Day 23 – The Temptation of Certainty
A common phrase often heard among churches and people of faith is: “God showed up.” This is uttered when something inspiring or seemingly miraculous happens, or it is heard in prayers: “God, we really need you to show up.” The idea of “God showing up” was also a feature in one of the temptations Jesus encountered in Matthew 4. The enemy challenged Jesus to throw Himself off the temple because “He (God) will command His angels concerning” which is a quote from Psalm 91. Jesus resolutely responded with “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)
So, how was this about testing God? Essentially, the devil suggested that Jesus could demand from God the Father … that He could expect Him to “show up” in a certain way. This was testing God in the sense that it took something known about God from the Scriptures and presumed that God would necessarily be present in that way. Presumption is dangerous because it assumes that we know what God will do, when He will do it, or how He will do it. Oswald Chambers teased out this issue: “Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you! God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.”
We can only know the who of God, not the what, when, or how. The phrase “God showed up” puts us in dangerous territory because we presume to know the what, when, or how. In addition, the phrase is generally used to describe good or favorable things that have happened. The phrase generally isn’t used to talk about God’s presence with us in difficulties or His presence with us when He seems silent. The presumption is we can expect God to bring about good or favorable things. The problem is that usually our definitions of good or favorable are not the whole picture. The assumption in “God showed up” is that God is present only at certain times and in certain ways. Yet, He is always with us and always loving us.
In a wilderness season, when there is so much we just don’t know and even things that are confusing, we need a sense of security. Rather than finding it who God is, we often reach for it in certainty … desiring some certainty as to what God will do and how He will do it. We see the danger of pursuing certainty in 1 Corinthians 10:9 as Paul warns: “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” The incident with serpents is found in Numbers 21:4–6: “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” This question about being brought to the wilderness to die surfaces again, and God disciplined them with the serpents in order to wake them up. And in fact, they did wake up and confess they had spoken against God. This is described as testing God because they were presuming that God would and should show up in a certain way.
Ironically, this complaint occurred just after God had given them victory over a Canaanite king who had attacked and captured some of the people of Israel. Clearly, He was with them and was involved in protecting them. But, it can be a temptation to presume that because God acted in a particular way in one situation that He will do it again. Specifically, we may transfer what we know about God, His attributes and character, onto what we don’t know with certainty about God, which is a lot. Of course, we have all the knowledge we need to love and trust God, but sometimes we can be tempted to think that it is not enough. We want to know what, when, and how, and either presume He will be present in certain ways or that He should have been present in certain ways. A life of faith is not about certainty but trust – specifically, trusting a person. When certainty is the pursuit, we interact with God based on what we want to be true rather than what is. It is not true that God heals every sickness or protects us from every danger in life. What is true is that He is good, He love us, He is holy, and the list could go on.
Finally, in Exodus 17:7 we read: “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’” This question reveals a heart that is both not trusting and not humble. In a reference to this account in Exodus, we read in the prayer of Psalm 95:7-9: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” God graciously calls us to listen to Him moment by moment and this puts us in a place of trust. If we pursue certainty, we are seeking (perhaps unintentionally) to be without a need to trust. Trust leaves us in a place of vulnerability and need, and if we could have certainty, we would have no need of God.
Certainty in the what, how, and when of life is an illusion. This week, we explore the movement from certainty to humility. Humility rises when we lay down our pursuit of certainty and we trust what we can know about God. Surviving in the wilderness is not about God showing up but us showing up. God is always present and our invitation is to keep our hearts open to Him rather than having a hardened heart shaped by presumption and expectation. We “show up” with humility, knowing and embracing our vulnerability and need.
Questions for reflection: when are you tempted to seek certainty? In what ways is the Lord is speaking to your heart today?
Prayer: Lord, I come to You with a heart that is open. Give me wisdom to see places where I presume upon You, and may I move toward humility. Amen.