We all have that one thing. We tell ourselves, “If only I had that, my life would be complete.” If only God would give me a more understanding boss. If only God would take away this illness. If only God would give me a spouse, or a better spouse. If only God would make my kids more obedient.
Why would God keep that one thing from us? Does God enjoy withholding the things we want most? When it seems our good God is keeping something good from us, it can be bewildering and confusing. I thought God loved me, and wanted what was best for me?
The good news is that you are not alone. God withheld from Elijah. He was ready to take on the world if only God would get rid of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–14). God withheld from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Living in tents as sojourners in their own land, “God gave [them] no inheritance in [the Promised Land], not even a foot’s length” (Hebrews 11:9; Acts 7:5). The Lord withheld from Rachel. She remained childless while her sister racked up four kids. Job takes the cake; absolutely everything was taken from him, short of the breath in his lungs.
If you feel like God is keeping something back from you, join the club. Every single human being has experienced some mysterious withholding of God. The pages of Scriptures are sprinkled all over with the tears of believers who have cried and pleaded, asking the same question: Why, O Lord, are you holding this back from me?
We might be tempted to think our sorrowful experiences are the consequences of a fallen world, but we would be wrong. From the beginning, God has withheld from mankind. In Genesis, God created a beautiful garden, and he placed man there. As God handed the keys over to Adam, he gave him a command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16–17).
God intentionally created a tree just so that he could withhold it from Adam and Eve. Why would he do that? Perhaps the real head-scratcher is this: When God gave Adam and Eve every single tree of the garden for food, why did they ultimately insist on having the fruit of the only tree that was off-limits?
Satan was able to tempt Adam and Eve into sin by drawing their focus to the one thing “missing” from their life. He convinced them that God was ruining their life by withholding the one thing that would actually make them happy: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Look at your life. Is it possible that you’ve fallen for Satan’s oldest strategy against us? Are you fixated on the one thing God is withholding? Has the Serpent convinced you that God is actually wrong to keep something good from you? Is it possible that your life is really a garden full of fruitful trees, but you’re stuck on the one tree God won’t let you have now?
When God rested and surveyed the universe and the garden he had created for mankind, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Somehow, an Eden where God withheld the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve was very good. Not just something to cope with. Not just something to live with. Very good.
When God withholds something our heart desperately desires, it is very good. Our minds tend to fixate on the one thing that God won’t give us. My boys do this all of the time. It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand toys in the playroom, they want the one toy that their brother has and won’t share with them. Whether it’s health, a new job, a spouse, a child, a better marriage, or a better church, we tend to forget about all of the things God has given us and focus on the one thing he is withholding.
Paul was no stranger to our woes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that [the thorn] should leave me.” God did not give him what he asked for. He withheld. But here is what he gave instead: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9). God withholds good things from us to teach us to treasure him above every good thing. When he refuses to give us the good thing we plead for, he is actually giving us something even greater: himself and his grace to us in Christ.
The gracious rescue mission of the Son of God on the cross — another tree — was set in motion by God’s command: “Of that tree you shall not eat.” Adam and Eve didn’t realize it, but the tree God withheld in the garden became the doorway for his Son. Because God withheld something, thousands of years later Jesus Christ was able to accomplish the most powerful act of grace and love. Satan convinced Adam and Eve to resent God for commanding them not to eat of the tree. Despite their sinful rebellion, the tree that God withheld became the tree on which we were saved.
God is going to withhold something from you — guaranteed. Whatever that tree looks like in your life, realize that that tree is a doorway for the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There is nothing better than to fully rely upon his word to sustain us in weakness. It is in those moments of desperate faith and dependence that Jesus is most magnified. Our God is a withholding God — and we should be very glad he is.
Chad Ashby (@Chad_Ashby) is the pastor of College Street Baptist Church in Newberry, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife and three boys. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.