I often hear these verses quoted and I will examine the usual application of them, but I thought it fascinating that these verses appear immediately following God’s invitation to seek Him while He is near and to forsake our wickedness that He will pardon. It is almost as if God were setting up a comparison. People can be hard to find when we have wronged them — they tend to avoid us — but God, Whom we wrong daily (sometimes hourly), is near and can be found easily. People may hold a grudge over a wrong suffered, even when the one who did the wrong has made efforts to change and made good progress in those efforts. God, Who has every reason to hold a grudge against us, wants to pardon us and to have compassion the very moment we turn from the wrong we have been doing. With that in mind, God says that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. And He is oh so right.
In context, it would appear that God set up those who hear these verses to understand something. We hold grudges and look for reasons to condemn. God looks for ways to pardon and wants to show compassion. His thoughts are of how to pardon and be compassionate toward us and to restore us to fellowship with Him. Our thoughts are not so.
The common application of these verses is to remind believers that God is operating on a whole different plane than us. Even if He could explain what He is doing and why He is doing it, He could not understand it for us. We would remain confused. Not because He was unwilling or unable to explain, but because it would be like a chess grand master trying to explain her game strategy to a child just learning how to move knights around the board. The grand master thinks in terms of the game being won before the first piece is moved. The child is still trying to understand how the knight’s L-shaped movement makes any sense at all. God is operating on a higher plane; a higher set of principles than we can fathom. I am certain He would love to explain to me what He is doing and why. I am equally certain it would end in frustration for us both.
How to apply this? Couple things. First, I need to not second-guess what God is doing. His actions are beyond my comprehension. There is nothing wrong with asking Him to explain what I can wrap my mind around, but I need to remember that He is operating on a whole other plane; a higher plane. Second, I need to remember that I am operating most like my God when I look for ways to have compassion on those who wrong me and to pardon them. I come nearest the higher plane when I seek to do the things that are right in God’s eyes.