Is God reliable? What a silly question, you may think. Well, just think a bit harder. When I rely upon someone it means that my experience leads me to anticipate that they will behave in a certain way. I rely on the milkman to leave a pint on my doorstep every morning; I rely on my car starting to take me to work. But there are days when the milk isn’t there, or the car won’t start. These are of course exceptions which confirm our belief in the rule which they break. But the fact is that our expectation of them on this occasion was misplaced.
But can we rely on God always to behave in the same way? Generally yes, because by his nature he is unchangeable: otherwise believing in him would make no sense; but if we expect God (like my milkman) always to behave in a particular way in how he deals with us ,then sooner or later we shall get a nasty shock.
That was the mistake that Job, and even more Job’s comforters, made. They fell into the popular pothole of believing a man only needs to behave righteously in the sight of God and no misfortune will befall him. When Job suffered calamity, they argued, it must be because he had done something sinful. ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ Who has not heard that pitiful complaint coming from someone when trouble has overtaken?
God is reliable, but not always predictable, at least not by us. ‘My son,’ says the author of Ecclesiasticus ‘if you aspire to serve the Lord prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when trouble comes.’ [2.1–2 – but the whole of ch.2 is well worth reading].
Call to mind the story told of St Teresa of Avila. One day, they say, Teresa was riding a donkey from one of her convents to another. When they came to a big mud-puddle, the sassy donkey balked and threw the saint right into the muck. St Teresa, always in touch with God, said, ‘Lord, why this?’ He answered, ‘That is the way I treat my friends.’ Teresa came back, ‘Then no wonder you have so few!’