These were the words of Simon Peter as recorded by John. Following the miraculous sign of the feeding of the five thousand Jesus had spoken at length of the significance of this sign. He had compared and contrasted the provision he would make with the giving of manna in the wilderness. “I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die … yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6. 48-51 RV).
This caused confusion among his listeners but instead of explaining what he meant he followed up with more “hard sayings”. Even his disciples began to grumble amongst themselves: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (v.60 NIV). Jesus, of course, was aware of this but still made no attempt to explain his words. As a result: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v.66). When Jesus spoke to the twelve, asking them if they also were going to forsake him, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv.68,69).
Peter still did not understand; Jesus still did not explain. But Peter refused to go away, he refused to follow those who had turned away. He gave two reasons for this refusal: (1) There was nowhere else to go, and (2) Whatever the difficulties, they had sufficient positive evidence to convince them that, come what may, they had to maintain their faith in Jesus. Their faith was so strong that it amounted to certain knowledge. “We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God”. It was unthinkable that they should turn away from him. To go away was to go nowhere. With all the positive evidence they had, the last thing they thought of doing was to indulge in negative thinking, allow doubts to enter in and then turn away.
The disciples could not understand Jesus’ sayings; Jesus did not attempt to explain them or enlarge upon them. Whatever the difficulties, he expected them to trust him and maintain their confidence in him.
It has not been unusual for God’s servants to have difficulty in understanding God’s ways: how He was working in their own lives or the lives of others. The Psalmist was puzzled by the apparent prosperity of the wicked and was tempted to say: “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.” It was only when he “went into the sanctuary of God” and considered the “end” of the wicked that he found the answer to his problem (Psalm 73. 1-17). Jeremiah had a similar difficulty (Jer. 12.1,2). David could not understand why, when it was he who had sinned in numbering God’s people, it was the people who suffered.(1 Chron. 21.17) The prophet Habakkuk had two problems. First he could not understand why God did not punish His people for their wickedness (Hab. 1.1-4). Then, when God said He had already planned such a punishment and would be using the Babylonians to execute it, the prophet found it hard to accept that God should use such an evil nation to carry out His work. “Thou that art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that canst not look on perverseness, wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and boldest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he” (Hab. 1.13 RV).
Perhaps the clearest illustration of this problem is to be found in the experiences of Job. We know how greatly he suffered. At first, despite the extremity of his sufferings, he accepted them without question. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Even when provoked by his wife he stood firm: “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 1.21; 2.10). Sadly, provoked by the glib “explanations” and totally false accusations of his so-called friends. Job eventually went too far in questioning God’s ways and, in the end, God Himself challenged him. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Job had to admit the justice of God’s reproof: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted …. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 40.7,8;42.2,3 NIV).
God did not offer Job or his friends any explanation of the way He was working in Job’s life. By word and by the manifestation of His power in a great storm He impressed on Job the fact that He was the great creator and sustainer of all things, of infinite power and wisdom, in full control of every part of His creation. Job was compelled to confess that all he could do was to accept God’s will and God’s ways without questioning them. “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40.4,5 NIV).
We must expect to have to face tests of a similar kind; to: have experiences which we cannot understand, which are hard for us to accept. Sometimes, in the mercy of God, over a period of time we begin to discern a purpose in those experiences, but not always. We have to learn to simply accept. This surely is one of the greatest tests of our faith and our trust in God; to accept where we cannot understand; to accept that our God is in full control of our lives and is of infinite wisdom; more than this, that He is our loving heavenly Father and that in all His dealings with us He is expressing His love—and never more so than in our severest trials. (Heb. 12.4-13).
That was true of the experiences of His only begotten Son. His supreme sacrifice on the cross, when, for a moment, even the Son felt forsaken by his Father, was God’s greatest expression of His love for His creation. It is no good thinking we can understand this or explain it in coldly logical terms; we cannot. So it is sometimes in our lives. We have to learn to accept, to let go— let go our doubts, our anxieties, our mistrust. We once heard a speaker coin the expression: “Let go! Let God!”—let God take over completely. This is never going to be easy, but this confident faith and implicit trust in Him and submission to His will is surely what He is looking for above all else. We have to be prepared for our loving heavenly Father to take extreme measures if He judges them to be necessary to help us to develop and manifest these qualities.
The alternative is unthinkable. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” To turn away as some of those early disciples of Jesus did is to admit failure; to say, in effect, that God has tried us beyond what we are able to bear, and the inspired apostle has assured us that He will never do that (1 Cor. 10.13). But we must allow God to decide what we are able to bear. He has promised that He will be with us in all our trials, that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13.5).
In the end it is our faith which will win through; our faith in God, our faith in His love, our faith in His promises. “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” By the grace of God there will come a day when we shall know even as we are known, when we shall understand all things, when we shall be able to look back and see a pattern in our lives wrought in love and wisdom by our God to lead us to perfection.