The Secret Things
The Secret Things
When I first encountered Jesus, I thought I had to know the answer to every question about faith. However, the more I have studied the Bible, the more I have realised that we do not need to know the answer to everything. There is such a thing as healthy agnosticism, or what might be described as biblical agnosticism.
There are some questions to which we do know the answer. But there are other questions to which the best answer we can give is, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us’ (Deuteronomy 29:29a).
We need to be clear about what the Bible is clear about. Don’t be agnostic about what you can know. Equally, don’t be dogmatic about the things that the Bible is agnostic about.
In today’s passages, we see three examples of big questions that are frequently asked. In answer to each of these questions there are some things we know (‘the things revealed’) and some things we don’t know (‘the secret things’).
What does the future hold for me?Psalm 18:37-42
At one point in my life I developed a tendency to catastrophise – especially about my health. If I experienced the slightest pain or symptom I would assume the worst. I was really helped by someone who pointed this out to me and said that to catastrophise means to ‘overestimate the danger and underestimate your ability to cope’.
Catastrophising leads to fear and is the opposite of faith. Fear tells you that you will not be able to cope. Faith tells you that your Father in heaven knows when you will need strength to cope and he will supply all you need just in time. God will arm you with the strength that you need for whatever lies ahead.
God had given David victory over all his enemies. As David looks back at these battles he says, ‘You armed me with strength for the battle’ (v.39). These were not the last enemies that David would have to fight. Plenty of battles lay ahead.
What you don’t know
Like David, what you don’t know is which battles lie ahead. However, for most of us, it would probably be very unhelpful to know exactly what the battles will be.
What you do know
As the saying goes, ‘We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.’ What David knew was that since God had ‘armed [him] with strength’ (v.39) in the past, he would do so in the future. You can know that God will supply you with the strength you need when you need it.
Lord, thank you that I can be confident that your Holy Spirit will arm me with strength just in time for whatever battles lie ahead.
When will Jesus return?Matthew 24:32-25:13
Jesus speaks about his return – the second coming. He says that there are certain things about this that you are supposed to know and certain things that you do not know. (‘You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know...’, 24:42–43, MSG.)
What you don’t know
Jesus makes it absolutely clear that no one knows when he will return. He says, ‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (v.36). There were certain questions to which even Jesus (while he was on earth) had to say, ‘I don’t know.’
So much time and energy has been wasted speculating about the exact time that Jesus will return. You are not meant to know when Jesus will come back because you are supposed to ‘keep watch’ (v.42) and be ready for him to return at any moment.
What you do know
Jesus tells us to learn from the fig tree. When the leaves come out ‘you know that summer is near’ (Matthew 24:32). Jesus says if you look at the signs then ‘you know’ that Jesus’ coming ‘is near’. Therefore, you are to ‘keep watch’ (v.42; 25:13) and ‘be ready’ (24:44).
You know too that although his coming is near, it may be a long time before he comes (25:5). And you also know that he will come at an hour ‘when you do not expect him’ (24:44). Whenever he comes it is going to be a surprise and the key is to be ready for him to come at any moment.
To enable you to see what it means to be ready for his return, Jesus paints a picture of the difference between a servant being wise or wicked. The wise servant remains ready for their master’s return by remaining faithful to their master’s instructions and honourable in the way they treat others. The wicked servant is faithless to their master’s instructions and destructive in how they treat others. The conclusion is markedly different (compare v.47 with v.51). In other words, you are ready for Jesus’ return if you live a life where you love God and love others.
However, underneath this love for God and love for others is the key component of what it means to be ready for Jesus’ return. In the parable of the ten virgins, the bridegroom says to those virgins who have been asleep and are not ready, ‘I don’t know you’ (25:12). We see here that the key lies in a different type of ‘knowing’. It is not intellectual knowledge but personal knowledge.
Ultimately, it is not about what you know, but about whom you know. It is about having a personal relationship with the bridegroom. In the end, this is what matters more than anything else – knowing Jesus (John 17:3).
Lord, thank you that all that matters in the end is that I know you. Help me each day to get to know you better.
Why does God allow suffering?Job 38:1-40:2
As we reach the climax of the book of Job, after many chapters of Job and his friends asking questions of God, the tables are turned and God starts asking questions. This passage might be described as ‘Job’s final examination’. In his exam paper there are numerous questions to which he does not know the answer.
We see that in answer to the question that is so often asked, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ there are some things we know, and some things we don’t know. The Lord’s complaint about Job’s friends was that they had spoken ‘words without knowledge’ (38:2). Instead of saying, ‘I don’t know,’ they had tried to explain Job’s suffering, but without really knowing the answers.
What you don’t know
God asks him forty-nine questions (in poetic language) about the natural universe to which Job, if given the chance, would surely respond, ‘I don’t know.’ Many of the questions start, ‘Do you know…?’ (v.33; 39:1–2). It is almost as if God is lovingly teasing Job. He says to him, ‘Surely you know!’ (38:5) and, ‘Tell me, if you know it all…’ (v.18b, AMP).
The point of God’s questioning is to demonstrate the fact that there are certain things that we do not know as human beings – the ‘secret things’ belong to the Lord our God. This is especially true in relation to the issue of suffering. Theologians and philosophers have wrestled for centuries with the problem of suffering and no one has ever come up with a simple and complete solution.
When you are suffering you will not always be able to work out why. God never told Job why he was suffering (even though we know part of the answer from the start of the book), but he did tell him that there was a good reason. He pointed out to Job that he really knew very little about the universe and asked him to trust God.
The book of Job is not so much about why God allows suffering (theodicy) as it is about the appearance of God in the midst of suffering (theophany), and how we should respond to suffering.
What you do know
In tomorrow’s passage we will see that Job recognised that there are some things ‘too wonderful for me to know’ (42:3). In other words, there are some things that you are never going to know in this life. On the other hand, there are some things that you can know, ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted’ (v.2).
You can know that God is ultimately in control and therefore you can live at peace and confidently trust that, in everything, God will work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Lord, I know that you can do all things and no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Help me to have humility about the secret things that I cannot know and to be confident about the things that I can know.
‘So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’
Just occasionally, when I’ve not been expecting anyone and there are no meetings in the house, I have got distracted and not cleared away breakfast and the general mess. Then the doorbell has rung and some unexpected visitors have arrived. I’ve found myself throwing things in the dishwasher and food back in the fridge. I know the panic of being caught unprepared. How much more terrifying when Jesus returns. It is not the tidy house that he is looking for, but the prepared life. That needs constant work.
Verse of the Day
‘So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’ (Matthew 24:44).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.