We follow signs every day of our lives. We become so accustomed to it that we don't even think about it most of the time. We make sure we're at the right wedding by looking at the church sign out front. We look for restroom signs in restaurants. We see a frown on someone's face and react to it as a sign of anger or confusion.
As people of faith, we develop a habit of seeing spiritual "signs" in our own lives too, but we can get mixed up about what constitutes a sign of God's activity in our lives. What one person sees as an answer to prayer appears to be no more than coincidence to another. A conversation feels like God's guiding voice in some cases, but in others, it might make things more confusing. How do we know what God is using to communicate with us?
The way we answer that question depends on where we look for meaning. Do we rely on circumstances to tell us what God is up to, or do we go to the source? Too often we look around us at the ever-changing landscape of our lives in order to understand God. We see circumstances as signs of God's love or provision. Then we assign God with ideas based on what we see and our own conclusions. That is a backward way of understanding God.
Let me give a crude example. Say I visit a friend's house on the way to bringing cookies to a bake sale. I bring the cookies into the house because she wanted to see how the recipe turned out. We start talking about her new sofa, and we go into the living room. As I leave, I forget the cookies. (Not an unlikely scenario, unfortunately!) She doesn't notice them either, and leaves to run errands. Her son comes home, sees a plate of cookies, and assumes that Mom left them for him. He samples a few and feels happy that his mother left him a treat.
Get the picture? We can deduce good and bad events in our lives in just such a way, assigning motives and actions to God that may or may not connect with our actual needs and God's work in our lives. We can't develop an understanding of God based on our circumstances.
Where we need to look is in the Scriptures, because God stated outright that He is revealed to us in its pages. All that we need to know about God is there. If we want to interpret our lives as we relate to God, then we need to look first at what God says about himself.
We want to know the cause-and-effect logic of what happens to us. We might conclude that any disaster we face, including the loss of this year's crop, is a sign that God doesn't love us. Maybe we are being punished for sin. The problem with that idea is that it begins and ends with what we see happening around us, and its effect on us. It is devastating; there's no question of that. But to assume that our suffering means God doesn't care or is punishing us is simply not an informed conclusion.
God has been revealed to us so that we won't be stuck in such an unreliable and confusing cycle of spiritual myopia. To find the truth about God, we always go the Bible, not current events. What do the Scriptures say about God's love for us? Well, we believe that the whole Word of God points to Jesus Christ, and the culminating act of Jesus was his death on the cross. Can we look at that and say that God doesn't care? On the contrary. We see that he suffered immeasurable pain for us. He died a criminal's death for our sake. If we are going to make statements about the love of God, the cross is where we need to fix our gaze. In this time of drought, we can look to the cross and know that Jesus doesn't ignore our pain and anxiety. Instead, he is practiced at suffering with us, and his promise is that he continues to do that. He feels our pain. He is with us in the midst of it.
God has shown us that we are loved, and our circumstances have no voice in that statement of truth. Jesus has died for us, so that we can trust him fully to provide for our needs in whatever situation we find ourselves. The cross is the first and only sign we must consult to know what our lives mean. No matter what happens, we know that God loves us. Jesus is with us in suffering, and in the good times. We need no other explanation than that, do we?