When Our Own Understanding Fails

It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t understand why people kill other people out of anger. I don’t understand why an invisible virus can both take and destroy lives with the fierceness of a great army. I don’t understand why people we love get cancer. I don’t understand why the dearest of friends are pitted against each other with the simple click of a share button. I don’t understand why sometimes doing the right thing can cost so much. I don’t understand how all of this can still be used for our good and God’s glory.

But I wanted to understand. I needed to understand.

And that desperation to understand how and why God can bring good for His children out of such loss and heartache is what made reading Psalm 131 so uncomfortable a few weeks ago.

The Psalm opens with these words: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” (Psalm 131:1 ESV) I had only to read one verse to feel, as a dear older sister in the Lord would say, “my toes getting stepped on.”

I started to rationalize and convince myself that the things this Psalmist was writing about, were not the things I was struggling with wanting to understand. The things mentioned as being “too great and too marvelous for me” were not the things found all over the pages of my journal in recent weeks. No, this was a good Psalm, but not one meant to convict me. This was one for them.

But as I kept reading, I suddenly wasn’t so sure. The Psalm continues with this: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD, from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:2-3 ESV) Calm and quiet? I wanted that. I longed for that. But my soul was the farthest thing from it. Perhaps, after all, my heart was not like that of the Psalmist’s in verse one. Perhaps, I was occupied with things too great and too marvelous for me. Perhaps, my heart was lifted up and my eyes raised too high.

A heart not lifted up…

My eyes wandered from the Psalm down to the study notes below. My commentary suggests that the opening of the Psalm, which speaks of a “heart not lifted up” and “eyes not raised too high,” is a description of humble man or woman’s attitude toward God. To have ones heart lifted up and eyes raised high is an expression of pride and arrogance, to demand or expect something from God which He does not owe us.

To “occupy oneself with things too great and too marvelous” is to try and understand things which are humanly impossible to understand. A finite mind simply cannot comprehend all the doings and workings of an infinite Being. It just doesn’t work that way, and a humble man or woman would not shy away from admitting that.

All of these things form a posture of humility from which the Psalmist writes a very short, three verse chapter filled to the brim with hope for the ones who just don’t understand. In order to grasp that hope though, we, the questioning, must be “humble under the mighty hand of God.”

This is why reading Psalm 131 initially discomforted me more than comforted me. I was reading it with a great deal of pride welling up in my heart. I demanded to understand things that God did not owe me answers for. I refused to trust Him and “lean not on my own understanding.” I ignored the reality that He is God and I am not, that His ways are higher than mine.

A prideful heart cannot be comforted with a peace that passes understanding, because it demands to understand unsearchable things. It is the humble heart, the one that waits quietly on the Lord and trusts in His unfailing promise keeping, that is clothed in peace. Simply to be held fast by the One who knows all the answers is enough for them.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.

Elisabeth Elliot

Oh Lord, give us humble hearts that spring forth hope.

Peace when we don’t understand…

We have to stop spending all our time trying to understand all of the “hows” and “whys” and spend more of it getting to know the Who behind them. We can spend our days searching for answers to try and make sense of a broken world, or we can spend them seeking to know better the One who can (and will!) save us from it. The answers our prideful hearts demand will not calm nor quiet our souls like the love and nearness of our Lord will.

Photo by Anastasia Shamshina on Pexels.com

Sometimes, God gives us the answers we search the ends of the earth for. Sometimes, He doesn’t and instead He gives us a deeper knowledge of who He is that enables us to trust Him to carry those answers for us. The too great and too marvelous things are safe in His steadfast, unfailing, all-wise hands.

I don’t understand a lot of things. Some mornings I still wake up with a defensive spirit and an arrogant heart, but then I recall the words of Psalm 131, and rather than praying for immediate answers, I pray for a soul like that of the Psalmist. A heart not lifted up. Eyes not raised too high. A mind not occupied with things too great and too marvelous for me. A calm and quieted soul. Hope in the Lord now and forevermore.

Then I remember that God has promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him and the glory of His name. He keeps His promises, whether I understand how He does it or not. His ability to keep His word and bring His perfect plans to pass are not dependent on our understanding of how He will do it. Praise Him.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 ESV

I still don’t understand a lot of things, which is why if I leaned on my own understanding, it would fail me. But I know the One who understands all, and it’s on Him that I lean when life doesn’t make sense. I can say with the Psalmist that I have calmed and quieted my soul. And He will always be enough. It is from the humble heart that hope springs forth.

Oh Lord, give us humble hearts.

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