The secret things of God
September 5, 2012
To what degree, and how exhaustively, does one need to know something in order to appreciate and joyfully participate in it? Now, if you’re anything like me, you are already fighting the impulse to organize a full on polemic against a point i’m not trying to make, so i’ll get right to it here.
It may date me somewhat irreparably, but i remember quite well the TV and magazine advertisements for Cadbury’s Caramilk Bar, which always ended with the punch line, “How do they get the caramilk inside the Caramilk bar?” This apparently was a secret of national importance that even the US president did not have access to; surely, a secret too wonderful for the likes of the common man such as myself to know.
But imagine with me for a moment, then, a boy or girl (a man or woman even) who received such a Caramilk bar – made in this secret, clandestine, transcendent way – who was so absorbed with discovering this secret that the idea of just ‘enjoying a chocolate bar’ was seen as frivolous and pointless even. In fact, they even went so far as to say that the chocolate bar could not be enjoyed without first discovering the secret?
Now you or i might look at such an individual and say that this is ‘ridiculous nonsense’ and that ‘perhaps this person was dropped as a child’ or something of the like. ‘Who cares,’ we might argue, ‘how they get that stuff in there? It’s good, whether i know how it’s made or not!’ We might, in turn, even go so far as to say that the enjoyment of the chocolate bar would be lost by pursuing such cleverly hidden and – ultimately – meaningless knowledge.
I can see i’ve already spent too much time on this point and, as the apostle Paul quipped regarding oxen, it is not for chocolate bars that i am concerned here. The rub of it all is simply this: there are things God has revealed to us for our instruction and our good, and there are also things He has hidden from us, also to instruct to some degree, but certainly also for our good.
In Deuteronomy 29:29 – after much pains has been taken to recount the Law of God and recount the now familiar covenant language of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience – Moses writes,
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
I don’t intend to give a treatise on divine sovereignty or God’s transcendence here (or probably in any blog post for that matter), but merely to speak what the plain reading of this text seems to be saying viz. that what God has revealed to us in His Word is both good and sufficient for His children. And also, by implication, we need not seek to discover what He has chosen not to reveal to us in order to more deeply appreciate, or joyfully submit to, what He has revealed.
This, of course, does not mean that we are not to press deeply into what God has revealed to us in His Word and in His creation, and, through prayer and study, seek to squeeze out every last ounce of goodness and knowledge we can. The whole premise of this blog would suggest that this is my belief! But just like the person so intent on discovering the secret of the Caramilk bar, ultimately, looses both the enjoyment of the bar and the bar itself, i believe there is also a way in which we can become so obsessed with discovering what God has not chosen to reveal, that we can miss both the gift and the Giver.
There are many and sundry examples where this is evident; let’s look at just one for now. The loss of a loved one, either to disease or some tragedy, can send even the strongest of believers into a tail-spin of questions and doubt. ‘Why didn’t God stop this?’ ‘Why did God take this person?’ ‘Did i do something to deserve this?’ When the loss is unexpected or involves a child, these questions may only become intensified.
But, i believe, here we have one example of the secret things of God. We can scream ‘WHY?’ to the heavens until our throats bleed, but the answer will not come. Or, worse yet, read the book of Job to see how terrifying it is when – on rare occasions – God does answer the question which would leave any of us wishing for the former. We can also waste years and alienate many close to us searching the ruins and wreckage for ‘clues’ that never lead anywhere or bring any life. Sadly, some may finally walk away from God in the search when ‘acceptable’ answers cannot be found.
And yet – following the text at hand – what has God revealed to us? Foundationally, we know the Character of our God: that He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103), that He is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth (Dan.4), that He is a loving, meticulous Creator (Ps. 139), and that all things work according to His plan for our ultimate good and His glory (Rom. 8:28, Eph. 1:11, Ps. 139), and on and on and on and on and on. This is no powerless, aloof deity nor is He a capricious, sadistic tyrant. We serve a loving Father who Shepherds us in the absolute best way possible, but who also makes no promise to explain Himself to us.
In Isaiah 55 we read, “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.” This is no ‘cosmic cop-out’, where God patronizingly tells us not to bother trying to figure it out. It’s really as though God is, through His word here, hugging a crying one-year-old who can’t understand why they can’t play by the open window, and saying, “It’s gonna be ok. I love you and I know much better than you ever could what’s best for you, even if I could never explain it to you now in a way you’d understand.”
In His commentary on Deut. 29:29, Calvin said, “[it is] as though it were said, “God indeed retains to Himself secret things, which it neither concerns nor profits us to know, and which surpass our comprehension; but these things, which He has declared to us, belong to us and to our children.” It is a remarkable passage, and especially deserving of our observation, for by it audacity and excessive curiosity are condemned, whilst pious minds are aroused to be zealous in seeking instruction.”
Let us give ourselves to an ever deepening knowledge of the Holy, and by it, may we revel in what our loving Father has revealed to us; may we bow the knee in worship and also find balm in our hour of doubt and anguish. But beyond this, let us leave the secret things of God where He has lovingly placed them: out of our finite reach.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counsellor?” Rom. 11:34