God’s Ways, Not Mine

Have you ever had an argument refuted by somebody quoting this:

My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (Isaiah 55:8-9 CEB)

A classic text emphasizing the anger of God

The ways this is usually used, at least in my experience, is in defence of an angry and judgemental God. The idea is that while we may want to love and forgive other people, God – because he is a legalistic asshole, apparently – is going to punish them. While we may be able to show grace, God isn’t. We might be confused why God would predestine some to eternal conscious torment, but asshole God’s ways are higher than ours so he understands why it’s ok to arbitrarily love some and hate others. We might foolishly think that those who don’t have their theology right should still be treated with some kind of basic human courtesy, but asshole God makes sure that they aren’t shown any grace, making them born in the wrong country, the wrong church, the wrong family background, and so on. Of course those are slight exaggerations in how blunt of words I’m using, but this is basically what I have heard people say over and over again. Somehow this line of thought is said to make God more glorious.

That’s kinda backwards, isn’t it? Isn’t the whole story of Scripture supposed to be about how God forgives us even when we were his enemies? Isn’t it about how we tortured and crucified him and yet he still said, while hanging there to die, that he forgives us because we don’t know what we’re doing?

If we do something really crazy and look at the verses before those oft-quoted verses, we see that my suspicion is confirmed:

Seek the Lord when he can still be found;
call him while he is yet near.
Let the wicked abandon their ways
and the sinful their schemes.
Let them return to the Lord so that he may have mercy on them,
to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness. (Isaiah 55:6-7 CEB)

Ah, yes, so it’s God’s love that is too big for Israel to understand. Not his judgement. Not his anger. Not his legalism. Not his nationalism or racism or sexism. God’s love is too big for us to fully understand. If we really do take this text seriously, we have to admit that there is nobody outside of God’s love, no sin that is unforgivable. We just have to choose to embrace this radical grace instead of our wicked and sinful schemes, including those schemes which allow us to judge others as inferior or outside of God’s love.

It’s true. God is much more loving than I can imagine. God constantly extends grace way after I would have given up on somebody. For example, I’m not a universalist. The simple and honest reason: I have a hard time seeing how God’s love can be that powerful. I really do. I can disguise that belief behind biblical texts that probably don’t really have anything to do with the afterlife. I can give good philosophical reasons about free will. But it basically comes down to whether God’s grace is really so powerful that it can eventually woo ever single human being no matter how stuck in their sin they are. I might hope it is that good, but I don’t fully believe it. If it were up to me, the lines would be pretty clear – and largely arbitrary – about who was deserving of love and who wasn’t. Of course, I slowly see a better way of grace in line with my new self, but it is a constant battle against the old self’s impulse to judge and divide.

Thank you, God, that your ways are higher than mine.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.