Some of the best films are defined by their sleight of hand. Fight Club. Inception. Memento. I’m a huge fan of this kind of plot. I want to be tricked. As the narrator says in my favorite deceptive movie, The Prestige, “You want to be fooled.”
In fact, if a movie has a trick up its sleeve that I see coming, I can be a real brat about it. I get frustrated that I was able to work it out. Of course, I get even more frustrated if one of my friends figures it out and I don’t. But that’s a different blog post.
Pulling the wool over someone’s eyes is very human. Who hasn’t been tricked, lied to, exploited, deceived, led on? Who hasn’t done these things themselves? We fight to get ahead, to be the one who comes out on top, whether the situation is light-hearted and fun or serious and life-affecting. The motive behind the trick is always self. And it’s rooted deep in our nature.
What was the very first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned? They hid from God. What did Cain do after he killed Abel? He pretended he didn’t know where his brother was.
Not only do we try to trick one another, but we try to trick God. Of course, in doing this, we’re really only fooling ourselves. We can’t deceive God. He knows all. He sees all. He hears all. Yet, still we try. Our constant attempts to cover-up our sin show we’re pretty great at deceiving ourselves.
It’s no wonder, then, that we project this deception onto God. Even as believers, we get it twisted. We think of God’s will as if it’s some sort of great mystery that we must follow cryptic clues to try and figure out. We think we’re being tested, that if we don’t choose the right answer, that everything will go to pot or we’ll lose favor with God. We assume the consequences in our lives are dependent on predicting God’s next move.
Our relationships with God are not poker games. We don’t get to call God on his bluff. I think we get this weird perspective of God in our heads when we focus on our circumstances instead of God’s character.
Often, the things that happen in our lives don’t make much sense to us. We don’t see the patterns, plans, and intricate details of how people and situations are interconnected. Most of the time, we focus on the part of the process we can see and the results that make a difference. We’re often blind to other things at play. Including the bigger picture God’s working with and the bigger personhood of who he is.
It’s true, we can’t fully know God. He’s unsearchable, eternal, infinite, transcendent. Even the Bible conveys there are plenty of things about God and how he works in the world that are mysterious, even paradoxical. He is a treasure to be sought, though he seeks after us.
So, like we do with most things we don’t fully understand, we make up things about God to fill in the blanks and help us wrap our minds around him. This is where we go wrong. This is where we put words in God’s mouth, tests on his agenda, and tricks up his sleeve.
The Bible doesn’t tell us everything about God, but it reveals enough for us have a wonderful relationship with him. We know he is good. We know he defines truth and he doesn’t change. We know he is at work in the world and in our lives, and that the work he’s doing is for good. We know he knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we’ll think about a situation before we think it, what choices we’ll make before we make them. He asks us not to guess what he wants us to do, but to be obedient to what we already know we should do through the guidance of his word and Spirit.
Our God is good, and though he uses times of struggle, waiting, and decision-making to grow us, he’s not using us. Our anxiety is not part of some sadistic scheme he has to sheist us. No, God actually tells us not to be anxious, not to worry, but to trust him! When things don’t turn out like we expect, it’s not a trick; it’s more like a surprise, a miracle, an act of God picking us up and setting us down facing the right direction.
Thinking God is out to deceive us is actually just distrust. Living on edge, feeling like one wrong move will kick off a massive punk’d scenario– that shows how little we really trust God. Maybe even how little we really know him. Because, when you think about it, the biggest surprise God ever pulled off wasn’t one of trickery. It was the opposite.
God sent Jesus to earth so we could know Him better. It wasn’t a “gotcha” moment, but a “God is with us” moment. Jesus is the opposite of deception. He is truth, wisdom, love– revealed. He showed us God in a way we’d never before seen. He didn’t cover our eyes; he opened them.
And when we look back at the history leading up to Jesus’ incarnation, we know this really wasn’t a surprise at all. The news of a coming Messiah is woven into the fabric of the Old Testament. Yes, it was hidden from many, but many also trusted God in the mystery. It was not deception. It was not a trick. It was hope. And that’s who they trusted; who we can, too. A God of hope.