Question: "What does God mean when He says, "my ways are higher than your ways" in Isaiah 55:9?"
Answer: Isaiah 55:8–9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . . As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s infinite thoughts are far greater than our limited ability to comprehend them. The psalmist exclaimed, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). God’s thoughts and His ways don’t always make sense to us, but we can rest in the knowledge that He is always good, and, therefore, everything He does is good (Psalm 13:6; 100:5).
The human heart is filled with questions for God: “Why?” “When?” “How?” We often wrestle with faith because of those questions. How can we fully trust a God we don’t understand? How can we have faith when God’s ways seem even cruel at times? When we try to comprehend God’s ways, we can become frustrated. His ways are higher than our ways, and His actions often do not make sense to our earth-bound minds. We question God’s ways when young people die, when tragedies strike righteous people, when the wicked prosper (see Psalm 73). So we beat on heaven’s door with our demand for answers, and no answer comes but this one: “My ways are higher than your ways.”
The key to finding peace with ways that we don’t understand is in Psalm 131: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (verses 1–2). A just-weaned child does not understand everything his mother does. She may correct him, take him to the doctor for vaccinations, and tell him “no” when he wants something very much. But he trusts her and loves her because he knows she loves him. He rests on his mother in complete humility and trust in her superior wisdom and provision. That’s what we must do with God when His ways are beyond our comprehension.
If we try to understand God’s ways from earth looking up, we won’t find many answers. Instead, God left us a clue in the word higher. His ways are not merely different from ours, they are higher. Better. Superior. They exist on a grander scale. He parted the Red Sea because it fit His plan for Israel (Exodus 14:21; Psalm 66:6). He made the sun stand still so Joshua’s army could defeat their enemies (Joshua 10:12–13). He sent an angel to let Peter out of jail (Acts 12:6–10), but He allowed James to be executed (Acts 12:2). God has allowed some of His faithful servants to suffer terrible fates, even though He could have delivered them if He chose (Hebrews 11:32–40). When we try to make sense of these events with our natural minds, we won’t get anywhere. Instead, God invites us to come up higher and learn to see life from His perspective.
From earth looking up, we see only confusion. But from heaven looking down, we see a plan unfolding. In Isaiah 46:9–11, the Lord lays out His sovereign plan to use the Persian king Cyrus: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” We may not know why God needs a “bird from the east” or why He would want to use a man like Cyrus. The man “from a far-off land” may not himself understand why he is moving across the world. But those who trust the Lord can rest in the confidence that God is at work. The Bible gives little room for the idea of coincidence (Proverbs 16:33; Psalm 37:23). In God’s “higher ways,” everything happens for a reason and will be woven into the fabric of God’s good plan for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
God’s ways are higher than our ways because His ways are always part of a bigger plan. We see only our small piece of the puzzle; God sees the finished work. We see a portion of the jumbled back of the tapestry; God is the Weaver at the loom. When our desire is to live in step with His plan, we can have confidence that, even when bad things happen, God is still in control. He often takes what Satan meant for evil and turns it into good for the salvation of many (see Genesis 50:20). God’s priorities are the magnification of His glory and the expansion of His kingdom (Psalm 97:6; Luke 8:1). When God’s glory and God’s kingdom are our priorities, too, we learn to rejoice that His ways are higher than our ways (1 Corinthians 10:31).