In this article/sermon you will discover answers to questions like: Why do we fail to understand God? Why does it seem like God is not always in control? Why does it seem like God is not always good by letting bad things happen? Why does it seem like He doesn’t care about all the horrible sins in the world and goes without punishing it or the people who are doing it? Why does it seem like God is so odd at times? Why is it so difficult to understand God?
Open your Bibles to Isaiah 6. Today we begin an eight-week series on God’s greatness. We want to see God more clearly and understand Him more accurately. Over the next several weeks, we are going to take a look at seven attributes of God.
- We are going to see the presence of God is everywhere to guide us and protect us.
- We are going to learn through the knowledge of God that He knows everything about us and still loves us.
- We will see in the power of God that He is big enough to do anything He wants to do.
- We are going to learn that through God’s goodness He is big enough to make sure all things work together for good to those who love Him.
- We are going to discover that through God’s holiness He is big enough to be absolutely perfect and completely without sin.
- We are going to see that through God’s wrath He is big enough to bring about the necessary, just and righteous punishment against sin.
- We are going to learn that through God’s grace He is big enough to bless us with an endless supply of His goodness, even though He owes us nothing.
Over the next few weeks we are going to take an incredible journey as we examine the practical applications from understanding who God is and what He can do.
Before we examine those characteristics of God, I want to begin by trying to answer the question, “Why do we fail to understand God?” Why does it seem like God is not always in control? Why does it seem like God is not always good by letting bad things happen? Why does it seem like He doesn’t care about all the horrible sins in the world and goes without punishing it or the people who are doing it? Why does it seem like God is so odd at times? Why is it so difficult to understand God?
I want you to listen carefully. What you think about God is the most important thing about you. The more you understand God the more life will make sense. The less you understand about God the less life makes sense. People think God has abandoned them because they don’t understand Him. People think God is unfair because they don’t understand His justice. They don’t really trust Him because they don’t really know Him. Until you know God as He is, you’ll never become all that He’s created you to be. What you think about God is the most important thing about you. It affects how you see yourself, how you treat others, what you value and don’t value. How you will act and react to various situations in your life. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.
Today I want you to see some things that blur or fog our understanding of God. Some things that try to keep us from knowing God the way God would have us to know Him. Why do we fail to truly understand God?
We Fail To Understand God Because of our problem with sin
First of all, we fail to understand God because of our problem with sin. When we allow sin to go unchecked in our life our view of God becomes greatly tainted. When we willingly put on the glasses of sin and rebel against God and His ways our view of God becomes twisted. Let me show you this in Isaiah 6. In Isaiah 6:1-13 we have two different pictures. We have in verses 1-8 a picture of someone seeing God and then in verses 9-13 we have a picture of some people not seeing God. Look at verse 1.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.” The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I said: “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” [When you see and understand God more clearly your life will be changed. You will be more in awe of God and you will be more aware of your own sin.] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Who should I send? Who will go for Us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”
When you see and comprehend God more clearly you are more willing to do His will, to go where He goes, to get rid of sin more quickly. Growing in your understanding of God is the key to your spiritual life. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.
Then in verses 9 and following we see a group of people who are rebelling against God. Look at verse 9. And He [God] replied: “Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed. Now that can be a confusing verse. Now watch this. On your outline is the paraphrased version from the Living Bible. This will help you to understand this. Look at what it says.
And He said, “Yes, go. But tell My people this: Though you hear My words repeatedly, you won’t understand them. [In other words, they will not understand God’s Word because of their sin. What God has to say will make no sense to them]. Though you watch and watch as I perform miracles, still you won’t know what they mean. [In other words, they want understand what God is doing. His actions will make no sense to them]. Dull their understanding, close their ears and shut their eyes… Then I said, “Lord, how long will it be before they are ready to listen? (LB).How long will it be before they are ready to understand you?
He is talking about people who have chosen to rebel against God. Isaiah is not the one dulling their understanding, they are. As Isaiah preaches they will shut their ears and their eyes to what God is saying and doing through His prophet Isaiah and as a result they will become more dull in their understanding of God and His ways. That’s why Isaiah asked God, “How long will it be before they are ready to listen? How long will it be before they are ready to understand? How long will it be before they are ready to see how big You really are?”
These people had chosen to shut their eyes and their ears to God. They did not want to listen and they did not want to see. Because of their sin they would close their ears to any truth about God or His ways they did not like.
Many people do the same thing today. Because of their sin they shut their eyes and ears to what God is saying and as a result they don’t understand God.
We Fail to Understand God Because of our desire to control God
We fail to understand God because of the problem of sin and secondly, because of our desire to control God. We try to control God by putting Him in a box. Placing limitations on Him. Let me show you what I mean.
In 2 Kings 5 there is an interesting story about a man named Naaman. Naaman was the captain of the Serian army. One day he discovered he had leprosy and he had a little servant girl in his home who was a Jewish girl and she said, “You know what, captain Naaman? If you would go to where my homeland is, there is a prophet by the name of Elisha who is a great man of God and he could pray over you and you would be healed.” So Naaman desperately wanting to be cured of leprosy took his group of men down to the prophet Elisha’s house.
Now remember, the point is that we fail to understand God because we put limitations on Him. We put Him in a box of our own making. Now watch this. Look at 2 Kings 5:10. Then Elisha sent him a messenger, who said, “Go wash seven times in the Jordan and your flesh will be restored and you will be clean.” But Naaman got angry and left, saying, “I was telling myself: He will surely come out, stand and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and will wave his hand over the spot and cure the skin disease…. So he turned and left in a rage.
Notice what Naaman said, I was telling myself. I thought God would surely do it a certain way. On my way there I thought God would have His prophet come out and say some kind of prayer, wave his hand over the spot and cure my disease. That’s the way I thought God would do it. But instead, he says for me to go dip myself seven times in the river.
Now this really bugged and bothered Naaman. As a matter of fact he decided not to go. He thought, “If that’s all it takes, why go to the muddy Jordan River when I can do the same thing back home in some beautiful pools. He is heading back home when some of his men encourage him and tell him to give it a shot. So, reluctantly, Naaman makes a U-turn. He goes to the Jordan River and does what Elisha had instructed him to and comes out leprosy free. God had done a miracle and a work in Naaman’s life.
Listen… Naaman almost missed a miracle of God because he had put God in a box. Placed limitations on God. He almost missed seeing God at work and growing in his understanding of God because He had put God in a box. He thought God was going to do it like he had always seen or heard of God doing it before.
Let me illustrate this. Let’s say I get up in the morning and pray and I hear God saying to me, “Eat an orange.” I prefer God to say a Twinkie, but you have to do what God says, so I eat an orange. I get up the next day, pray and God says eat an orange. So, I eat an orange. Do you know that it would only take me 4 or 5 days until I would just automatically eat an orange. Now, there is where the problem is. That’s when the Spirit is replaced with the law or legalism. So I’ll place God in a box and think that God wants me to eat an orange every morning. I quit listening to Him because I think I have Him figured out. He wants me to eat an orange every morning. But one day He wants me to eat an apple, but I eat an orange because I have quit listening to God because I have Him figured out.
God may deliver your marriage one way and their marriage another way. God may answer your prayer one way and theirs another way. God may deliver His people through a man named Moses dividing a Sea in half. He may tell His people to walk around a city for seven days and watch the walls fall. He may say build an Ark. He may rub mud in your eyes. He may let you die for four days then resurrect you like He did Lazarus. Don’t put God in a box and don’t put limitations on Him. Once you think you have God figured out then you’ve quit growing in your knowledge and understanding of God.
We Fail to Understand God Because of Our Personalities
Number three, we fail to understand God because of our personalities. We have a tendency to see God through ourselves. We make Him like us. We bring God down and make Him more like us, instead of Him making us more like Him.
- If you are laid back and easy going then you will see God as laid back and easy going.
- If you are uptight and given to detail then you will see God as uptight and given to detail.
- If you have a certain issue and hatred for a specific sin then you will think this is God’s most hated sin as well.
- If you are a very patient person you will see God as a patient God. If you are a perfectionist you will see God as a perfectionist.
- If you have a hard time forgiving people you will see God having a hard time forgiving you.
Sometimes we allow our personalities to muddy or blur our image of God.
When we honestly look at Him, we won’t see a reflection of ourselves. The Bible tells us we are made in His image and there are similarities, but God is not like us. He is not a bigger or better version of human beings; we are simply intended to be a startling and amazing likeness of Him. At our best, we only represent a hint of who He is.
Look at what God says in Isaiah 40:25, “Who will you compare Me to, or who is My equal?” asks the Holy One. Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing…. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding (Isaiah 40:25-26, 28). God is not like us. People get tired and weary; God does not. There are things we don’t understand; God never even has a question come to His mind. He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is all-wise. All the best in us is a faint impression of what He is. He’s not like us.
Paul, when trying to express the greatness and complexity of God wrote in Romans 11, Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33-36). The answer to these rhetorical questions is obvious- no one. No one has known God’s mind; no one has been His counselor; and God owes no one. Notice the last phrase.
- From Him– God is the source of everything.
- Through Him– He is the instrumental cause of all that exist.
- And ultimately it’s to Him – for His glory.
He is not like you or me. He’s not like any created being. He is unique.
So when we allow our personalities and feelings to define and describe God we are treading on thin ice. When you begin seeing God through your own personality you get a distorted picture of God. You begin seeing God in the way you see yourself. This can be both good and bad. For example, the person who has a laid back forgiving personality will see God that way. God is a forgiving and patient God. However, if they are not careful they will begin to ignore the fact that God is also a God of judgment and wrath and punishes sin.
We Fail to Understand God Because of Our Past
Fourth, we fail to understand God because of our past. Every one of us carries pre-Christian ideas with us into our Christian lives. That’s why when we become Christians we have to allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discover what God is really like and what His will is really like (Rom. 12:2). We have a lot of past experiences that have shaped our image and thoughts of God, rightly and wrongly.
I remember reading about a survey about some people who were asked to describe their picture of God and one of the top answers was that God was an old wise man with a lot of power. Where did they get that image of God? That reminds me of the movie “Oh God!” with George Burns.
Sometimes we have a tendency to see God through the media or radio or magazines. America is interested in the spiritual. That’s why shows like Touched by an Angel, Nothing Sacred, Ghost Hunters, Supernatural, Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, The Strain, Doctor Who and X-Files have all been popular. Then you throw in all the Hollywood movies, like “Heaven Can Wait” or “Bruce Almighty” or “The Passion” or “Noah” have been popular over the years.
Some of those shows may be good and others bad, but for those people who don’t already have a Biblically based understanding of God, there understanding of God comes from the media rather than from the Word of God. When they become Christians their understanding of God has to be changed by the Word of God. One of the reasons we need messages about God is to help realign our thinking about God to match what God says about Himself rather than what we simply want to think about Him.
We Fail to Understand God Because of Our Reducing of God
Number five, we fail to understand God because of our reducing of God. We reduce God to manageable terms. In other words we shrink God. Instead of falling down as servants before this awesome God, we try to get Him to be our servant so we can use Him for our purposes. The people in Romans 1 that’s what they were trying to do.
For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. (Romans 1:22-23)
Left to ourselves we reduce God to manageable terms. We treat Him lightly. We make Him accountable to us rather than humbly realizing we are completely accountable to Him. We take the God of the Bible who is all-wise and all-powerful, and we trivialize Him. We make Him the “Self-help Genie.” We recreate Him in our minds as our “God-On-Demand” – someone who’s “there” when we need Him and stays out of the way the rest of the time. Instead of worshiping Him and knowing Him and growing into servants who want to understand His mission and follow Him by faith, we carefully select Bible verses out of context that confirm our conclusion that the real goal in life is for us to be happy. Instead of humbly recognizing that God is impossible to control, we dare to demand that He get busy and keep us comfortable.
Once we’ve redefined God, we proceed to reduce the Christian life to a formula. “Let’s See. If we read the Bible in the morning, if we pray a few prayers, if we give some money, if we go on a short missions trip, if we read some Christian self-help books, then life will be great.” We’ve done our part, so God is obligated to do His part, which is:
- to give us unbelievable marriages
- to make all of our kids turn out right
- to never allow us to be depressed, or even sad
- to keep any bad things from happening to us
We’ve got a checklist of expectations that God must meet. But ultimately what we’re saying is that we worship our own happiness. In the meantime, we’ve reduced God from the sovereign Lord of the universe to a servant who’s supposed to fulfill our personal agenda.
So, when our friends get cancer, our kids don’t turn out right, and we don’t have marital happiness, what do we do? We have words with God. “What’s the deal, Lord? I’ve been going to church regularly. I pray. I even put something in the offering plate!… Where are you, God?” We’ve melted Him down into a modern day golden calf. We’ve reduced Him to a spiritual ATM machine and vending machine of peace, prosperity and self-fulfillment.
That’s not the God of the Bible. He may give you a wonderful marriage and your kids may turn out great, but you also live in a fallen world where bad and painful things happen. The goal of worshiping God… the great and awesome God of the universe, is that He is all that there is. He’s the way and the truth and the life, and we are His disciples who are to endure or enjoy whatever comes our way. He is the Creator and we are His creatures. Life is about Him being at the center, not us.
I meet people all the time who are very disappointed with God. They are disappointed with God because He is not doing what they want Him to do. They have reduced God to being their servant.
What you think about God is the most important thing about you. The more you understand God the more life will make sense. The less you understand about God the less life makes sense. People think God has abandoned them because they don’t understand Him. People think God is unfair because they don’t understand His justice. They don’t really trust Him because they don’t really know Him. Until you know God as He is, you’ll never become all that He’s created you to be. What you think about God is the most important thing about you. It affects how you see yourself, how you treat others, what you value and don’t value. How you will act and react to various situations in your life. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.
In your bulletin is a laminated card on one side it has Ecclesiastes 3:14 which says, “I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him” (HCSB). God wants you to know Him and be in awe of His greatness.
On the other side of the card it states,
What I think about God is the most important thing about me. The more I understand God, the more life will make sense. The more I know God, the more I will know His purpose for my life.
What I think about God shapes my whole relationship with Him. In addition, what I believe God thinks about me determines how close I will grow toward Him.
To help you focus on God this week, you can use the card in several ways:
- Place the card somewhere where you will see it several times throughout the week. Let God talk to you through the week with that Scripture. Think about it.
- Think through the statements on the other side. Pray through it.