His Ways Are Not Our Ways
When life takes a difficult turn, Christians often remind others, “His ways are not our ways”—communicating how God orchestrates events in ways that surprise us. The mysterious depth of divine providence is, of course, a precious biblical truth. But the passage in which we find “his ways are not our ways” comes from Isaiah 55. And in the context, it is a statement not of the surprise of God’s mysterious providence but of the surprise of God’s compassionate heart. The full passage goes like this:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6–9)
The first part of this passage tells us what to do.
The second part tells us why.
The transition comes toward the end of verse 7 (which concludes,
“for he will abundantly pardon”).
But notice the exact line of reasoning.
How does Jesus feel about us amid all our sins and failures? This verse reminds us of a heart of tender love drawn to sinners and sufferers.
God calls us to seek him, to call on him, and invites even the wicked to return to the Lord. Notice what will happen when we do this? God will “have compassion on” us (v. 7). “He will abundantly pardon” (v. 7). This should be a tremendous consolation for us as we find ourselves time and again wandering away from the Father, looking for peace amid our struggles anywhere but in His embrace and instruction.
Returning to God in fresh contrition, however ashamed and disgusted with ourselves we may be, He will not tepidly pardon. He will abundantly pardon. He does not merely accept us. He sweeps us up in His arms again. But notice what the text then does. Verses 8 and 9 take us deeper into this compassion and abundant pardon.
Verse 7 has told us what God does; verses 8 and 9 tell us who He is. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
What is God saying? He is telling us that we cannot view the expressions of His mercy with our old eyes. Our very view of God must change. What would we say to a child upon receiving a birthday gift by his loving parents, who immediately goes to his piggy bank to try to pay his parents back? How painful to the parents that would be. God does not merely accept us. He sweeps us up in His arms again. We are left with an impoverished view of how He feels about us.
His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways.