When I open a newspaper, I first of all turn to the puzzle page and look for the cryptic crossword – the headlines can wait for later. In Jane Austen’s time, people amused themselves by writing and solving riddles, which she uses in the plot of Emma with one written by Mr Elton, parson of Highbury. The Bible also has different sections: history, poetry, prophecy, theology and letters for example. Unlike newspapers, where we can skip any parts we are not interested in, God wants us to read the whole of his message to mankind. Some parts are admittedly harder to understand than others. There are quite a few puzzling themes or concepts in the Scriptures. Let’s look at some of them.
The Trinity can be hard to imagine, how God can be both one – ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one’ (Deut. 6:4) – and three – ‘…baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 28:19). We have to accept that God is more complex and infinitely superior to mere humans, who have been created as individual persons. Also, we must believe that he has shown himself in the Scriptures to be a single being, composed of three separate divine persons with distinct roles to perform, but in a state of total harmony and agreement. It is not something we can work out apart from divine revelation. A fine book to help us appreciate the blessing of a triune God is The Good God by Michael Reeves.
How can the spiritually dead repent?
Another puzzle is how God can command all sinners, who are spiritually dead, to repent (Acts 17:30). The answer is that with the command, God also simultaneously provides the means to repent, and that is the power of the gospel of Christ. Paul said, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom. 1:16). This is God’s gracious gift to all who look to him for forgiveness and new life: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8).
God’s sovereignty and our responsibility
If God has already chosen those who will be saved, how can he find fault with those who fail to believe the gospel? Paul argues: ‘What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy…”’ (Rom. 9:14-15a). If it were not for the mercy of God, nobody would be saved. If people turn their backs on God and the gospel in his Son, it is not because they have not been elected, but because they have made a deliberate choice with their wills to choose their own way of life.
How can a good God allow suffering?
Some say they will have a few sharp things to say to God when they finally meet him, complaining about how he could have allowed wars and disease. But look for a moment at saintly John, who, while exiled on the isle of Patmos, had a vision of the glorified Christ: ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead’ (Rev. 1:17). This is the disciple who was so close to Jesus that he leaned on him at the last supper to ask who was going to betray him (John 13:25). If that was the effect of the glory and holiness of God upon godly John, what man would dare imagine he would have a leg to stand on when faced with such a God, let alone consider debating God’s wisdom?
The godly Job, who had many puzzling questions about God’s actions, had to sit up and take notice when God decided to question him: ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!’ (Job 38:2,4). God concludes: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’ (Job 40:2). Job is left dumbfounded: ‘I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth’ (Job 40:4).
The thing to remember is that we were created with so much freedom that God allowed us the capability of disobeying him, but he warned us that by doing so death and disease would enter his perfect world. Adam and Eve chose to grasp at what they thought would give them greater power and knowledge than God had given them, and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam had also been made the head and representative of all creation, so when he became corrupted, the whole cosmos and all future humanity became corrupt too. God had given mankind ultimate freedom, and we ruined everything. But God was so good that he didn’t give up on us. He commissioned his lovely Son to carry out his plan to save his people and the decaying universe from the effect of the Fall. Jesus came to identify with us and die the death we deserve – that we might have the eternal life we didn’t deserve. One day God will restore the universe and all who look to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith to a state of perfection and eternal joy.
The main answer is not difficult
The puzzling things in the Bible are put there to make us think a bit deeper about eternal issues. They are meant to lead us to see and experience the truth for ourselves. They also make us see that our knowledge is limited, we can go so far, but no further. God is infinite but we are finite, so when we meet something in the Bible we just can’t fathom, we must accept God’s greatness exceeds anything we can imagine and so take it in faith. The Bible tells us ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever’ (Deut. 29:29).
The main thing revealed provides the answer to the most important question we should ask ourselves – how could I be restored into a right relationship with God and know deliverance from sin and guilt and enjoy new life in Christ now and in heaven? This answer can be put in simple words by paraphrasing John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his Son so that all who trust him should not die but live.’
Have you found the answer?