What Does it Mean That God Works in Mysterious Ways?

God works in ways that are often deemed “mysterious”— that is to say, God’s methods often leave people bewildered. Why would God tell Joshua and the children of Israel to march around the city of Jericho for a week (Joshua 6:1-4)?

What good could come from Paul and Silas being arrested and beaten without cause (Acts 16:22-24)? Why would God allow Joni Eareckson, a talented, vivacious teenager, to break her neck in a diving accident and spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair?

The Mystery of God’s Ways

The processes God uses, the interplay of human freedom and God’s sovereignty, and God’s ultimate summations are far beyond what the limited human mind can understand.

The Bible and the testimonies of Christians down through the ages are brimming with true stories of how God turned situation after situation, problem after problem, life after life, completely upside down —and He often does it in the most unexpected, astonishing, and inexplicable ways.

Biblical Examples of God’s Mysterious Ways

Joseph’s life is an excellent example of the mysterious way God sometimes works (Genesis 37:1-50:26). In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

In this statement, Joseph summarizes his life events, beginning with the evil his brothers did to him and ending with his recognition that it was all part of God’s beneficent plan to rescue His covenant people (Genesis 15:13-14).

There was a famine in Canaan where Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrew people, had settled (Genesis 43:1), so Joseph brought all of them out of Canaan and into Egypt (Genesis 46:26-27).

Joseph provided food for them all because he had become governor of Egypt and was in charge of buying and selling food (Genesis 42:6).

Why was Joseph in Egypt? Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery some 20 years earlier and were now dependent upon him for their sustenance (Genesis 37:28).

This irony is only a small part of what happened in Joseph’s life; God’s paradoxical movement is obvious throughout all of Joseph’s history.

If Joseph had not been governor over Egypt and moved his kinsmen there, there would be no story of Moses, no exodus from Egypt 400 years later (Exodus 6:1-8).

If Joseph would have had a choice whether or not his brothers sold him into slavery, it’s reasonable to assume Joseph would have said “no.” 

If Joseph had been given the choice whether or not to be imprisoned on false charges (Genesis 39:1-20), again, he probably would have said “no.” 

Who would willingly choose such mistreatment? But it was in Egypt that Joseph was able to save his family, and it was in prison that the door opened to the palace.

God Knows the Beginning from the End

God “declares the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10-11), and we can be sure every event in the life of a believer serves God’s ultimate plan (Isaiah 14:24; Romans 8:28). In our minds, the way God weaves remarkable events in and through our lives may seem illogical and beyond our understanding. 

However, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Christians know that God’s thoughts are above our thoughts and God’s ways are higher than ours, “as the heavens are higher than the earth” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Thankfulness and the Mystery of God’s Ways

It is easy to be filled with thanksgiving the first time we confess Christ, for the riches of God’s grace and mercy shine so clearly the moment we come out of the darkness of sin and into the light of the kingdom.

Over time, however, as we walk with Jesus and face everyday life struggles, it can be difficult to maintain the spirit of thanksgiving we enjoyed at our conversion. We need reminders of all that Christ has done for us so that we never forget our need to thank and bless God for His work.

Paul gives us these reminders in Ephesians 1, and in Ephesians 1:8-9, the apostle tells us that our Creator has not only saved us from His wrath through Jesus’ blood, but that forgiveness is not the only gift lavished upon us through the Savior (Ephesians 1:1-7).

That grace would have been more than enough, but in Christ, the Father has bestowed this forgiveness “in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:8).

We need not only the pardon of our sins to be faithful disciples of our Lord, but also the knowledge of how we should live in light of our forgiven status — in freedom without taking advantage of God’s mercy or presuming upon His grace (Romans 6:1-14; 1 Peter 2:16).

The wisdom and insight needed to accomplish this hard task is given to us in Jesus (Ephesians 1:8), but that does not mean that we always put this wisdom into practice, for Paul asks in Ephesians 1:17 for the insight given in Jesus to increase.

For wisdom and insight to be effective, they must be cultivated, and we cultivate what the Lord has already given to us in Jesus through prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship, and the other means of grace (Colossians 1:9-11; 2 Timothy 2:16; Philemon 4-7).

If we do not continually nurture this wisdom, we may lose our ability to practice it, just as Solomon started out looking for wisdom but later fell into foolishness (1 Kings 3:1-15; 11:1-43).

Pouring wisdom and insight upon us, God also made known to us “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9). The mystery of God’s will is His plan to redeem His people through the death and resurrection of His Son, the way of salvation that we cannot discern from nature but receive by faith alone as the Word of God is proclaimed to us (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Wisdom, the ability to put what we know into right action, seems to be in short supply these days, but Paul assures us that we have the wisdom needed to live for Christ as a gift of divine grace.

The Holy Spirit who dwells within us brings this wisdom to mind as we pray, contemplate His Word, and seek to put the commandments of God into practice. We must, therefore, not neglect to pray and hear Scripture preached faithfully and regularly.

The Problem of Evil and the Life of Faith

One of the hardest issues for both Christians and non-Christians is understanding why evil exists in the world. The philosophies, theologies, and theories that have evolved as a response to the problem of evil are as ancient as man himself.

Man’s obsession with the question of evil has an origin — the Garden of Eden. It’s there we see that man became a sinner by nature and by choice (Psalm 3; Romans 3).

Man is entirely corrupted by sin from conception in the womb to his last days here on earth. In the Garden, Adam was charged not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Instead of obeying that command and instructing Eve, man abdicated his responsibility. Thus, the Fall of Man is absolute and devastating not only to Adam but to everyone after Adam. And this is why the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, had to come to die for sin and sinners and rise again.

Only through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, and His sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection can man have their sins forgiven. Only because the fully white-hot fury of God the Father was placed upon the Son at the time of His death on the cross can man be forgiven.

It was there on the cross that the sin of man was transferred to Christ. And it’s also only through the death of Christ that the image of God marred by the Fall can man be reconciled to God through His blood.

We live in a bad news world. From the media to blogs, to a whole host of new media, our world is only focused on its problems. It has no time to look up to God. It also has little concern or need for God.

In all the discussions of the problem of evil, justice, and even suffering in our world, we are at the center, instead of the Lord. Man, in his natural state, is at enmity against the LORD. War, economic failure, injustice, etc., all find their beginnings in the Fall of Man in the Garden.

And there’s glorious news here, whether you have cancer, have had a miscarriage, a failed adoption, or other debilitating diseases, illnesses, death in your family, or other unfortunate situations.

The good news is that we have a Lord and Savior in Jesus who is utterly sinless whose death provides our pardon and whose resurrection secured new life forever and always with our Beloved of God.

For further reading:

Can We Know God’s Will?

How Can God Make Good What Was Meant for Evil?

How Do We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight?

Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

Will God Really Meet All My Needs?

Is Saying ‘Lord Willing’ Biblical?

How Can I Get to Know God Better?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Moussa81


Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Leave a Reply