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First Thoughts

Trusting God with The I-Don’t-Knows

On Sunday, I announced my need for a fifth brain surgery and thought the operation was weeks away. On Tuesday, my doctor said he wanted to do the surgery today—Friday.

That surprise is a reminder that so much of life is found in all we do not know.

The I-Don’t-Knows of Life

Life happens in a flash of the immediate present. Once that flash is complete, it instantly becomes the past. Our knowledge of those past moments comes only after the fact. Our future moments are everything beyond the present flash of lived experience. We never know what those moments will bring.

Sometimes we have good guesses about what the future holds. But guesses are not facts, and likelihoods are not certainties. There are never guarantees about what is coming. When we try to look ahead beyond the immediate flash of the present, we can’t see a thing. All that stuff we cannot see are the coming I-Don’t-Knows.

A mysterious curtain hangs just beyond this immediate present moment shielding our gaze from endless I-Don’t-Knows. Those I-Don’t-Knows are numerous, quite humbling, and often painful.

More frustrating is how frequently those future I-Don’t-Knows remain unclear once we experience them and move them to our memories. We often look back on the I-Don’t-Knows of the past and find they are still unclear to us. The I-Don’t-Knows of the future are alarming because we can’t see them. The I-Don’t-Knows of the past are confusing when we don’t understand them.

Recently, I’ve experienced some massive I-Don’t-Knows.

I had brain surgery in the fall of 2020 and thought it would be my last. I didn’t know it was merely the first.

I intended the publication of my book, The Great Love of God, to mark the end of this season of surgical suffering. I didn’t know I would learn that season is ongoing during the very week of the book’s release.

My plan this weekend was to go on a date with my wife, see my older kids off to prom, watch a movie with my youngest son, and preach a sermon on Acts 7. I didn’t know my neurosurgeon’s plan was for me to recover from surgery in a neuro-intensive care unit.

Today, staring down the barrel of surgery number five, I’d like to think it will fix my neurological woes. But every surgery before this one was supposed to do that.

I just don’t know.

Your problems may be easier or worse than mine, but I-Don’t-Knows characterize your life too. Your daughter died in a tragic accident, the bank foreclosed after you got laid off, your husband walked out, your car broke down, your friend stabbed you in the back, your child turned from the Lord, your boss hated your presentation. I-Don’t-Knows fill up your future and cloud your understanding of the past.

God and The I-Don’t-Knows

God has countless I-Don’t-Knows stacked behind that thick curtain shrouding our futures. He has planned them, knows them, and could share them if he wanted. He chooses not to.

In his Word, the Bible, God tells us a few things about the future, but most of his personal words to us are about his character. There is a wonderful reason for this. If God told us what was coming, he knows we would fix our hope on our knowledge of the future. We would trust and depend on what we knew was coming. God doesn’t want us to do that.

God wants us to trust him.

That’s why what 1 John 4:16 says is so important, “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love.” John had confident hope in the character of God because of Jesus, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). John couldn’t see his coming future any more than you or I can, but he could look back and see God’s heart of love revealed in Jesus. A vision of God’s love in Christ fueled John’s confident faith.

God doesn’t tell us what is coming. He tells us who he is. He removes the I-Don’t-Knows of his character while allowing the I-Don’t-Knows of life to remain. In life, we face constant confusion and curiosity about the events waiting behind the curtain, concealing the future from us. But we are comforted with abundant clarity about the character of the One orchestrating those unseen events. We may not know what is coming, and in this life, we may never understand all that has happened. But we know God loves us. We can trust him when the I-Don’t-Knows remain.

Trusting God’s Love

In just a little bit, a wonderfully kind person at Baptist Hospital in downtown Jacksonville is going to push me on a stretcher through the curtain clouding my future. What is behind that curtain?

I don’t know.

I have absolutely no clue what is waiting for me behind that imperceptible veil. That’s ok. I know Who is there. I know he has loved me with the precious life of Jesus. I know all the events beyond that curtain have been placed there by him for my good. I am not anticipating the coming I-Don’t-Knows but trusting what I know of God’s great love.

And you know what?

You can trust God too . . . even with the I-Don’t-Knows.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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