6:66 that goes on to tells us: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Did you catch that? Many of Jesus’ followers turned away when his teaching got hard to understand and when he got difficult to follow. When they doubted his legitimacy as the Son of God because they didn’t like what he was saying.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ main twelve disciples. In spite of his miracles and teachings, Jesus was starting to sound like a lunatic! Popular opinion was telling them it was time to leave him.

What would you do?

As most of His “followers” were retreating, Jesus finally turned to the Twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67)

Has Jesus ever asked you that question when you were wavering because things weren’t going well? I’ve heard that refrain in my mind on several occasions.

Peter immediately replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

In Greek, the words interpreted as “believe” and “know” imply intimate faith and knowledge. It’s as if Peter said, “We know you, we know your character, we deeply believe in you, and we’re fully convinced that you’re the Messiah–even if we don’t always understand you.”

Unlike the masses of followers, Peter and the rest of the Twelve had an intimate, relational knowledge of Jesus himself—not just his teachings. They knew his love and his character—not just his actions.

After getting to know him, they had settled in their hearts that Jesus was truly the Son of God.

Based on what they did understand about Jesus, they didn’t waiver when they didn’t understand his ways and his teachings.

In context, Peter seems to be saying: “I’ll follow you no matter how hard or confusing it gets. I’ll follow you whether or not it’s popular. I’ll follow you whether or not it’s easy. I’ll follow you whether or not I understand what you’re saying or where you’re leading me.”

With one hard, offensive teaching, Jesus separated his true, devoted, all-in followers from his “groupies”—the ones who were along for a fun ride. He tested their motives and their belief, and only a few passed.

So, which are you? Are you a true, all-in disciple or a false groupie? Are you following Jesus for what you can get out of the relationship? Are you following him because it’s momentarily popular with others?

None of these false motives will stand up for very long. Sooner or later, God will expose them through a time of testing.

If your motives and beliefs are ultimately true, you’ll follow him even when others fall away. Even when following him gets hard. Even when your struggle with his teachings or don’t understand where he’s leading you.

This kind of all-in followership can only come from an intimate relationship with Jesus. As you get to know the all-in nature of his love and commitment to you, you can trust him when you don’t understand him. In your moments of testing, you can repeat Peter’s words: Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

Has your love relationship with Jesus caused you to settle in your heart that he is the Son of God? If so, can you also believe that there are things that he understands that you don’t? That there are spiritual mysteries that are beyond your ability to understand? Can you trust his love and character when you don’t understand what he’s doing—or not doing? Can you trust in the lord with all your heart and not lean on your own understanding?

Can you believe that his ways and his thoughts are higher than yours?

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘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 are we to question the one who knows all things when we know so little? He alone has the words of life, and at some point, our faith has to grow big enough to overcome the stuff about God that we don’t like or understand. And our trust has to be built on an intimate relationship with him that reveals his compassion and character. That’s what his twelve disciples had that the others didn’t. That’s why they didn’t turn their backs when all the others did.

That’s why they stayed true, when all the others were false.