Okay, not sure how clear this is going to be, but here’s what I’m chewing on this morning . . .
Started in on Galatians and what initially grabs me and stirs my soul is this:
But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone . . .
(Galatians 1:15-16 ESV)
Paul was set apart before he was born, called by grace, and given eyes to see the risen Savior and a heart to submit to Jesus as the reigning Lord of his life. God set him apart. God called him. God revealed His Son to him. God, God, God. It’s all of God.
I get that. I identity with it. It wasn’t that I sought Him as much as it was He had set me apart. I didn’t reach out to Him apart from Him first calling me. Mine wasn’t a Damascus Road experience, but He nonetheless revealed His Son to me. I get it. I’m in awe of it. I worship afresh as I chew on it.
But then, as I hover over the passage, something else pops from the page that reminds me just how high God’s ways are above my ways.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
(Galatians 1:13 ESV)
Why didn’t God reveal His Son to Paul prior to Paul violently persecuting the church? Why wasn’t Paul confronted with irresistible grace before irresistibly going after God’s people? Why allow the sin nature to wreak such havoc before divinely intervening to bring about a new creation in Christ?
Because it was God’s timing? His perfect, pre-determined timing? Because it was God’s will? I’m thinkin’ . . .
But what about all the stuff that happened which we know isn’t in the will of God? Like unfounded executions (Acts 8:1)? Like ravaging the homes of ordinary, defenseless people and dragging men and women off to prison for no other reason than their faithfulness to God (Acts 8:3)? Like constantly threatening God’s people, relentlessly pursuing them in order to put them to death (Acts 9:1)? We know that executing someone without cause is not approved of by God, much less the execution of the righteous. We know that tearing apart the homes of the innocent, unwarranted persecution, and unjust imprisonment isn’t the will of God.
Unless, it would seem, it is. For God, in His perfect timing, called the one He had set apart from before birth and, according to grace alone, revealed His Son to him — timing that was post Paul’s persecution phase of life.
Things that are explicitly forbidden of God yet permitted by God. How many things like that do we encounter in day-to-day life? Not to the extent of persecution and murder, but other stuff, particularly stuff involving and impacting believers. Stuff that you gotta think, if God wanted to, God could “fix it,” or stop it, or miraculously interrupt it with a Damascus Road experience.
And yet, He doesn’t. And so we’re left to figure out how to deal with stuff that we know is not in God’s express will in a way that glorifies God because it would seem to be part of His permissive will. Maybe not so much the will of God, but at the least, the plan of God. Ultimately to accomplish the purposes of God. Purposes which we just can’t see or comprehend in the moment. Like I said, like God said:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
Walking through the “not the will of God” stuff in a way that still seeks to glorify God — thinking that’s what we’re called to do sometimes.
Trusting God. Firmly convinced that He will work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28).
According to His high and holy thoughts. Through His high and holy ways. In His high and holy and perfect timing.
By His grace. For His glory.