Photo Credit: Smithsonian American
Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. (Ezekiel 1: 15-19; ESV)
Every once in a while, while I’m reading the Bible, a particular verse speaks to me in a way that causes me to sit up and take notice. Usually what follows is a period of meditation. Sometimes I quote the verse on a social network such as Twitter or Facebook. Recently that happened with a verse in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). No sooner had I posted that when someone commented saying something to the effect that she doubted that verse was even inspired by the Holy Spirit, for she felt that it contradicted what Jesus said in other places.
I hear that kind of misguided talk every once in a while. Some people think that some parts of the Bible “seem” to contradict other parts, and so they come up with all sorts of wild reasons for it, such as a part being “uninspired.” Others have tried to convince me that the church has misread the Bible in some kind of way, which in some cases it no doubt has. However, other times it seems that they (ironically) suggest such misinterpretation for no other reason than to justify their own doctrinal biases. Still others seem to feel that God has changed somewhere along the line and no longer views sin, for example, in the same way He did before.
The problem with a lot of those online theological discussions, or any discussions for that matter, is that they tend to often become divisive and unedifying. The one thing often missing in the equation is LOVE one for another. I’m reminded of Job’s wife. Sometimes I think that what Job said to her he would say to us too, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). That is so us sometimes, isn’t it? We see the one wheel of God’s Providence, but refuse to acknowledge the other wheel of His Providence because we see it turned in a different direction than we are comfortable going in. Sometimes we too are as Job’s “foolish woman.”
Paul cautioned Timothy to “turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (1 Timothy 6: 20-21; NIV). Is there a wandering from the faith in Christendom today? Sometimes I do wonder about that.
We are so used to opposing and contradictory ideas; the world is full of them. I’m convinced that some people must go out of their way to try and find such ideas, if for no other reason, than simply to get our goats. Perhaps I’ve even been guilty of it a time or two myself. But as someone once said, “if you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t tell him where it’s tied.”
Still, the question of “apparent” contradictions remains. What are we to do with them? Does the Bible contradict itself? Certainly not! So how do we reconcile this? Could it be possible that, when “apparent” contradictions appear, it is not a case of the Bible contradicting itself, but rather a case of man not fully understanding the mind of God on that particular issue? That, my friend, is the only answer that makes sense to me.
Ezekiel said, “the four had the same likeness.” Spurgeon commented by saying,
There were four wheels and four faces, yet one likeness. There was but one piece of machinery; and thus we are taught that Providence is all one. Sometimes providences seem to cross each other. One thing that God does seems to contradict the next thing; but it never really does so. It is a great truth, though hard for us to grasp, that Providence is one.
To illustrate this, Spurgeon reflects on the life of Joseph. God’s plan was for Joseph to be the governor over all the land of Egypt. At the time, nobody knew of that plan but God alone. If we were to reflect for a while on the terrible things that happened to Joseph before becoming governor, it would be hard for us to see God’s providential hand in his life at all. If we see it now, we do so only because we are now aware of the whole story. However, looking at the events as they unfolded would likely lead to a very different conclusion on our parts. Certainly God, some might reason, if He existed at all, could not have loved Joseph! How could a loving God allow all those horrible things to happen to righteous Joseph? Others might balk at our suggestion that God was a God of love because of the events that transpired. Sold into slavery by his brothers, his father Jacob’s heart being broken all those years as he mourned the loss of his son, Joseph forced to work in heathen Potiphar’s house, his character assassinated as he is accused of attempted rape, imprisoned for years in a dungeon, etc, etc, etc. Contradiction, contradiction, contradiction! But was it so? No, it wasn’t. Somehow in the midst of it all, was God’s hand of “uniform” Providence.
We see this same thing in the Trinity. God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. God is three, but God is one. Contradictory? Some would say so, but most Christians, though perhaps not understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, are at peace with it despite its apparent contradictions. The Apostle Paul said, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12; NIV).
Isn’t it only after the fact that we see the bigger picture? Could it be possible that all those “pseudo” contradictions in the Bible aren’t contradictions at all, but are rather simply our faulty misunderstandings of the nature and providence of God? I suspect that on our first morning in glory, when we finally see Him face to face, that we may shake our heads in wonderment as to how we possibly could have thought all those strange and wild things that we did.
Spurgeon described God’s dealings with us and His creation as a large woven carpet. The Lord looks down at this beautiful carpet and sees the finished work. We, on the other hand, look up at the same carpet from the underside and see only the mess of different threads and yarns, seemingly going in every different direction, and void of any real logical plan. Unfortunately, you and I often tend to only see the wrong side of God’s Providence. Because the events around us seem to contradict what we think we know about God, we’re quick to cry “foul,” as the person did who essentially chastised me for quoting Philippians 2:12.
We give God’s Providence a bad name, or disbelieve it altogether, because we tend to grumble when there is sickness or death or unemployment, or a host of other things. Sometimes we’re even made to feel guilty by other well meaning Christians who will tell us that bad things happen only to those who lack faith, or have a weak faith. Personally, I don’t buy that line of reasoning. When that happens, I remind myself of Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Ah, the sovereignty of God! Spurgeon continued,
That is no business of yours. It is yours to believe that all things work together for one great purpose: that one thing never crosses another. But you must not expect to see it just yet. Here on earth the machine appears to be broken into pieces, and we can only see it in confusion; but in heaven we shall see it all put together.
In Spurgeon’s language, the Providence of God is “uniform.” In other words, it remains always the same and doesn’t change. God’s word doesn’t change, His nature doesn’t change, His love doesn’t change, and His providential care of this world doesn’t change. “I the Lord do not change,” God said in Malachi 3:6. The God of Genesis 1 is exactly the same as the God of Revelation 22.
So, perhaps we would do well to remember that the best we can do this side of glory is to see bits and pieces of God’s Providence. Though things might seem a bit peculiar, or even contradictory to us, they are not so to our loving Heavenly Father.
Can we rest in that?