The Bible frequently speaks of people walking before God, walking after God, walking with God, walking in his ways, walking contrary to his ways, etc. Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand” (NASB). No one likes to think about falling, but there it is the same place we find that God establishes our steps and delights in us.
Walking with God
Parents delight in watching babies learn to walk. Falling down is part of the process, and doesn’t really bother anyone. Unfortunately, by the time babies are ready to walk, they already know that Mommy and Daddy don’t want them to do certain things. They already insist on doing them anyway. Parent’s don’t take delight in deliberate disobedience. Anyone who doubts the doctrine of original sin hasn’t noticed that no one ever has to teach babies to be naughty!
Just as earthly parents delight in watching their children walk, but not in watching them misbehave, God delights in his children, but not in their sin. As I said, we learn to disobey and disrespect deliberately and rebelliously before we learn to walk or talk. In other words, we sinned against our parents and against God from the beginning of our lives. He ordains “the steps of a man,” but we’d rather go our own way. And that always turns out to be dangerous.
As we learn to walk with God, we can expect to fall a lot. We can also expect that it won’t bother us much. In this life, we’re probably always a toddler. At least, we’re always learning something new in our walk. The problems in life come from falls that result from sin–our own or someone else’s–and not from learning to walk.
God’s discipline and love when we walk astray
Every parent knows the difference between a toddler’s innocent wandering into potential danger and deliberate wandering to get into something forbidden. In either case, a good parent rushes to stop the child from harming him or herself or something else. As the child grows older, though, sometimes it’s more appropriate to allow the child to stumble into a bad situation and learn a painful lesson from the consequences.
I well remember one time when my mother constantly frustrated my baby sister. Finally she (the baby) screamed, “I want another mother.” Don’t we do the same with God? Of course, we also doubt God’s love when we’re doing all the right things (to the best of our knowledge) and trouble continues to crash around us. It’s hard for us to remember that God knows better than we do what’s good for us. It’s hard to remember that in our most self-approving moods we’re never as yielded to him as much as we think we are. Also, when we’re the most ashamed of ourselves over some fault, we’re not as far from God as we feel.
David tells us that God establishes our steps. Another psalm tells us that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Still another scripture promises that we will hear a voice telling us where the correct way is whenever we depart from it. It delights God when we walk in his way. It does not delight him when we deliberately depart from it.
Where is God when we fall?
And don’t miss what David said about falling. People will not be hurled headlong not if they fall, but when. As lifelong sinners, we cannot walk perfectly in his ways. We refer to Adam’s sin in Eden as the fall of man. As Adam fell, so do we all.
It always surprises me when I fall, even when in hindsight I recognize that I failed to heed a clear warning. I suspect I am not alone in being surprised. Once we get past the toddler stage, falling hurts. Particularly nasty consequences of falling give us plenty of opportunity to blame God for the pain and doubt his love. We claim that a loving God would not allow certain kinds of pain.
In fact, in the psalm I quoted, David points out that someone trying to walk in God’s ways, not just the rebellious, will fall. God does not cause the fall. God does not fail to keep us from falling. If we don’t fall because of our own sin, we trip over someone else’s. Sin, and not any defect of God’s love, causes all pain in this life.
In fact, when we fall, God holds our hand. David says we are not hurled headlong. Falling hurts, and God permitted the hurt. But God holding our hand means that he did not permit a far greater hurt to come upon us. When we fall and God prevents us from hurling headlong, the pain we feel is probably comparable to a skinned knee or a hurting shoulder as our loving Father breaks the fall for us.
Let us affirm our love for God, and acknowledge his love for us, when we fall. Then let us get back up and walk again in the steps he ordained. Even if we limp for a while, it is less painful to walk with God than away from him.