Unexpected Answers to Our Biggest Questions

God simply doesn’t do things our way.

His plans are not our plans — his thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). His ways are higher. And not just a little bit higher. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Yes, he is Creator almighty, and we are mere creatures. He is infinite; we are finite. He is God, and we are not — but don’t miss the jewel in the context of these often quoted verses from Isaiah 55: While we are not gracious by nature, he is. Where our only reflex is to dole out punishment, he stands ready to forgive — and not just forgive, but “abundantly pardon.”

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)

He is a God beyond our natural expectations and inclinations, not just in the power of his might, but in the wideness of his mercy. We don’t expect God to abundantly pardon the wicked and unrighteous, but his ways are higher, and more glorious — what John Piper calls the peculiar glory of God.

God’s Unique Glory

We humans — finite, frail, and fallen — have our natural expectations for what glory is. We are inclined to think of glory in terms of impressive displays of bigness and raw power, or exhibitions of dominance and conquest. While God’s grandeur and might have no lack, still his ways are higher than our imaginations and expectations. He defies our small minds and narrow hearts as he reveals himself to us in his Son, who is not only our sovereign Lion but also our sacrificial Lamb.

“God simply doesn’t do things our way.”

Jesus celebrated this peculiar glory in his prayer, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). The apostle Paul penned his own celebration when he wrote that God has chosen for his people those whom the world sees as foolish, weak, and low “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29). Paul then gives us four major flashpoints where natural human expectations and God’s unexpected glory collide:

Because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)

Consider these massive realities and how what God has revealed to us about them challenges our natural instincts and gives unexpected answers to our biggest questions.

Where Will I Find Direction?

A wise person is commonly thought of as one who knows how the world works. He has accumulated knowledge over time through observation and education. We assume that older means wiser, since we acquire insight and know-how through the process of living out our days and discovering how the world works. Ordinary wisdom like this is a kind of common sense learned over time.

However, “wisdom from God” comes from knowing his special revelation of himself and observing the world he made and upholds in light of what he has said. God’s wisdom is something we are given. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. . . . Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:5, 17).

We earned and accumulate ordinary wisdom over time through observation and experience, but God’s extraordinary wisdom comes as an unearned gift through his word to us through his apostles and prophets.

How Do I Find Acceptance?

Righteousness means doing what is right according to some set standard. Ordinarily, we become righteous by what we do — whether our actions are on par, or not, with what has been established as “right.”

God’s extraordinary righteousness, on the other hand, is a gift-righteousness. Through simple faith in the person of his Son, who is fully and perfectly divine and human, God counts us to be righteous, even though we are “ungodly” (Romans 4:5). He declares those who are unrighteous in and of themselves to be truly righteous. They are joined to Jesus and have graciously received credit for an alien righteousness produced by another.

What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?

All of us are irreducibly “spiritual,” wired by our Creator to seek purpose and rest in some source beyond what we can see and touch. No matter how hard we fight it, we are drawn deep down by spiritual yearnings that entail some kind of “holiness,” keeping ourselves from negative influences in the world. We instinctively try to keep ourselves “clean” from certain foods or substances or people or perspectives. Some form of asceticism beckons us to learn its disciplines and lifestyle. And ordinary “sanctification” presumes that we do it in our own strength.

But God offers an extraordinary sanctification. He sets us apart from the world, and then sends us back in to win others (John 17:14–18) and reclaim terrain from the prince of darkness. And we do it not by summoning our own power, but in the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11).

How Do I Get Free?

This is my chance to redeem myself. Regularly, we hear the world express its instinct about where we should look for definitive rescue. You yourself can rise above past mistakes, errors, and bad judgments. Make up for them with some new achievement more impressive than your miscues.

“You are not the master of your fate or captain of your soul. God has done for you what only he can do.”

But God offers a peculiar redemption: someone else acts to bring you back. You don’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; you are pulled up from the pit by the strong arm of another. You are not your own liberator. You are not the master of your fate or captain of your soul, but the very God of the universe has done for you what only he can do.

God’s unexpected answer to our biggest questions is “I will provide.” Whether wisdom, righteousness, holiness, or redemption, God takes the decisive initiative and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and promises to be for us what we cannot be for ourselves. And so we gladly say, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”