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.”
Ben, you know about the death of my son 15 years ago in the car accident. So you know I’m in on this. But, very honestly, what about the death of Jesus? And what about Isaiah 45:7 that says God causes good times and bad times (NLT version)? I’m not trying to argue, I’m just trying to make some sense of it all.
I’m not sure I follow. So when something bad does that mean that Satan won that battle and God isn’t in control?
Yes. Because the only events that could possibly happen are events that come from direct, supernatural, first causes from either God or Satan. Those are our only possible options when we consider the problem of evil. Either God made it happen or Satan made it happen.
Because, otherwise, we might think that bad things happen just because bad things happen and do not require the direct control of a supernatural being, but that’s just silly, obviously.
First chapter of Job describes this world as a (computer) game between God and Satan. That makes as much sense as anything.
Omnipotence has the power to change anything….indeed, theoretically it was all foreseen–yet it continues unabated Belief paints itself into a corner–as usual.
This essay is really muddled, theologically. It says nothing about the fall, nothing about human agency, nothing about the promise in Revelation of a world where suffering will no longer be. It is very simplistic just to talk about God’s love (God is love) without also talking about free will, justice and the results of living in a fallen world.
Which god is he talking about? The one that is all mighty and created everything or the not so all mighty one? The all mighty one could stop a mass shooting if He/She/IT wanted to, the not so all mighty could not. So it must be that one he is talking about. OH wait, is´nt there only suppose to be one??
So, God’s promises of blessings are merely pie in the sky when you die, bye and bye. Yep, I’ve suspected as much. The bad things are not part of God’s plan, but he has no plan to make them better, despite the promises in Scripture. Almighty, all-knowing, but unwilling to stop the carnage.
I’m sorry. But the only way to not blame God for the bad things is to not give him any credit for the good things. The only way to not blame him for not keeping his promises is to recognize that he isn’t really there.
Good things happen. We make them happen, and they happen by chance. Bad things happen by the same operations. But if God wishes to get praise for the good wishes to avoid blame for the bad, He’d better start answering the prayers for protection in the firestorms. He’d better start taking care of people and putting down the charlatans who prophesy in his name.
“The idea that a loving God would have a “plan” that involved wiping out thousands in earthquakes and tsunamis”
Are you familiar with a book in the Bible titled Genesis? Wiping out? Ever hear about Noah? Sodom and Gommorah?
Earthquakes? Numbers 16:31-33 Isaiah 2:10-22, 5:25 Micah 1:3-6
“giving people cancer” 1 Samuel 5:6-9 ( tumors from god) Numbers 12:1-10 ( leprosy from god) Numbers 25:9 ( plague from god, 24,000 killed) 2 Samuel 24:15 ( pestilence on Israel that kills 70,000) 2 Kings 5:27 (Elisha curses Gehazi and his descendants forever with leprosy.) 2 Kings 6:18-19 ( god strikes the Syrians blind
“parents losing children” In Exodus god kills all the first born of the Egyptians because pharaoh wouldn’t free the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh didn’t free the slaves because god hardened pharaoh’s heart & kept pharaoh from freeing the slaves. So much for free will..,..
I too believe that God sits with us in the dark and grieves with us. That he sets no time-limits on our grieving, no expectations on how we grieve, no demands that we “forgive and move on” so we can get back to living the “victorious christian life”. He sits with us for as long as it takes. And then, when we are ready to hear, he offers us the hope we crave to take those broken pieces and re-fashion them into something beautiful and good. Because as far as I can see, that’s the God who looks like Jesus.
On what does the author make his claims about God or what he thinks God is like? Solid claims come from solid foundation. I do not see any foundation for his reductive characterization of God. What I see is a “God as I understand him” formula. Those work well in 12-Step groups. I know. I’ve had one. But this god often is used to inspire character development rather than worshipping God, the Father of Jesus. I have no doubt God’s plan is to work all things together for good for those who love Him. I, too, wrestle with the idea of God’s plan. I have friends who insist God either allows or causes everything that happens, good, bad or whatever. Personally, I don’t want that idea to be true. I think that calls for a God who has allowed some heinous stuff. That gives God a bad rep. Who wants to be known in our culture as professing faith in a God others condemn? Personally, I’ll take my chances with the God of Scripture, the One who gave us Jesus.
The only times in Scripture that Jesus weeps is when we suffer…well thought out and written.
Yes, persecution of the Palestinians is not God’s plan, but man’s evil actions.
What is so difficult in simply saying that we don’t know “why” something happened? IMO the most effective and human act is be with others in their pain. If it’s our situation, all we can do is respond honestly looking for strength, faith and wisdom. Leave the figuring out to others.
That’s the point, IMO. Stop with the platitudes
It’s impossible to blame something that doesn’t exist.
..we all have our opinions on subjects like this. you’re lucky that God gifted you with this particular one, but some of us he did not.
Yes! The whole idea that something awful was God’s plan was part of the reason why I tried to be an atheist for several years. It didn’t work but I just couldn’t get past the idea that God planned suffering. Plus when you look at the concept of humans having free will, that sort of cancels out fate or God’s plan theory.
On the other hand I also have a problem with the idea of God handing out miracles. Such as healing one persons sick child but not another or any number of small things. I once had a friend that stated God found them a refrigerator when their other one died.
DOOD…my 2 1/2 yr old grandson just passed away after a lifelong battle with leukemia. his dad, my son, raised in Calvary Chapel as a PK, then rejecting God after his dad & I divorced, had a renewal of faith through it all…but is now left to grapple with the emotional remains. thank you for this perspective…it’s spot on, i hope he will read it and be able to take great comfort, as i have.
I think people say things like “Well, we can’t always see God’s plan for us,” because they are lazy and do not want to approach our grief or even share in it. They want to deny it because grief and tears and painful feelings are messy. When I first heard the words, ‘God weeps’, it changed how I saw pain and tragedy. Suffering is not a ‘bad choice’ we made. Suffering is part of being human. We aren’t alone in that suffering.
That is exactly how I believe God feels. I see him looking down with love, hoping we all choose one path, but giving us free will to accept another. And when one of those random choices becomes significant and leads to pain, he mourns the loss of what could have been, and keeps rooting for us all to just get through it and find love and peace again. Psalm 23 says he is with us in the dark valley. But it takes our determination to keep walking to get us out.
Benjamin, I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time and love your work. My understanding is different in regard to this post, though.
I think the primary problem is in the spirit of the objectifying, God-feigning, do-gooder who is regurgitating the cold, formal line that “it’s God’s plan” to the person who is suffering. The false consoler is in the same family as the guy who wears the billboard by the high school that says, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Now, do I factually believe that a change of heart can bring the kingdom of heaven into a present reality? Yes. But I can believe the billboard wearer’s FACT without believing his TRUTH.
In the same way, I don’t believe in the truth of the guy standing beside the patient saying, “it’s God’s plan for your tumor.” Go get a billboard and stand on the corner, bro.
However, do I believe we can lay it all – every single thing that befalls us – at the feet of God? I do.
I think the biblical record aligns with that.
[DISCLAIMER: As you well know, everybody can and does go to the bible to prove “untruths” all the time, so I know it’s beware of Barry time! For example, there are many who use Scriptures to say same-sex, monogamous relationships are forbidden. I do not believe that is truth. Best article I’ve ever seen on that is thisone: https://www.gaychristian.net/justins_view.php%5D
Back to suffering and starting with the plagues (Exodus 7-12). The Egyptians greatly, greatly suffered throughout all the plagues, and time after time the Scriptures attribute the suffering to God, specifically saying it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
And take Job, Satan (however you want to conceive of thatentity) brought the pain, but Satan had to run everything he did through God, and God set the parameters for the pain and loss that Job would experience.
Isaiah 45:7 – I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster; I,the Lord, do all these things.” (King James version says: … I make peace and create evil…”)
Amos 3:6 – When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Some of our televangelists have lived off this one. They, too, are in the same family as the billboarded guy standing down at the high school. :-))
Moving to the New Testament, look where Jesus puts the blame at the climax of his suffering: “My God,My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Paul, starting in 2nd Corinthians 11:23, uses his extensive suffering as “proof” that God is WITH him.
From beginning to end of the biblical account, it seems that evil and suffering stop at God’s door.
I read somewhere of 3 words that summarize our story with God, and they’ve served me greatly: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Thesis – God / us in God from the beginning. Antithesis – the subjection to that which is opposed to the Goodness of God. Synthesis – the greater glory in God that would not be possible except
Who allowed or set-up the season of antithesis – isn’t it God?
In a way, God is like a drug mule. He allowed sin/evil to be carried in his
body, until it had done its full work and is then removed. The sin/evil is encapsulated such that it doesn’t “change” or “impurify” the goodness of God, but it is present nonetheless.
So, how do you take a belief that God is the causal agent for suffering and apply it to the sufferer? By emptying yourself to one sufferer at a time, knowing every situation and set of circumstances is different. By immersing yourself in a real, spirit-led role of helper, consoler, encourager, and nurse. By being able to
hear cussing rants, screams and rages at God from the sufferer and not feeling
any need to pardon or excuse God with some trite statement about how God
wouldn’t let you suffer beyond what you can bear. By being sensitive and loving, attentive and present. By being God’s vessel, one to another, knowing that suffering is from the hand of God and healing is from the same hand.
And when healing is not seen from that hand in this lifetime, we’re left mystified. And it’s hard. And it’s a day at a time.
And, ultimately, isn’t it faith that although we haven’t seen it clearly, nor have we heard it discernibly, and God knows we don’t know what to think it is, that we believe the synthesis is far, far greater than the antithesis?