Here’s the setting: You’re sitting in a restaurant with your friends enjoying dinner. This is one of those restaurants that offers complimentary ice cream cones after every meal, and the ice cream machine has been getting a steady stream of traffic since you sat down. As you watch, kids all across the building scarf down their food with enthusiasm before turning (with mouths still full of their last bites) to their parents to get permission to go get ice cream. The kids can hardly stay in their chairs, hopping down and running to the ice cream machine as soon as they get the go ahead. You watch as little boys and girls figure out just how high they can get their soft serve to go on their little cones, and you laugh as the once clean faces are now being painted with vanilla. But then you notice one little boy crying.
You can hear him asking for ice cream, pointing to every other kid who’s now enjoying their dessert in defense of his argument. You can tell that he’s desperate to join the crowd, to taste the sweet treat everyone else is enjoying. But you see his dad continue to say, “No.” No matter how many times he asks, no matter how loudly he screams, and no matter how much he cries, the boy can’t get his dad to change his mind. As you watch, the boy stops for moment, devising a plan. He appears to calm down, waiting for the moment when his dad seems to not be paying attention, and, in that moment, he makes a break for the ice cream. But before he can get to the machine, his dad catches him, brings him back to the booth, and sternly informs him that he will be punished for his disobedience. The little boy reluctantly sits down and hangs his head, continuing to cry quietly.
In this moment, the little boy is crushed. He can’t understand why he’s being denied what everyone else is gladly receiving. But suppose that the father knows something that changes the game. Suppose the little boy is severely lactose intolerant. In that case, what appears to be harsh and unloving from the child’s perspective is arguably the most loving thing the father can do. By denying the child’s request, the father is protecting his son from suffering, even though the son can’t understand that in the moment.
Though no analogy is perfect, I think this picture helps to illustrate God’s relationship with man through his commands. The “Ten Commandments” given in Exodus 20, for example, are not hindrances to man’s joy, but protections of it. When God calls us to worship him alone, he does so because it is best for us, not because he’s an egomaniac. Elsewhere, when he tells us that homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle, he does so not because he’s wrongly bigoted, but because he designed human bodies, both male and female, to reflect his image for our good and for his glory (see Genesis 1-3). Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering – all lead to death and depravity. Every sin is a subversion of the good that God created, and, therefore, can only harm us and separate us from the source of the good we seek (see Romans 1-3).
So often, we get angry at God for denying us our requests, not realizing that his denial is for our benefit. So often, we complain and curse God for not coming through when we call him, forgetting that he is perfectly sovereign and perfectly loving. So often, we let our ignorance of God’s greater design outweigh our trust in his good plan. And, so often, we believe God has cheated us, wronged us, or stolen from us when, in reality, God has been working to keep us from greater harm, deeper sorrow, and eternal death. Granted, trusting God will not always be easy, especially when he chooses not to grant requests or to fulfill desires that are not necessarily sinful or wicked. Indeed, following Christ will guarantee suffering (John 16:33). But we can rest in the reality of his unfailing love (Romans 8:31-39). We can trust in his redeeming work through every circumstance (Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4). We can hope in his goodness (Romans 8:18-25). And, as we surrender to him and seek his kingdom, we can rejoice in his presence (Matthew 28:18-20). We will not always understand his ways, but we can trust him nonetheless. Though pain may come, though blessings may fail, and though all earthly gain may be lost, we can trust our Lord, following the example of Job.
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.