Confusion, for lack of a better word, is good. At least that’s what we see in several passages in the Bible. Why would God want to intentionally confuse people? Great question. When God called the prophet Isaiah, he gave him confusing message .
When God called Isaiah to be his messenger this is what God told him to say:
“Go and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull
and their ears heavy
and blind their eyes:
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with the ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
What’s Isaiah’s message? Don’t understand, don’t perceive, don’t see, don’t hear, don’t turn, don’t be healed. What? It sounds like God wants the Israelites to remain confused. It’s confusing that God would want people to be confused. I guess God gets what he wants.
While many of us avoid or ignore weird texts like this one, Jesus didn’t. In each of the four gospels Jesus quotes these verses from Isaiah 6 (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40). There are very few Old Testament texts quoted from the mouth of Jesus that appear in all four of the gospels. Jesus thought this confusing text was important, that sometimes it’s good to be confused.
Those of us who teach the Bible often like to put the cookie on the lowest shelf, to make it really simple, to help people understand. But there is a problem from always making things simple and easy to understand. That’s not how God does it in the Bible most of the time. The Bible is often confusing. Many of Jesus’ parables are confusing. God makes his word confusing intentionally.
We need to not remain in a perpetual state of confusion. But sometimes, confusion is good. If we are never challenging, provoking, and even confusing people, we aren’t teaching like Jesus.
What purpose does confusion serve? I see three.
First, confusion makes us humble. We have to acknowledge that we don’t know everything. We are finite. We may not like it, but we are dependent. Do we really expect that we could fully comprehend a gloriously mysterious God? Confusion keeps us humble before an infinite, sovereign, power God.
Second, confusion causes us to ask questions. In his confusion about this confusing passage Isaiah asks a question, “How long, O Lord” (Isa. 6:11). Jesus quoted this passage to the disciples when they asked him a question about the parables. When we’re confused we should ask questions. People ask questions about things they care about. Care enough about the Bible to ask questions.
Third, confusion leads us to God. What does Isaiah do with his question? He goes directly to God with it. “How long, O Lord” is one of the psalmist’s favorite questions (Psa. 4:2; 6:3; 13:1, 2; 35:17; 62:3; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 82:2; 90:13; 94:3; 119:84). In the midst of our confusion, our humility and our questions should take us to God who may or may not answer them. But if our confusion leads us into a deeper relationship with God, it serves a great purpose.