God doesn’t make excuses, give excuses, nor does he need to be excused. People, on the other hand, seem to need excuses for what they do—or fail to do. Some of the excuses we make represent a great deal of creativity in the field of cosmogony (the branch of philosophy that deals with cause and effect). For example, there was the time I played hooky from school. I forged my own excuse, writing, He was not at school because his aunt Esther is coming from Kansas City tomorrow and he had to clean his room.” Maybe—just maybe—the attendance clerk could have allowed herself to believe that it had taken me a whole school day to clean up my room. I somehow doubt, however, that she could have believed the authenticity of that note from the vantage point of my aunt’s visit “tomorrow,” since that would have meant I was bringing the excuse on the day that my aunt was supposed to be arriving.
We all constantly make excuses for what we did not do, would not do, don’t want to do and don’t intend to do. That seems to be our human nature. But a most curious thing about the human race is that we tend to make excuses for God, as well.
As for ourselves, surely the Almighty must be amused by some of our prayers. For example, sometimes we pray fervently for a person to be healed, pouring out our hearts with care and concern. Then we conclude our prayer by saying, “If it is your will, O Lord.”—as if somehow he would do it if it were not his will. When we pray like that, we are really trying to provide God with a loophole—an excuse in advance—so that we can keep on believing in the efficacy of prayer, even if that person for whom we prayed is not healed. Implicit in every prayer is the understanding that God only acts in a given way, at a given time, to accomplish a given thing, if it is in accord with his divine purposes. But like Thomas of old, our faith is mixed with unbelief. And in our unbelief we are eager to provide a divine cop-out, because even while we are fervently praying, we recognize that what we want to happen might not happen.
I have enough fervor and enough faith to keep on praying for seemingly implausible and humanly impossible situations. I do pray for people to be healed, even though many are not. I do pray for many people to be open to the gospel and most are not. I do pray for our Jews for Jesus staff to become more godly, and—well, I’ll just say that we could all stand a good deal of improvement. But I’m happy to report that God does heal some. He does bring some to Jesus, and he does send some renewal to our staff.
All too often, I have found that instead of praying I am offering God suggestions and guidance as to how I think things ought to be done. Then sometimes it is almost as though he gives me a rather personal rebuke, saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” Then I have to remember that any good that comes to pass happens by divine initiative and not according to my design.
One of my very best prayers is quite short. It is simply, “OK, already, Lord!” meaning “I got the message!” or “Yea and amen,” as people used to say when they spoke “King James” English.
In seeking answers to our prayers, we can expect that God will act to guarantee his word, but he will not act to vouchsafe any human word spoken about him. A rather sad example of this principle is an incident we experienced at our Jews for Jesus office several weeks ago.
We received a very sad letter from a one-time donor. Back in 1983 that man, previously unknown to us, had sent in a huge donation, the equivalent of a whole year’s income for some of our staff. We sent him a receipt and a thank you letter but heard nothing further from him. Now, four years later, we heard from him again. This time he was writing to ask if we might return that large gift. He told about having heard a preacher talk about receiving a return on gifts given to God. Based on that sermon, he had given Jews for Jesus that huge amount, hoping to receive a 30-fold, 60-fold or 100-fold increase from God. When that did not happen, the man was badly disappointed. I might have thought he had misunderstood the preacher, except that I have heard preachers say those same things on radio and television programs in a tone of voice that would be more appropriate from the moveable stage of a traveling medicine show than from a pulpit. People promise things in the name of God that he did not promise, and then disappointment comes, but even worse than the disappointment are the excuses.
I wonder what that “prosperity” preacher might say now if he were confronted by the plight of the young man who wrote us. Would he make the excuse that the young man had not had enough faith? Or would he use an extended-time excuse like, “God will yet give 60-fold. You just didn’t wait long enough”? Or would he explain away his own comment by saying that God would repay in spiritual blessings, or that the 60-fold or 100-fold would be awarded in heaven?
I say that anyone who listens to a preacher who presents God as some kind of financial manipulator or cosmic stockbroker in the sky deserves the consequences of his own greed. King Midas didn’t believe in God. He believed in gold. If you think you can believe in God to get gold, you believe only in gold.
When I disciple people and teach them about giving, I always teach them that they should give because they love the Lord. I have never taught anyone that they should give to God in order to get something in return, so I have never had to make excuses for the Almighty’s “negligence” when people did not receive the prosperity they thought they paid for by their generous giving. After all, what could be worth more in this life than fellowship with God? That surely is of the highest value.
Then there are other kinds of excuses that people make. Some make excuses for not believing in God because he allows evil to exist. People have shouted at me, “If there is a God, why do such terrible things as the holocaust happen?”
My answer to that is, “If you really want to know, ask him yourself!” God has answered me about that holocaust question by showing me that in spite of Hitler, Haman or Pharaoh, the Jewish people continue to survive according to his plan.
The only answer the Lord ever gave me to anybody’s question—whatever the question—was exactly the same each time. That answer was not an excuse. It was the name JESUS. In his passion and resurrection we see the true meaning of all life.
God simply does not give us reasons for everything he does. We must remember who is accountable to whom. He has never bothered to give us reasons for his behavior. Theology is not a study of divine behavior, so much as it is a study of our ideas about God’s nature based on our observations of his dealings with humanity. God has explained enough for us to trust him and his goodness. Yet no amount of divine explanation would serve to convince those who are determined to remain in their unbelief.
If God is not good, there is no such thing as good. If God, the ultimate Authority, is not allowed to do what he wants, where he wants, whenever he wants, then what rights do we, his creatures, have?
Should we, in turn, go around apologizing to fleas because we don’t own a dog for their pleasure? Or should we make excuses to the dog we do own that the fleas that plague him are also entitled to a little happiness?
Why do we spend so much time explaining God’s motives to people? Worse yet, why do we, his children, make excuses for God the way a shamed child makes excuses for the negligence of a poor, stumbling, drunken human father? By making excuses for God, we imply that his conduct is not right.
If you think that the Lord is not treating you right, don’t tell me. Don’t ask me to explain. I don’t make any excuses for him. He doesn’t need excuses. Nor do I make excuses for myself or my bad conduct. I don’t need excuses, either. Instead, I need God’s forgiveness.
God never said to anyone, “Pardon me for intruding on your life.” But so far as I’m concerned, he can interrupt me—tell me something—change my direction—anytime he wants to. After all, no matter what I am involved in doing, I am really just on call in his service. He doesn’t need to answer to me. I must answer to him.