Sometimes I imagine an outcome that I believe would be best, and I pray fervently that God will make it happen. I know he can do it, and I believe he might. I spend lots of time praying for relief, for rescue, for better circumstances, for needs and desires—both for myself and for other people. All that asking and believing requires a certain amount of faith. But what about when things are so bad that my mind cannot even imagine what a good outcome might be? What part does faith play when everything seems lost already, when nothing my mind can even think of to pray for would fix it? That’s when I have to decide—because it is a decision—to put my trust in the God of the impossible. Rather than bringing my requests to God, I bring God my trust, and I say, “I only see darkness. But still I trust you.”
Trusting God when we cannot even imagine a good outcome, let alone expect one, may sound like too much to ask. But Scripture gives us role models for a kind of trust that goes even deeper than our deepest outcries. Imagine yourself as a condemned criminal facing the death penalty. All appeals have been exhausted. The guards come to lead you toward your execution. They attach you upright onto crude wooden bars out in the blazing sun. They wait for you to die. Within hours, it will all be over. Chances for good outcomes are so far in your past that your mind doesn’t even bother to search for them. What little space your imagination still has to function now allows only for the anxious hope of a death that is not too prolonged. You wait in agony for a tragic end to a criminal life.
That was the impossible dilemma of one of the condemned men hanging on a cross next to Jesus. Another criminal also hanging there mocked Jesus, but the first one pushed back, telling the other criminal that both of them deserved their punishment, while Jesus was innocent. Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42, 43).
Think about this criminal’s situation a day, or even an hour, before this conversation. Even in his most farfetched fantasies, he never could have dreamed that this conversation with the Son of God would take place. He didn’t pray for it. He didn’t strategize for it. He was in an impossible situation. Only the God of the impossible could have rescued him. And that’s what Jesus did.
It’s not that he does things that are bigger than we expect—it’s that he does things that are entirely different from what we could know to ask.
When I speak of any good outcome being beyond imagination, I don’t mean that we’re dreaming too small or too big. I mean that our minds simply could not have come up with the idea. That is the key to the God of the impossible. It’s not that he does things that are bigger than we expect—it’s that he does things that are entirely different from what we could know to ask. Trusting him requires us to set aside the categories of requests we know and simply turn ourselves over to him to bring about a reality we could never fathom. Obviously, that is not easy to do. It’s hard enough to believe he might do the things we ask him, let alone the things we cannot even imagine to ask.
Think of Abraham’s dilemma when God came to him and said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). How could there be a good outcome for such an outrageous request? Let’s imagine a few possibilities. Abraham could simply say no. After all, it’s murder! Isaac is his son! And, Isaac is not just any son—he is the long-promised one, born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, the one who would make Abraham’s descendants outnumber the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Sacrificing him is out of the question. But disobeying God’s command is also out of the question. What if Abraham did the deed but then God brought Isaac back to life? Better than nothing but still a horrible outcome. Abraham still would have had to go through killing Isaac, Isaac still would’ve had to suffer at the hands of his own father—and how could Abraham ever trust God again after such a horrendous event?
Abraham, seeing no good outcome, decided to trust God anyway. He moved forward, preparing the supplies and taking Isaac on the three-day journey. They climbed the mountain, and he secured Isaac to the altar and readied him for the sacrifice. He lifted the knife and prepared to shove it into his son. And then—as we know—God stopped him. We knew God would, partly because so many of us know this story so well, but also because Genesis 22:1 tells the reader right away that this was a test. But Abraham didn’t know that. He was all in. Any good outcome seemed impossible, but Abraham trusted God anyway, and God fashioned an outcome that Abraham could not have imagined. That’s how much faith Abraham had in God.
Maybe you find yourself in an impossible situation. You’re beyond asking or even knowing what to ask. You believe any possibility for a good ending is already behind you. Maybe it looks as if the loss you have already sustained has ruined any future. The mess you are in feels too tangled for redemption. What is left? The only way ahead may be simply to decide, against all human logic or understanding, to trust God. Pour your faith into him, not into what he might or might not do. You might see no way out, but you can trust God to create a way out. There is a scary—but liberating—feeling of release when I decide to stop strategizing, plotting, figuring, and begging, and simply trust. I may have to repeat the decision many times because I’m tempted to let my trust falter and start worrying and maneuvering again, but with God’s help, I keep giving it to him. I may be out of ideas or out of energy to fight, but I don’t give up hope. I trust in the God of the impossible.