The Bible begins with a surprise: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). I have never read any other book with such a grandiose beginning. Here, we are not beginning with the story of Aeneas, Frodo, or Harry Potter. We are beginning with the very beginning of everything. Within the first few words, we learn that God exists, that there was a beginning, and that God was before the beginning. We learn that God, surprisingly, decided to create the universe. God surprises us in what He does.

The Bible is full of more surprises. God calls a man named Abram from the city of Ur in Genesis 12. He tells him to leave home and go somewhere that God will show him. We are left asking ourselves: Who is this Abram? How did he come into the picture? Where is God taking him? We are not given God’s reasons. We don’t know the destination—at least, not yet. Genesis just tells us it was so. “Now the Lord said to Abram . . .” (Gen. 12:1). We can choose to keep reading, or we can put down the book in befuddlement. God surprises us in whom He calls.

God calls Moses, Aaron, and others up to Mount Sinai to sit down and eat with Him in Exodus 24. Wasn’t it enough that God would guide His people out of Egypt? Wasn’t it enough that He would give them His commandments and lead them to the promised land? Apparently it was not. God decided to invite the leaders of Israel to a dinner party: “They beheld God, and ate and drank” (Ex. 24:11). God surprises us by seeking fellowship with us.

Consider another surprise. Elijah was discouraged and thought he would be better off dead in 1 Kings 19. He was running from Jezebel, who had promised to kill him. Instead of giving Elijah lodging with a widow for a time of recovery, as in 1 Kings 17, God sends an angel to give him cake. This cake was, apparently, some kind of super food. “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights” (1 Kings 19:8). Not what we were expecting, right? God surprises us in the way He sustains us.

These are just several of the ways God surprises us. God surprises us especially, of course, in the redemption He secures for us in and through Jesus Christ. Few among the Jews recognized who Jesus was, and even when they did, it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they truly understood and appreciated how God had orchestrated history in His people’s behalf (John 16). It wasn’t until after the resurrection that passages like Isaiah 53 were truly appreciated and understood. Who would have thought that God would send His Son to die? Who would have thought that He would be a Savior who emptied Himself for us in His first coming (Phil. 2:7), but who will come in judgment at His second coming (Rev. 22:12)? God surprises us in how He redeems us.

The God of the Bible is in the business of surprising His people with His plan, His care, and His future for them.

Why is God so surprising? That is, why does He work in this way? We get hints of why God works this way throughout Scripture. For one, God doesn’t think on the human level. He thinks on His own level, which is beyond our understanding. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8–9). Moreover, God seems to enjoy working contrary to the world’s wisdom: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). And also, God prefers the people that we so often do not: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

We often think that God will work according to our own logic or the world’s logic in our lives, but that’s a mistaken inference. God doesn’t work according to our logic or the world’s logic. He works according to His logic and in His own way. A good way to think about how God works is to look at trees. Many trees, especially here in Florida, have branches that twist and turn. They grow horizontally, then vertically. They move one way, and then they move the next. There appears to be little logic in the particular movements of the tree’s growth pattern, but when we stand back and view the tree as a whole, it is so often a beautiful thing to behold. And every tree is different. We ought to expect God to work in our lives like a tree. He is molding us, shaping us, and surprising us into beautiful things. He is conforming us to the image of Christ. It’s an organic process, not an artificial one. That is, the lines typically aren’t straight.

Additionally, knowing that God often surprises us should make us hope in the future without being presumptuous or condescending. That is, we shouldn’t expect always to know exactly how God will work or in what way. We shouldn’t deplore God’s working in places that we secretly don’t want Him to or that wouldn’t make much sense to us. That’s not to say that we disregard our theology or what we believe because God will always surprise us. Of course, we know things about God that will never change, such as that He is God of the universe, that He gave His Son Jesus Christ for us, and that whoever believes on Him by faith alone will be saved. But the way God chooses to reveal Himself in the world and accomplish redemption is, typically, surprising.

The God of the Bible is in the business of surprising His people with His plan, His care, and His future for them. We do not know entirely what the future holds. We often fail even to understand our past or present. But we do know that past, present, and future are in God’s control. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). We should wonder what God will do next. We should always hope in His promises, even when things seem dark. We can expect that He will surprise us for our good and for His glory. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on February 15, 2019.

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