When I Simply Do Not Understand
I’m big on music. Music that possesses both appealing sonic aesthetic and lyrical depth is thoroughly enjoyable. One of my favorite bands, Citizens & Saints, recently released an album titled A Mirror Dimly. One of the songs on this record that has resounded most deeply with me is titled “Madness.” The verses of the song speak of days plagued by doubts and memories of suffering, how such things wear away at the soul. In a slight contrast of tone, the pre-chorus and chorus say:
Your mysteries are madness
Yet still they keep me captive
The more that I discover
The more that I’m in wonder
Your ways are not my ways
Your thoughts are not my thoughts
I want to understand but I cannot comprehend
I’m so lost
One of the things most captivating and curious to me about this song is how the writer and singer, Zach Bolen, speaks of satisfaction with tension and unknowing. When confronted by mysteries, the natural inclination of most is to desire resolution. When unknowledgeable as to how or why things are the way that they are, the natural inclination of most is to seek answers. As a sort of response, Zach echoes the words of God in Isaiah, where God says that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Though Zach confesses a desire to understand and the inability to comprehend, he still chooses to marvel at God’s supreme wisdom and ways.
One of my favorite words and concepts is clarity. With greater clarity, I feel internal comfort and peace, and that I am best prepared for whatever might come next. Conversely, metaphysical cloudiness in my life creates great tension and chaos within me. One of the most difficult things for me to do is be content when uncertainty prevails.
I readily admit that I am prone to being a control freak. The control freak in me has been dying lately. I am currently wading through (and hopefully out of) the nebulous aftermath of a situation that had left me reeling. I embarked on an endeavor with confidence that I was honoring God in my intentions and actions. I felt that He might even bless what I was striving for. I was so excited to see how things would develop, hoping for (and honestly, expecting) great things. However, it all fell apart suddenly and terribly, and for a day or two, my soul felt as if it had been sucked completely dry of every bit of intrinsic strength, peace, and happiness. Words cannot adequately describe how low I was. The last two weeks, I have been wondering why God, if He is my caring Father, has allowed me to go through this ordeal. Because of it, I have suffered hurts at the hands of another, grieved intensely over the predicaments of myself and another even more, felt anger at the offender, and lost self-control and gentleness to a shameful degree. But as my caring and gracious Father, God has been gently picking me up, dusting me off, and tending to my wounds. In spite of my bitterness and ugly reactions, He has been patient in teaching and reminding me of some precious, beautiful truths.
Humans have an instinctive affinity for security. This affinity is a big reason why people strive for high salaries, accumulate huge savings accounts, put a ring on it, cut ties, etc. Doing such things gives us more psycho-emotional control or fortification. I don’t think this love of security is evil or bad. I do believe that, like anything else esteemed to an inordinately high degree, this aspect of our humanity can become an enslaving, crippling cancer that threatens to consume the whole soul. Being the person I am – having a control freak barely dormant within – I am constantly at great risk of being consumed by my constant need for control, understanding, and clarity.
Though God is truly good and cares for us, life with Him doesn’t always afford us the security or certainty we want most or think is best. Sometimes, God is simply mysterious in His ways. We can find ourselves facing circumstances that have us entirely vulnerable or broken, though He has promised us blessing and refuge. The most poignant example of this is Jesus on the night of His betrayal. He isolated Himself in Gethsemane, literally falling on His face and sweating blood in desperate prayer to His Father. Being fully God, He knew well what lay before Him – an unjust trial, grievous flogging, brutal harassment, excruciating crucifixion, and death itself. Knowing these things and being fully human, Jesus had crippling fear and anguish pulsing through His entire being. Despite that, Jesus fervently prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me."
There are times where we are confronted with things that make no sense, that terrify and hurt so, so, badly. Like Jesus, our humanity makes us utterly desperate for God to rid us of our tension and suffering. But Jesus did not wallow in self-pity or stubbornly assert His own human will. Instead, He surrendered to the Father: "nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Like Jesus during that crucible in Gethsemane, the part of us that reflects God’s image untainted enables us to understand and choose to rest entirely upon our Father’s good, perfect will. The abandonment of our human need for security is what it takes to take that first step out into a seemingly impenetrable darkness. Imagine how foolish and terrifying it seemed to Jesus, surrendering His self-protective instincts and accepting an invitation toward the humiliating, painful path to the cross. I know that I do not have the innate capability to do such a thing. My human self would be completely paralyzed with fear if I, like many brothers and sisters before me and to come, were placed under the literal sword of some evil like ISIS or Boko Haram. My fear of enduring purifying, righteous things so much less torturous than martyrdom - an experience as close as humanly possible to the Cross - shames and sobers me to both my human frailty and Godly poverty.
Jesus wasn’t freed from the pain of the cross when He submitted His will to the Father’s. He suffered immeasurably the following day. But after that night in Gethsemane, where the future seemed fraught only with gloom, God brought His Son out of the lowest, darkest places into indescribable splendor by the resurrection and ascension. Mankind was given true hope, and God’s glory magnified greatly, as the gap between both was bridged by the Son. If given the power to decide Jesus' fate that night, we would never have allowed Him to suffer the things He suffered, because such a thing would be unspeakably cruel. But we now have the benefit of hindsight: we know that God has accomplished inconceivably wondrous things for billions of souls through His son’s suffering, and He glorified the Son above the entire Earth.
Like our brother Jesus, we have opportunities amidst the mundane and absurd situations of our lives to choose and submit to our Father’s will, abstaining from our own wants and ways. A willful spiritual posture allows us to experience His glory and goodness here and now, even in the most fiery trial. If and when we surrender our wills and embrace His, there may be more pain than pleasure; more confusion than understanding; more suffering than gain. But Paul tells the Church: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). This hope is the certain knowledge and confidence that, ultimately, God will lift us from the temporary plights of this world to drown us in His incomparable, unfading glory, into the far reaches of eternity.
Rather than vainly demanding understanding or control like a spoiled child, we should be like a wide-eyed newborn, incapable of doing anything other than resting serenely in the arms of a supremely and equally strong, gentle father. While human fathers make mistakes, abandon their children, or harm them, God is a perfect Father. Though they can appear otherwise to the imperfect eyes of a human soul, God’s promises, character, wisdom, and ways are perfectly good and forever constant. As we let our souls steep long in this universal reality, we begin to experience peace in the chaos and contentment in uncertainty. It is not always as simple as it sounds, and it is only by the divine Spirit, time, and experience that God grants us confidence. We can start simply by the earnest seeking of a soul entirely anchored upon the Father. It is in this state that, even amidst the most clouded, tempestuous times, our hearts and minds can be free of all distractions to fix their attentions solely on Him and His ways. There in that single-mindedness, we will all find a rich joy and a permeating peace as we simply marvel at the beautiful madness of His mysteries.
Andy Dong is a partner of The Bridge Montrose.