We human beings are wired, it would seem, to expect certain things. We have this faculty of pattern recognition and understand that actions beget consequences; things that follow with the action. Unfortunately for our pattern-recognizing minds, not everything behaves in smooth predictable patterns.
Southern California weather is a fantastic example of something that does not behave in a regular or predictable pattern. Growing up, I often heard weather reports on the news the night before and inverted the chance the forecaster gave for rain. Thus 20% chance of rain became 80% chance in my head. The forecasters and I were right about the same amount of time. They’ve gotten better and I’ve learned to look out the window if I want to know what So Cal weather is like on any given day (the word we’re looking for is usually “hot”).
But the ways of God are on another level entirely. There are some things about God that are as predictable as can be. Confession (to God) results in forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9). Giving my care and concerns to God results in His peace guarding my heart and mind in Christ (Philippians 4:6-7). But there are other aspects of God’s dealings with mankind which are not at all predictable. Job expected good things because his actions were righteous but received trials and difficulties. He expected light (potentially a metaphor for happiness or understanding) but received darkness (potentially sorrow or confusion). In this frustrated expectation, Job is failing to understand. And his case is likely to mirror our own experience.
People — believer and non-believer alike — wonder (often loudly) why God allows “bad” things to happen to “good” people. Since our definitions of “good” and “bad” are on a human sliding scale and are not consistent, those terms will remain in quotes. We look at a righteous person diagnosed with cancer and think that a “bad” thing has happened to a “good” person. Is cancer bad? I would agree that it is. However, when someone called Jesus —Jesus — good, Jesus asked why that person called Him good (Mark 10:18 / Luke 18:19). Jesus added that there is none “good” except God. We believers need to get our heads around this concept and stop asking about “good” people since there are none. There are sinners saved and sinners lost — that’s it. Let the non-believer postulate about these alleged “good” people. Coming back around to that statement that cancer is “bad,” I feel that I need to add a caveat. Cancer is bad for the body of the person afflicted with it. However, that cancer may bring the believer into contact (and it often does) with non-believers who are then shown the power and grace and overall goodness of God. The thing that took the believer to that place is decidedly unpleasant and definitely bad for their body, but it results in things which are decidedly good. Non-believers seeing God’s character displayed in the life of God’s child? Good. Does this mean I’m volunteering to get cancer and witness to the medical staff? Absolutely not. One would have to be foolish to volunteer for such suffering. The point is to note how God can bring something unequivocally good out of a thing we would deem “bad.” Are we wrong? Not entirely, no. As mentioned, cancer is bad for the body. But God brings something good out of that bad. As God once promised Isaiah, He gives beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
How does this frustration of pattern recognition and this paradoxical “good from ‘bad'” rumination apply to my life today? Thus: God is predictable insofar as He will never deviate from His character. He has promised that He will work all things (both the things I think “good” and the things I think “bad”) out for good (Romans 8:28). He has also promised that I will not understand what He is up to (Isaiah 55:8-9). I can take to the bank the promises that God is working for an ultimate good in my life and that I will not understand the process He uses to accomplish that goal of goodness. I need to trust that He is working for my good and expect that my expectations will sometimes — perhaps often be frustrated.