God isn’t surprised by our sin

June 26, 2013


This thought-provoking post by Jonathan Merritt (thanks to Scot McKnight’s blog) makes me wonder whether I’ve used language about “disappointing” God in the past. I probably have. But I confess that it’s a sloppy word that probably can’t apply to God without cutting God down to human size. As Merritt writes:

The two elements that comprise disappointment are surprise and frustration. Accepting the first—that God is surprised with our most tragic failures—tests our belief in His sovereignty. God knows the events that will unfold tomorrow, and they never take Him off guard. Additionally, He created our “inmost being” (Ps 139:13) and knows our hearts better than we do. We cannot take God by surprise.

Many people, when confronted by the gravity of their own recent sin, feel as if God were so disappointed with them that he couldn’t possibly still love, forgive, or accept them. If this describes you, let me ask: Did God ever love, forgive, or accept you? Because if God ever did, then he did so with the full knowledge of all the sins of your life—past, present, and future.

Or think of it like this: Have there been moments in your life when you felt especially loved and accepted by God—perhaps at your Christian conversion, baptism, or confirmation? Then consider this: you have done nothing since then that has surprised God. In that moment when you felt God’s pouring out his love on you, he was doing so knowing all the ways that you would rebel against him in the future. Yet he loved you anyway.

This is why Mark Galli, in this article from Christianity Today, calls God’s omniscience (including his foreknowledge) a “revelation of God’s grace.”

God in his foreknowledge knew that when he drew me into his family, I would lust and lie and gossip and slander and practice all manner of immorality through the years ahead. He knew the particular sins and the particular people I would sin against. He has known for some time the particular evil inclination that I recognized for the first time yesterday in worship. He knows this morning how I’m going to fail him before the morning is out.

Yet despite his complete knowledge of the darkness of my heart and the wickedness of my future, he accepted my initial sinner’s prayer and has held me to that commitment. He has remained committed to me despite his full knowledge of my deeds, words, and motives, past, present, and future. 
As Paul put it, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” 
(2 Tim. 2:13, esv).

All I can say to this is, Amen and Hallelujah.

2 Responses to “God isn’t surprised by our sin”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, these are some good thoughts, but I have a caveat about it. “But the thing that David did displeased the Lord.” I think that being “displeased” is at a minimum comparable to being “disappointed.”

    To me this is in line with something I have mentioned on your blog previously, and which you thought had some merit; that is, the distinction between God as playwright and God as an actor on the stage. Ultimately God knows everything and went with that “universe” knowing those things and being, certainly, at least “okay” with that. But God also goes through the “experiences” as they actually occur, and has the “proper” response when they arrive. That is just as much a part of the “play” as everyone else’s “part.” So, I think there is a very real sense in which God can be “disappointed” with me when I really commit some sin “knowingly,” which I have to confess having done on occasions. Aside from my personal experience, I would note the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. “But I have this against you.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      I hear you, Tom. Displeasure may be disappointment once you remove the element of surprise. But removing the element of surprise removes quite a lot—at least in terms of how we humans deal with our guilt.

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