Perplexed? Confused? Me (and John Calvin) too


There are many things that we do not understand. Things that can shake our faith, whether on a personal, corporate or global level, are in no short supply. Obviously there are a number of ways that we can react to that which troubles us. We can point the finger at God – even explain him away. If we’re more creative we can reinterpret God in an attempt to get him off the hook and fit him more comfortably into our current experience of the world. And, of course, there are those who believe God to be in the right, but who are more than content to see him as distant, even disconnected from the world that we live in. Are these our only options? How might we faithfully respond to the challenges of life when it’s much easier to run from, reframe, or remove God?
In his commentary on Habakkuk, John Calvin points out that in the face of confusion the best approach we can take is to turn ourselves toward God rather than turning away from him, to reframe ourselves in light of his redemptive story rather than making him fit into ours. I have found the following prayer from Calvin, echoing Habakkuk, to be immensely helpful in dealing with the faith-taxing confusions that we all face:
“How does this happen, O Lord? …Thou seest how I am distracted, and also held fast bound – distracted by many absurd thoughts, so that I am almost confounded, and held fast bound by great perplexities, from which I cannot extricate myself. Do thou, O Lord, unfold to me these knots, and concentrate my scattered thoughts, that I may what is true, and what I am to believe; and especially remove from me this doubt, lest it should shake my faith; O Lord, grant that I may at length know and fully understand how thou art just, and overrulest, consistently with perfect equity, those things which seem to be so confused” (Commentary on Habakkuk 1:14-15).
To be faithful in times of trouble is not to turn from but to God, to ask him to shape us rather than taking the liberty to reshape him, and to, in the very act of engaging him in prayer, recognize that he is directly engaged with our world in its many-faceted brokenness. Yes, we must ask questions, we must seek answers, and at times we must speak quite directly with God about the injustices that we perceive in our world, as did Habakkuk. But, if we seek to be faithful in our questions and perceptions, we must proceed with a faith-filled confidence in God’s gospel, where mercy and justice are on clear display, and all is promised to eventually be made clear, right and beautiful.