The God of the Impossible

EarthThe Israelites stood on the shore of the Red Sea, terrified. Before them stretched a formidable expanse of water; behind them gathered one of the most powerful armies in the world.

They were trapped.

To move forward would mean drowning; to stand and fight would mean slaughter. There was no way out, no path to victory, no hope of deliverance. Israel was doomed. They were sure to die here, cut down by their former captors on the banks of the sea.

…Except that didn’t happen.

At the command of God, the Israelites and Egyptians were separated by a thick cloud, and the impassable sea was divided in two. The entire nation of Israel walked across the floor of the sea while God held the Egyptians at arm’s length.

You probably know the rest of the story. The Egyptians charged forward as soon as they were able, and it was only after God ripped away their chariot wheels that they began to realize that God was fighting on behalf of Israel. By then it was too late. God brought the waters crashing back down, decimating in an instant one of the world’s foremost military powers. Egypt’s destruction was complete. Israel was safely delivered by the mighty hand of God.

Impossible. Absolutely impossible.

Think about it: a cloud filled with darkness on one side and light on the other (Exodus 14:20)? A wind so strong it cut a pathway through a sea and dried the land underneath it (Exodus 14:21)? The chariot wheels of an entire army just falling off all at once (Exodus 14:25)?

The Red Sea shouldn’t have happened. Couldn’t have happened. Every law of physics and probability declares it impossible. And yet there it is, staring back at us from the pages of the Bible.

We’re faced with a choice, then. We have to decide if this story is fabricated, exaggerated, or true—and we have to choose carefully. If it’s fabricated, then so is the God who claims to have done these things. If it’s exaggerated, we can write off every difficult scripture as poetic license, watering down the Bible into something we’re more comfortable with, something that demands less of us. But if it’s true…

If it’s true, we serve the God of the impossible.

That’s an important distinction, and not just for this particular story. It matters when we’re talking about the Red Sea crossing, yes, but it also matters when we’re talking about the sun standing still or Jesus walking on water or seven fish feeding thousands. These are the stories that critics point out and laugh at because they’re impossible. For the sun to stop in the sky—literally stop—then everything we know about physics dictates the resulting change in earth’s angular velocity would fling every human being skyward at gut-wrenching, instantly fatal speeds. It couldn’t have happened. It’s impossible.

In many ways, the critics are right. These stories are impossible. They fly in the face of every natural law we’ve observed and measured. But in moments like this—moments when our own reasoning and experience cast doubt on the Bible—there’s only one question you need to answer. One simple, easy question:

Do you believe in Genesis 1:1?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Do you believe that?

If you don’t, then yes, of course the Bible is impossible. Of course it’s impossible to part a sea, to walk on water, to stop the sun in the sky, to feed multitudes with a few crumbs. Stories like that are illogical and irrational.

But if you do believe in Genesis 1:1—if you do believe God conjured the heavens and the earth out of complete emptiness, if you do believe He set the moon and stars and planets in place, if you do believe He carefully balanced the laws of physics and set the universe in motion—then what’s left to disbelieve?

If the God of Genesis 1:1 halts the sun in the sky, what of it? What limits are we willing to place on the One who created all suns everywhere? Are we so simpleminded as to believe God tied His own hands after calling the physical realm into existence? That He’s now bound by thermodynamics and gravity and electromagnetic force—rules He created?

No, the God of Genesis 1:1 is not a God of boundaries and limits. He’s not a God to be packed neatly into a box, restrained by our own concepts of feasible and possible. He is the God who asks, “To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike?” (Isaiah 46:5).

If you’re still with me, excellent. But be warned that we’re about to head into slightly less comfortable territory, although I hope the journey will be worth it. It’s one thing to believe in the miracles of antiquity. It’s easy to believe that God did impossible things thousands of years before you were born.

The hard part is believing He still does.

Believing that God split the Red Sea several thousand years ago has no impact on your life today, except that it requires you to believe in the God of the impossible. And that changes everything.

If God could do the impossible then, what’s stopping Him from doing the impossible now? If God didn’t fit into a box back then, what makes us think we can put Him in one now?

And we do sometimes think that, if we’re honest with ourselves. Our carnal, short-sighted human nature allows us to hold a ridiculous dichotomy within our own minds: “God can do the impossible, but He can’t help me with _____ because of _____.” Fill in your own blanks. You know them. We all have them—false limits we set on the Master and Sustainer of the universe. “God can’t do this because I don’t see any reasonable solutions.”

Do you see the inherent flaw in claims like that? God doesn’t need reasonable solutions, and He’s certainly not locked into the ones you can see. Why do we act like He is?

“Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem?” (Isaiah 50:2).

“Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19).

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

When Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), do we believe him?

When John says, “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14), do we believe him?

When Christ tells us, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), do we believe Him?

That kind of faith is easy in theory and difficult in practice. I want to answer those last three questions with “Yes, I believe,” but far too often I’m the man with the demon-possessed child, crying out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

As a personal example, one of my weakest areas when it comes to faith is finances. I can’t count the number of times Mary and I have crunched the numbers in our bank account and I’ve concluded, “It’s impossible. The numbers don’t add up. We can’t make this work.

And then, impossibly, it does.

It’s the fish and the loaves. We needed more than we had, but instead of a stack of money falling from the sky, God made what we had go farther than it should. I was right—it was impossible. The numbers didn’t add up. It should not have worked.

And five loaves and two fish should not have fed five thousand men.

I believe in Genesis 1:1, but I have a hard time believing God can do anything with my bank account. It’s ridiculous. Foolish. In this one insignificant arena, I believe the Lord of all creation is powerless to help—mostly because I know the rules. I know how bank accounts work. You put money in; you take money out. If you don’t put it in, you can’t take it out. Those are the rules.

Abraham and Sarah knew the rules, too. God had promised them a son, but they knew Sarah was too old—they knew it was impossible—so they invented their own workaround. They tried to help God make it work by introducing Hagar into the equation. And Jacob and Rebekah likewise knew the rules—if Jacob was going to get the birthright Esau had sold him, it was going to have to be through deception and subterfuge. There was no other way. Rules, after all, are rules.

But that’s the thing. There are rules for everything. There are rules for fishes and loaves. There are rules for how water should behave. There are rules for the angular momentum of the earth. Fish and loaves aren’t infinite, water can’t be parted or walked upon, and the sun certainly can’t stand still in the sky. These things are impossible.

And we serve the God of the impossible.

Parting the Red Sea was always the plan. God told Moses to bring the Israelites to the shore of the sea so that He could “gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:4).

As the Egyptians approached, Moses spoke these words to the camp of Israel: “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever” (Exodus 14:13).

What seemed like a dead end to Israel was just another step in God’s plan. They saw no possible way out, but God had His eyes set on a very impossible way. He told Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:15-16).

According to the rules, that shouldn’t have worked—and if God hadn’t been involved, it never would have. But the Red Sea crossing and the Bible’s other impossible stories teach us two lessons worth taking to heart:

First, when reality and God disagree, God wins.

And second, it’s in the impossible moments that God does some of His best work.

Stand still and see.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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