The title above may be the most encouraging phrase in our language. My friend Rennie Frazier often mentions this phrase in his preaching. He reminds his audience of its hopefulness. The word “but” is always an adversative. It tells us that an exception to some previous assertion is about to be made. The phrase “But God…” occurs 41 times in the Scriptures, the majority of which refer to some great blessing the Lord has given his people in contrast to their present circumstances. 

Sometimes, however, the phrase indicates God’s displeasure. A passage may describe a sinful act or condition; “But God” indicates divine disapproval. As Stephen reviewed the history of Israel’s disobedience, he spends a fair amount in his speech reminding his audience of Israel’s persistent refusal to follow Moses. Making the golden calf was the pinnacle of their unbelief. “But God turned away” (Acts 7.42) was the divine response. When men will not obey, they will suffer the spiritual consequences imposed by God himself. 

The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ warnings, in an attempt to excuse their own self-righteousness. “But God knows your hearts” Jesus warned (Luke 16.15). However deluded men may be about their spirituality, God knows better. 

The wicked may be proud of their immorality and lies, “But God” promises to destroy them (Psalm 52.5). None are immune to the judgments of God. 

However, the God who judges us is the same God who justifies us. He who condemns the proud also vindicates and forgives the humble. When we are confronted by our sins, we despair — until God steps in, offering pardon and healing. From this we derive our hope. 

In the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion, when all seemed lost, when God’s purposes appeared to be thwarted by the wicked schemes of men, hope appeared. Jesus was “nailed to a cross by the hands of Godless men… But God raised him up” (Acts 2.23f; cf 13.30). What seemed to be defeat became victory.

When the human condition seemed hopeless, when sin seemed overwhelming, and when men were helpless to solve their problems, God reached out to man. Because of sin, men were dead, disobedient, destined for wrath. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us… made us alive” (Ephesians 2.41). However unworthy and unlovable men may have been, God’s love was greater still: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). 

When we feel overwhelmed by our circumstances, inadequate to handle temptation, grief, uncertainty, and loss, God offers his help. Paul said he “had no rest” but was “afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us” (2 Corinthians 7.51). God’s comfort conquers our fears. 

When others judge us as unworthy; when others question our soundness and integrity; when others falsely accuse; our vindication comes from God. When Paul was accused of flattery, of pretext, of error, impurity, and deceit, he looked to God. “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2.4). Our hope is in the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. 

When the boo-birds of pessimism and the watchdogs of suspicion create doubt about the wellbeing of the church; when all appears to be lost; when good men are slandered, and their integrity assailed; remember, it is God who judges and justifies. The success and growth of the kingdom depends ultimately upon God, not men. “So then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3.6f).

Brothers and sisters, we live in a hard world. But God makes a difference!