How do we know what God is telling us in our lives? How do we discern his will? If you look into this topic, you will find several schools of thought. But in many of them, interpreting our life circumstances is often at the center. When a good thing or a bad thing happens, many people believe that they can understand that God is telling them something by their life’s ease or hardship. But, this is seldom reliable.
When the apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the isle of Malta, he was bitten by a snake. Those who saw it happen interpreted Paul’s circumstances as a supernatural sign. But, if you’ll take note, you’ll see that they missed, twice.
Acts 28:3-6 – 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
So, the first time the people saw that Paul was snakebitten, they assume he is a murderer. He must be, after all, because how could God allow a good man to have a viper latch onto his hand after he survived a shipwreck? But then the people change their minds. When Paul survives the bite with no ill effects, the people decide that Paul must be deity.
The people of Malta misinterpreted the snakebite two times. They did their best to interpret the circumstances in front of them, to figure out what God might be saying or doing, and they missed badly. Why? We are not equipped, apart from Scripture, to let our life circumstances tell us anything about the Lord or the Lord’s will.
Consider the fact that, in Scripture, we see time and time again people misreading the situation and failing to know or do what God wants. In Exodus and Numbers, the people grumble and complain against God, believing that God must be out to destroy them simply because their desert trek is hard and their enemies are big. In Joshua 9, the nation of Israel is tricked by the Gibeonites because they only look at the circumstances without seeking the word of God. In Job, Job’s 3 friends assume that Job must be on God’s bad side because of his suffering. Elijah assumes that he is the only man left in the land who is committed to God simply based on his personal experience. In Luke 24, the disciples walking to Emmaus complain to the resurrected Jesus that they clearly misunderstood who Jesus was because he died—missing the point about as badly as humanly possible.
No, people are not good at interpreting our circumstances. Without Scriptural guidance, we will miss and miss badly. We cannot assume that, if something is hard to accomplish, it is not God’s will. We cannot assume that, because something is easy, it must carry God’s blessing. We cannot assume that, because something is successful, it has honored God. We cannot assume that, because something is unsuccessful, it has dishonored God.
What then do we do? We rely on what God has actually said. God has told us what to do. He has told us how to please him. He has told us what honors him and what dishonors him. All this is found in his holy word. Peter reminded us that God has given us all that we need to live a godly life (2 Pet. 1:3) and then pointed us to the supreme reliability of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19-21). Paul told us that it is Scripture which God has exhaled and which equips us for godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So, if we want to live life without overinterpreting or misinterpreting our circumstances, the only way to do so is to base our actions, our beliefs, and our standards solely on the Scriptures. Nothing else works. Nothing else is reliable and without error. No interpretation of a life circumstance is infallible. But, the word of God, properly handled and trusted, is totally reliable.