Each of us knows what it feels like when things don’t go our way. I’m no statistician, but there’s a very high likelihood many reading this article may be dealing with situations that haven’t gone according to plan, and so, are finding themselves in bouts of deep confusion. Oswald Chambers spoke of such confusion as “a matter of God taking you through a way that you temporarily do not understand.” I think that’s a good way for a Christian to look at it. It’s not merely that we don’t understand, but that we temporarily don’t understand.

When things don’t go our way, we can’t be certain they aren’t going God’s way. Though we don’t have the desired clarity in every moment, as long as we’re submitting to God, we can be sure He’s ultimately working all things together for our good (see Romans 8:28).

When we scan the Scriptures, we find many examples of this deep reality: 

  • Abraham was promised uncountable descendants and a special son as the heir and doorway to that promise. He was probably confused when he was later told to kill that son (Gen. 22:1-8). 
  • Joseph had a heavenly dream that he’d one day reign and be honored by his family. He probably thought about it in confusion when he was sold as a slave by his brothers and wrongfully imprisoned thereafter (Gen. 37; 39-40).
  • Job was faithfully obedient to God all his days, walking in the wisdom of God. Confusion likely gripped him when his obedience was later “rewarded” with sickness, poverty, loss of children, rejection, and humiliation (Job 1-2).
  • David was anointed to be king of God’s nation. He must have been confused when he was forced on the run to avoid being killed by a corrupted king who sat on his throne (1 Sam. 16:11-13; 19:10; 23:15).
  • Daniel was a young, intelligent, devout, good-looking Jewish boy who had the whole world in front of him, a world in which he would have very likely found success. He was probably confused when foreigners invaded his home and took him as a captive slave to a distant land (Dan.1:1-8).
  • Mary was promised to give birth to the Son of God, who would reign over the house of Jacob forever. She was probably confused when He was unjustly sentenced to death in His early thirties (Luke 1:31-33; 23:20-25).

Not only did these heroes of the faith have lofty dreams and high hopes for the future while faithfully serving the Lord, but many even received explicit promises from God Himself. Yet, what did life give them instead? Confusion. The vast dissimilarity between their divine promises and the apparent reality must’ve seemed like a paradox. Inevitably, it must’ve been deeply unsettling. Such a feeling is purely natural… really, it couldn’t be otherwise! And mixed with confusion was heartache, loss, humiliation, distress, dismay, poverty, and despair. Yet, they persisted to serve God faithfully, and ultimately, God did achieve His ultimate purposes through them. Now, they’re numbered among the saints, receiving eternal reward as part of that great cloud of witnesses we can look to as examples of the faith (see Heb. 12:1).

And in this life? Well, they received blessings here too– though not as they’d expected. You see, Abraham was provided a lamb instead of Isaac. Joseph was in fact elevated and honored but to the height of Egyptian royalty. Job was eventually vindicated, and he was even restored double what he had. David did, in time, become king and so made his everlasting mark upon the nation of Israel. Daniel was used through his enslavement to win political prominence and testify for God among a foreign people. And Mary beheld the glorious resurrection of our Lord, and all generations have since called her blessed.

We can say with certainty that all these, despite their desperate situations, experienced Providence. They experienced God’s own interactions with their lives directly and steadily. Though life didn’t always pan out as expected (despite, in many cases, receiving explicit promises about their futures), they were nonetheless carried along by their Father in heaven and those promises were wholly fulfilled. No trial succeeded in separating them from Providence. In fact, one might conclude it brought them nearer to Him– the Master Storyteller. And that is a great consolation in times of suffering and confusion.

When things don’t go our way– how we thought they’d go or even how the Lord’s promise to us seemed to suggest they might go– we must stop and consider relearning the lessons of those who’ve gone before us. We never quite know what God is up to. In the Bible, we get to see the full picture of the lives of these great believers; in our own lives, however, we only see the immediate circumstance and can only “know in part” (see 1 Cor. 13:12).

But someday, once we are in glory, our stories will be known to us. We’ll be told why such details in our lives were woven into the story. Why this or that event took place at that particular time. Why this door closed and that one opened. Why that bad circumstance fell upon us, and why that good one didn’t. In that day, we will look back with “unveiled faces” and, seeing clearly, will give thanks to God– I suspect, with no small measure of tears and humility.

So, while we, mere creatures on earth, are tempted to wonder whether God knows what He is doing amidst our confusion (as likely did Abraham and Joseph and the rest), we can be assured, as theologian John Henry Newman once remarked, “He knows what He is about.” And as we continue in faithful obedience, we long for the day when all will be revealed.

Until then, being confident in these things and remembering the lives of those mighty exemplars of our faith, let us persist in our service to the King. Let us remember that our confusion is temporary, our circumstances are temporary, our very lives are temporary. May each of us rejoice and say, with the prophet Habakkuk:


Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,


yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.


God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

(Habakkuk 3:17-19a)



Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, “September 12: Going Through Spiritual Confusion.”

Cardinal John Henry Newman, Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman, (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903), 302.