Lately I’ve been thinking about life. A lot.
I’ve also been thinking about the the line we tell people when they’re going through sad chapters in life: “Well, this is all part of God’s plan.”
But is it, really? Is all this part of God’s plan? Looking back at the times people have said this to me in the midst of suffering, I find myself shaking my head that we’d believe such a thing.
Not only does that line fail to bring me comfort, it also seems to impugn God’s character. The idea that a loving God would have a “plan” that involved wiping out thousands in earthquakes and tsunamis, giving people cancer, parents losing children, car accidents, trauma, abuse, and all manner of pain and suffering, is an insane idea.
Think about it: if this is all “according to God’s plan” and every life event is being directed and controlled by him, he’s really bad at making plans.
In some of my saddest seasons of loss, people have come along side of me and said, “Well, we’ll never really understand God’s plan.”
And every time I hear it, through my tears and suffocating sadness I just want to reply, “No shit, Sherlock.” How could a plan that involves so much heartache be understood?
Sure, I understand what we’re trying to do when we say it. We’re trying to make ourselves or others feel better, and trying to make sense of sadness and suffering. The best way we know how? Apparently it’s to believe that our suffering was all planned by God, and thus must have some deeper, mysterious beauty we haven’t discovered yet.
Sometimes we’ll say God planned the suffering for our benefit. Other times we’ll be tricked into believing that God planned the suffering to chastise us for not measuring up. Yet, no matter how we try to rationalize or explain it, we end up at the same spot: if this is all part of God’s plan, God is the author and cause of evil and suffering.
As well meaning or desperate for answers as we may be, trying to fit all of the tragedies and sadness of life into some supposed master plan that God has, creates far more problems than it solves.
I am convinced that any belief or worldview that makes God the agent of causation for our suffering, ought to be rejected. This includes the idea that God has a giant master plan where everything that happens in life is divinely willed and ordained as part of it. In a world of such brokenness, this simply cannot be true.
Instead of saying that God has a “plan,” I am growing more fond of saying that God has a certain desire, a certain will– a certain heart. And that this will, this desire, and this heart, is always love. It’s never anything but love. This means that whatever God wills, and whatever God desires to bring into reality, is always beautiful and never evil.
God does not will our heartache and suffering. He doesn’t will our losses, and the broken chapters we experience in this life.
Those things have nothing to do with God, and are so far outside of his will, his desire, and his heart, that it’s indescribable.
Instead of trying to rationalize our suffering as being from the hand of God– thus making God an agent to be petrified of instead of a creator to be loved, I think we should be quicker to acknowledge that, no, a lot of what we experience in life isn’t God’s plan at all.
And honestly, we really need to stop blaming him, because we pin some really horrible and tragic life events on him. I can’t imagine it makes him feel good when we actually believe that he caused that car accident, sent the tornado, or gave the cancer in order to fulfill his own really twisted “plan.”
Instead, when we acknowledge that really hard and sad life events did not come from the hand of God, and were not in any way planned by or ordained by God, I believe we’re invited to get to know a God who joins in our suffering instead of causing it.
Because you see, if it’s outside of God’s heart and desires, God grieves that loss and brokenness with us– because it’s his hopes and dreams for our lives that end up getting smashed as well.
I don’t know how to have a relationship with a God who comes along side me in sadness and suffering and says, “You’re going to have to trust my reasons for making your world explode.”
But I am learning (I’m trying Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard), how to have a relationship with a God who sits beside me and says, “Yeah, man… this whole thing totally sucks.“
Instead of this idea of God having a master plan that meticulously dictates and controls what happens in our lives (often referred to a blueprint theology), I believe that God has hopes, dreams, and desires for our stories. When those things come true, he rejoices and celebrates with us.
But when those hopes and dreams get smashed to bits, instead of saying “Oh, by the way– I actually did that,” I believe God sits in the dark and mourns those broken dreams with us.
And when the tears have subsided long enough to begin to hear his voice clearly, I’m convinced he’s also whispering, “And I know this can’t replace your loss, but when you’re ready I’d love to partner with you to try to make something good come out of all this.”
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.