when it's not a part of God's plan

Friday, June 19, 2015

Today, this passed through my newsfeed:

The proceeding comments fascinated me: "This is why I'm an atheist," "It's just something people say to make themselves feel better." And the one that took my breath away: "After my father was murdered, I heard this phrase all the time. I finally told someone if it was true, I needed a new religion." 

It came on the heels of a stressful conversation earlier today, a conversation that reminded me just how deep and far the fissures of damaging religion can spread. Years ago a dear friend was in an abusive relationship. When she asked her church leaders for help, they repeatedly supported her husband's behavior and encouraged her to "confront her own sin" and "cling to her marriage." As a result, my friend escaped through alcohol. She is sober now, but the experience cost her custody of her children, other relationships, and years of her life.

Is that really what God had planned for her life? For her children's lives?

Or the church shootings this week. Do we really believe God intended a young boy to become so full of hate he would murder innocent people in a sacred place? 

In my heart I hear a resounding no. No way. God did not plan for my friend to walk that awful road. He did not map out a path for church leaders to foster abuse. God did not intend for anyone to be gunned down this week. In the comment thread above, God does not have a blueprint that includes the murder of that woman's father. God doesn't work that way.

Yet we need to find meaning in our experience. Our souls long to believe suffering has a purpose. We want there to be a plan, a plan that means our suffering is not merely collateral damage of a broken world. Also, if we claim God is intricately involved in our lives, but illness and hardship are not a part of God's plan, how does it all fit together? What do we make of the language of modern Christian culture juxtaposed against the real life experience of evil? 

I say God has a plan.

A plan to build His kingdom. A plan to love and nurture His children, and for us to love Him back. A plan to overcome evil with god. A plan for good to win in the end. 

But it doesn't include tumors, or abuse, or murder, or suffering. 

Even so, our suffering has meaning.

Because God is good, He can't help but bring good out of evil. He breathes new life into death. He repays the years the locusts have eaten. He does this because He is the source of love and life and all that is good in the world. He can't help Himself. Good will grow in the darkest recesses because God can't help but breathe into them. It's who He is.

Did he intend evil? No. Will good come from it? Yes.

As long as we let it.

In every moment of suffering, we have a choice. We can choose to actively search for good - to pray for those who hurt us, to leave space for hope, to look for signs of new life sprouting from the ashes. We can intentionally point our faces toward light and seek healing. We can pray for the grace to endure, and open ourselves to the possibility that our greatest moments of terror and loss may also be our strongest source of empathy and comfort for others. 

Or we can shrivel under bitterness and frustration. We can give in to fear, we can stay in the dark. We can stay small, a seed refusing to surrender to the new life just under its skin. We can use our hurt to fuel our cynicism. We can blame and escape. We can curse God and die.

We rarely get to choose our experiences of life; most of us don't opt in to hardship willingly. But we have the great honor of choosing how our experiences will shape us. We get to choose who we want to be, even though we don't have a vote in the road that will lead us there. 

I saw this image today, and I agree with my friends. It was not God's plan for Steve to have a tumor, or our brothers and sisters to be gunned down in South Carolina this week. God never wanted that boy to be consumed by hate and murder. 

But good can grow out of pain. Because that's just who God is. 

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