Monday, 3 September 2018

He Does What He Wants

If this year has taught me nothing else, it's that there is nothing like signing yourself up for a Creative Writing MA for making you absolutely freak out and freeze up every time even the mildest thought of putting pen to paper/ fingers to keyboard enters your freaking, frozen head.

But here I am, hoping the thawing process has begun.

(Full disclosure: my sister's mother-in-law Heather has made the most amazing frosted blueberry cake - it's so fluffy I could die- and I have banned myself from eating any until I have finished this post.)

In addition to my writing anxieties, it's felt like a rough few months. In a number of ways, life has been hard. I don't know about you, but I find that every time I go through a tough patch I am baffled that my 'theology of suffering' is not more robust. But recently I have found myself, amid the turmoil, coming back to the thought: God does what he wants.

Life circumstances have felt ruthless at times and I have spent an inordinate amount of time (even for me) weeping, as I have tried to understand God's Sovereignty and the fall out of living life in a messy, broken world with a messy, broken heart. I've realised that I want things to be different, and the weight and rage of my disappointments have shown me how much I really resent the fact that I am not the one calling the shots.

Yesterday in church we sang: "be lifted up, be lifted up - as we bow down, be lifted up". I felt wretched as we sang, feeling the call to surrender to Jesus and his will as it seems to have unfolded this year, this lifetime. At least part of me wanted to bow down before the truth that God is God, and I am not. God, after all, does what he wants.

I am staying with my sister in Canada at the moment and we've had a number of heart to hearts. One day we walked to the lake near her house, sun beating down on us, shimmering water lapping on to the rocks.  Tranquil? Ha! Not so much. In these serene surroundings, (and not for the first time this summer) I railed (and wailed!) against the way God works, the way sometimes things play out so brutally, against the way, however much we fight for hope, suffering and despair seems so inevitable and inescapable. I said, "if I loved my friend I wouldn't work this way."  I talked about what it feels like to have your hope broken so completely that it seems beyond repair, how dreadful that loss is when hope is such a precious commodity to you. I said to another friend, "I trusted Jesus would catch me if I fell. But I feel like I've fallen, and all there is is brokenness."

And all these conversations ended with these words lodging heavily in my heart: God does what he wants. Every time it came to me I could feel my heart hardening around their truth, feeling them thud in my mind like concrete blocks: He doesn't need to explain himself to me; he made the heavens; he made me; he can ask whatever He wants of me, regardless of how costly it may feel.

Of course, this is true: God does what he wants. At the end of Job, God didn't sit down and tell him all the ways he had been working to glorify himself through his servant's faithfulness. He just said, "Did you make snow? Do you know when mountain goats give birth? Are you commanding the universe?" (And of course, like Job, my answers are no, and no, and I'm trying, but evidently no. So I too lay my hand on my mouth (Job 40:4))

But this morning as I was praying, I was convicted that I wasn't believing the full truth and felt I should look at the context of the verse my cling-to mantra came from.

It's Psalm 115: 3, and it was a real rebuke to me. It is actually given as an answer to a question.

The question is: "Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"

And verse 3 answers: Our God is in heaven; He does all he pleases."

What a rebuke to my heart that used those words as a way of saying, "I just have to endure the harshness of God." These words are written to challenge the question "where is God?" The psalmist is saying: don't believe the idea that God is  Sovereign and so therefore far off and callous and aloof  and harsh and entitled to do what he wants so suck it up, y'all. No, he says: our God is doing what he pleases, which is loving us.

God is not just "God". He is the LORD: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." (Exodus 34:6)

And of course who He is makes and enormous difference to what he wants. And what does the Lord want? This psalm is rich with declarations of it. What the LORD of the covenant wants, he boldly declares, is to be faithful to us.

The LORD does all he pleases so "he is our help and shield" (v9, v10, v11). The LORD does all he pleases so "he has remembered us" (v12). The LORD does all he pleases so "he will bless us, he will bless us, he will bless us" (v12, v13).  The LORD does all he pleases so he will glorify himself by showing us "steadfast love and faithfulness" (v1).  Again, God wants to help us and shield us and remember us and bless us and love us and be faithful to us. And hallelujah, God does what he wants!

As John Piper writes, "our salvation through the death of Christ for us hangs on this: our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases."

So as I keep limping a long a path that feels harsh and steep, I am trying to remind myself that God doing what he wants is not bad news, but glorious good news. These words can be a soothing balm rather than a weighty slab. His will is to be steadfast in his faithfulness and love towards me: to be my help and my shield and my source of blessing.

I am praying that, even through tears, Jesus gives me humility enough not just to surrender to a God who does what he wants, but to trusting which God this is who does what he wants: the faithful to the covenant LORD.

The LORD is not a God who needs to have what real love looks like explained to him. He is Love's definition from deepest eternity. He is Love's source through all ages. He is the Lover of Israel: patient and faithful and redeeming and patient and faithful and redeeming. He is the God of Calvary's Love: mysterious beyond fathoming and faithful unto death, the crescendo of Heaven's sweetest songs and most triumphant anthems, the redeemer of Hell's greatest darknesses.

How foolish of me to think I could teach him about love.

In the coming days I imagine I will need to, time and again, throw myself on the One who binds up messy, broken hearts and this messy, broken world, reminding myself that He does what he wants, but that what He wants, by the unfathomable mystery of the grace of His perfect character, is to be covenantally, generously, infinitely faithful to a wretch like me.

I'm praying you'll know Him too. 


  1. You write so beautifully, Phil, not only in your expression but also in how you capture the truth of things.
    I know there wasn't really a twist ending to that post but it felt like it.
    There's nothing quite like checking to see what the Bible actually says as a way of reordering perspective is there? And also cake.

  2. Thanks for this post Philippa, for your vulnerability and pointing me back to psalm 115- full of gold. Reminding myself that god does not need to have love explained to him ����

  3. Such an encouragement and reminder about God's character and infinite love. How I need to hear that everyday! Thank you for your honesty, it's so refreshing.


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