Life is full of surprises. And so is God.
In almost seven years of attending seminary, I heard some of the most distinguished theologians of our day describe God in astute terms. He’s the God of the immutable. He’s the God of the omnipotent. He’s the God of the transcendent. He’s the God of the immanent. The God of the benevolent.
All magnificent words with which to characterize God. All applicable. All appropriate.
But never once do I remember one of my esteemed professors describing God as the “God of surprises.” Which is surprising.
It can be difficult for us in our learned ways to characterize God in terms that would appear to defy our mental grasp. Even if it’s a surprisingly simple term. And so we box Him in. Like a caged tiger. Or an aquariumed shark. Or even a jailed criminal. With words that aren’t so surprising.
So that He’s safe. You’re safe. I’m safe. We’re all seemingly safe. Since the tiger can’t bend steel. The shark can’t bite through glass. The criminal can’t do much of anything without a key. And God is safely within our control. And our grasp. Within the box. No surprises.
And yet God seems to do His best work when we try to box Him in. Only to catch us, and everyone else, by surprise.
Like when we’re trapped between a rock of an army and a hard place of a sea. Thanks, God, for intentionally putting me in a position where my options are so limited that I can’t even retreat! Can’t even retreat!
And then, God says, “Surprise!” Suddenly I become the fish. In the aquarium of the sea. Surrounded by water. But not even getting wet.
Didn’t see that coming!
Or when someone I really care about is sick. Too desperate for anyone to know what to do. And God doesn’t show up. Until it’s too late. Thanks, God, for coming. But let me get you a watch for next time! So you’ll maybe show up when you’re of some use. Then. But not now. Because now you’re no good. Not a good God. Because the one we love is gone. And you didn’t care enough to show up on time to extend a healing hand. Not even a finger. You could have, but you didn’t.
And then, God says, “Surprise!” Suddenly I become stupefied. By my loved one. Looking back at me. Stepping from the grave. Dead men don’t walk. But this one does.
I’m now more mummified. Dead in my tracks. Than he is.
Didn’t see that coming!
Surprises are usually fun. Surprise parties. Surprise gifts. Surprise trips.
But when it comes to God and His surprises. It’s not so much that they’re fun. As they’re fundamental to who He is.
But we don’t often think of Him in that way. Certainly don’t use the word very often to describe Him that way. Because theologians don’t think of Him in that way. And neither do we. Perhaps because “surprise” is not an erudite enough word. Or esteemed enough concept. Doesn’t sound nearly as cognitively intellectual or mentally effervescent as “transcendent” or “immutable.”
Sometimes it’s easier just to keep Him in our box. Our box of multi-syllabic words. Or tiny little thoughts. That we think are sufficient in and of themselves to encapsulate our unencapsulatable God.
Why do we do that? Well, caged tigers are safe. Aquariumed sharks are safe. Imprisoned criminals are safe.
And a boxed in God is seemingly safe too.
Until He breaks out. Of the box.
Didn’t see that coming.
If you’re struggling with part of your life right now that seems beyond God’s grasp. That seems beyond His capability to reveal Himself in a way you can’t quite see. There’s a good possibility. Even a great one in fact. That you’re not even praying to the God of surprises. You’ve instead relegated Him to the box of your prefabricated understanding. Or misunderstanding. And you’re not remotely contemplating how the God of surprises can think out of the box. To resolve a situation that you have long deemed irresolvable. To cure a heartbreak that you’ve reluctantly accepted as being incurable. To touch a relationship that you’ve assumed is untouchable.
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Pray outside of the box. Step outside of the box.
Because you just might find God there. Surprise!