Looking at Life from the Top Down1
Many mistakenly think that if they could only witness a miracle, some sign or wonder, that their faith would forever remain strong and that they would never question God’s goodness or the certainty of his promises. Continue reading . . .
Many mistakenly think that if they could only witness a miracle, some sign or wonder, that their faith would forever remain strong and that they would never question God’s goodness or the certainty of his promises. While signs, wonders, and miracles are wonderful expressions of divine power and provision, for which we should always give thanks, they often do not accomplish what we hoped they might. The fault is not with the supernatural, of course, but with us.
Consider Israel. No people at any time in history witnessed the power of the supernatural as often as did the nation of Israel, beginning with their Exodus out of Egypt until they stood on the borders of the promised land. The ten plagues that God brought upon their oppressors, their deliverance at the Red Sea, the daily guiding presence of the pillars of cloud and fire, the turning of bitter water into sweet, manna falling from heaven, water flowing from a rock, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the stunning defeat of Israel’s enemies, just to mention a few, would appear to be sufficient to sustain and deepen their faith in God and their confidence in the leadership of Moses. But such was not the case.
The Lord commanded Moses to send twelve spies into the land of Canaan to investigate the people who inhabited it. Upon their return, all but two responded in fear, doubt, and hesitation. God quite simply never factored into their assessment. They saw only the problem and proceeded to shrink! Caleb and Joshua, on the other hand, looked down upon the situation in the land from the perspective of God and his power and his promises. They were looking at the same group of Canaanites as did the ten, but their conclusion was altogether different. The discipline of God was severe, as only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter the promised land.
What we learn from this sad tale in Numbers 13:1-14:38 is that how we perceive and think about God will inform and shape how we perceive and think about everything else. Our concept of God will govern how we think about the political scene, interpersonal relationships, suffering and hardship, marriage, sex, the economy, and everything else that makes up our individual and corporate life on this earth.
In the world today, this has been inverted or reversed. It has been turned on its head. People today don’t interpret their world and their experience in the light of who God is, but empower their world and their experience to interpret who God is allowed to be.
How often do we experience either success or failure, pleasure or pain, hope or despair, joy or frustration, and then from that draw conclusions about who God is and whether or not he can be trusted or believed? Like so many of the Israelites, we invest in our circumstances the authority to dictate our concept of God. We see him in light of them, rather than the reverse.
Joshua and Caleb did not reason from the bottom up, as if life and its mysteries and struggles determine who God is. Rather, they reasoned from the top down. They saw everything in life in the light of who God is. It wasn’t that Caleb and Joshua were “positive thinkers” or overly optimistic whereas the other ten were pessimists. The issue wasn’t idealism versus realism. The issue was one of faith versus unbelief!
[This article was first published in the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible, available from Crossway Publishers, 2014.]