Is It Okay to Question God?
Sometimes, in scripture, it seems as though God responds with compassion and answers to questions. Other times, it seems God responds with a rebuke. Why?
I remember asking that question years ago, when I was studying this prophet’s book with a group of seasoned Bible studiers. After mulling it over for a while, one person said, “I think it is okay to seek understanding from God, but it is never okay to question God’s character or methods.” I could see what she was saying. God always responds to our desire to better know the Lord, to better understand how to apply God’s wisdom to our lives.
But the other is to put God in the defendant’s seat and demand either answers, an apology, or restitution.
The Potter and the Clay
It is a well-known and oft-quoted passage.
Woe to those who strive with their Maker,
earthen vessels with the potter![c]
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?
or “Your work has no handles”?
Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you fathering?”Isaiah 45:9-10 (NRSV)
or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”
Clay does not talk back to the potter, and newborns do not demand an explanation from their parents. God does not encourage you and me to shake our fist at God. Even when expressing anger towards God, as Job’s wife famously suggested, there is a difference between the expression of our feelings with a cry for understanding, or the venting of one’s spleen with a demand for recompense.
God invites you and me to communicate our pain, to plead for mercy, to describe our emotions in all humility, remembering God is the Lord of the universe, and we are but infants, or even just clay. God certainly holds in compassion those who are overcome with fury. God’s wrath is holy! Anger is sometimes the only right response to certain situations.
But God never invites us to rage against the Lord.
Thus says the Lord,Isaiah 45:11 (NRSV)
the Holy One of Israel and its Maker:
Will you question me about my children
or command me concerning the work of my hands?
By the power of God’s word, the Lord was going to bring all that had been spoken to fulfillment. This is what prophecy is all about—the power of God’s word sustained by the power of very God.
Fulfillment of Prophecy
When a prophetic word comes to pass, it is more than a prediction coming true. It is God’s word coming alive, two dimensional words becoming three dimensional reality.
Therefore, prophecy is more than just talking about God, or trying to figure things out.
Prophecy is speaking God’s message under the influence of the Holy Spirit
To prophesy is to speak the mind and counsel of God past, present, and future. This is what Peter was driving at when he explained his own prophetic voice.
We [meaning Peter] have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this,
2 Peter 1:21 (NRSV, modifications mine)
- that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
- because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Fulfilled prophecy authenticates the message.
Certainly there are soothsayers today who have a higher rate of success in predicting the future. The few who become well-known are those whose success-rate is high enough to get the public’s attention. Their previous success rate adds a certain measure of confidence to what they will now say.
(I am definitely not recommending consulting soothsayers! I am only using an adjacent example in the general public today to show my point)
In the same way, the fulfilled prophecy of old authenticates all that prophet had to convey. God accompanies the words of God’s messengers with signs, wonders, and fulfilled prophecy. By doing so, the Bible itself is authenticated as a genuine word from God as delivered by God’s messengers.
One True Word
Fulfilled prophecy proves that the God of the Bible is really God, and that God is the one true God.
God alone is omniscient
God knows everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future, down to the smallest detail. There is nothing outside the scope of what God sees and knows.
God alone is omnipotent
God is powerful enough to make what God says will happen, actually happen. The only way prophecy can be fulfilled is if the God Who reveals future events is also the God Who governs history to see that things come to pass as God predicted.
- Accidents, tragedies, natural disasters, rebellions, the violence going on right now in certain parts of the world, are all part of life post-Eden. The moment the first man and woman brought sin into the world, the heavy burden of hardship, corruption, and death soon followed. No human is exempt, no matter how godly. Think of all the hardships even the Lord Jesus endured, including the cross.
- God is in control even when it does not always seem so.
- God has a purpose in what God allows, even when you and I do not know what it is. Who could have guessed that it would be a good thing for Daniel and his companions to become prisoners of war in Babylon?
- Tragedy can serve as a wake-up call. That is exactly what going into exile was for the ancient Israelites. After that, they never had a problem with idolatry again. C.S. Lewis once wrote “pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” Stubborn people will sometimes only pay attention when something terrible happens.
God alone is truly sovereign
God’s will prevails even through the caprices of human nature and human choices.
I made the earth
and created humankind upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,Isaiah 45:12-13 (NRSV)
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
says the Lord of hosts.
As creator, the Lord defines reality, so you and I trust what God says
Just as fulfilled prophecies authenticate the message, the many more prophecies still waiting to be fulfilled also pass inspection. Thousands of biblical prophecies have already come to pass. Therefore, we can be confident those prophecies yet to come true will in every detail.
In ancient times prophecy had to be true all the time, as Moses instructed.
“You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?’
“If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously.”Deuteronomy 18:21-22 (NRSV, modifications mine)
If a prophet had even a one percent fail-rate, it meant the prophecy came from some other source than the one true God, and the penalty for that was being stoned to death. (See why I would not recommend going to a soothsayer for advice?)
In today’s text, God makes a point of confounding the diviners. God’s word alone has guaranteed accuracy.
Prophecy is fulfilled on God’s timetable, not ours.
God has specific dates already on the calendar, as Jeremiah and Daniel pointed out.
A single prophecy may be fulfilled more than once, in different ways, in different time periods.
Almost all prophecies had meaning and weight for their original hearers because they would be partially fulfilled in their own day as a sign of their complete fulfillment in a day still to come. In that sense, Cyrus was a type of Messiah, of the Lord Jesus Who would one day come.
So essentially, God is saying, in this passage, “My plan is better than you think.” Cyrus, the Persian conqueror was not a threat to God’s plan, he was God’s plan, and it was a good plan.