The other day I saw a young man that I knew in passing, said “Hi” and briefly caught up on his life. He had just graduated college and was in that time where he was looking for the right job for his skills. From experience, I know that dealing with that is stressful. He offhandedly said “God has a plan,” and I knew what he meant.
The right thing is out there. He didn’t have to worry. After all the hard work of college, it is hard not to feel a little anxious about knowing the next step. Knowing that the right thing was out there and that he would come to it no doubt allayed those anxieties. I get that, and I agree with deriving peace from God’s ultimate control and his love for us.
But the contemporary dogma of “God’s plan” to allay our concerns is something people created, and it works sometimes to make us feel better, but not always.
Extending that, I respect those who can speak gently, respectfully without fear. Those who can initiate conversation without dividing. Those who can approach a fire without burning up or making it bigger. I hope I can do that here. I have tried many ways of turning this over in order to find the right words. It is hard, if not impossible, to know how to say it. So I will simply say.
When someone dies, especially a young person, and someone tries to console them by telling them that “it is part of God’s plan,”, it is not consoling. It can be reviling and angering and makes people angry and hateful toward a God that would have a “plan” that included the death a child. Particularly their own child.
I speak to this from experience, as we (our family) has passed through a trauma. A trauma that made newspapers, sent all of us reeling, still in some ways. It isn’t in the newspapers anymore, but death doesn’t leave when the newspapers stop reporting.
My faith is okay with doubt, mystery, not understanding everything, still questioning relentlessly. My faith is like an earthquake-proof building, it is not rigid. I am okay with not knowing everything right now. I am okay with discovery and growth. I am okay with controversial things, they don’t threaten me… But I have seen people around me be put off when I asked big questions (“Why did God create evil?” –which is a legitimate question when considering he created everything–it cannot be “taboo” to ask these questions if one sincerely hopes to help people understand their faith).
However, if my beautiful son committed suicide by accidentally taking the life of 4 other innocent people and someone approached me and consolingly told me that it was part of “God’s plan,” I can’t be sure of how I might respond. Peaceful? Comforted? Relieved? Probably not.
Enraged? Revulsion? Strong unpleasant emotion? A desire to distance myself from a God whose “plan” included killing my child? Yes. Because that is barbaric. It is sack cloth and ashes level of loss. It is “now I have decided to become a hermit,” loss.
I don’t know a gentle or sensitive way to put this, but the dogma of “God’s plan” is not something that people grieving death are comforted by in the rawness of the event, unlike my friend who graduated college and was waiting to see what was out there.
It makes me question where this whole idea of “God’s plan” came from. I think God had a plan for the Israelites, and he probably has hopes for our choices, as “Gentiles”. I don’t know if I would feel good about the idea that his “plan” included a bunch of beautiful babies getting killed at Sandy Hook.
Why would he destroy so that he could redeem? Can you imagine breaking the most precious thing of your child just so that you could either replace it with something else or have some other plan to bring glory to yourself?
Yeah, forget that kind of God, thanks much.
I do know that stuff happens in this world because God’s kingdom is in heaven, not on earth. Those who follow Christ, it is our job to live out his kingdom here, isn’t it? Making it so in living differently. Living differently because he gives us the ability to do so. When we ask him “Why didn’t you do anything?” He might ask us the same thing.
In conclusion, “God’s plan” dogma might be another human effort trying to make sense of things we don’t get to know about. Like why young innocents die. Cosmological things. Big questions. It is an often frustrating pat answer much like “I guess we will have to ask God when we get to Heaven!” that is just lumped on to faith to “make sense” of things we cannot explain, rather than accepting ambiguity as part of servant-hood.
But specifically, “God’s plan” dogma is not a very good or all encompassing way of understanding things, and in the face of grief, loss and death, it is the kind of response that makes people reject God. Truthfully, I know that God can make sense and beauty out of the brokenness of this world, but I am not sure if I believe that he breaks things so that he can put them back together for his own glory. That makes no sense to me, if I believe in a loving God. I can believe that he knows more than me though, else he would not be worth seeking after.
There is plenty I don’t get to understand. We don’t get to be experts with all the answers (though some in the church would say they are, because that feels nice). There is living and dying and the mess of life. Why do people try to fit things into nice tidy little packages with tidy little answers worded in perfect Christian vocabulary? Sanitized.
Jeremiah 29:11 says this: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This verse gets used to substantiate the “God’s plan” dogma. But I wonder always why we claim for our very own personal meaning things that are spoken to a specific group, in this case Jeremiah 29:4 says:
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
And I am not a bible scholar so I will stop here, but where are all the references to God’s plan otherwise? In this case he was speaking to a specific people group at a specific time, not to every person over time. I suspect the dogma is another example of where culture (western evangelical culture) has seeped in and tweaked the message just a bit, sort of like the “name it and claim it” dogma, or the “Prayer of Jabez” things that seem to get lumped on, for comfort’s sake.
The need to bring comfort to those in precarious situations is heartfelt, sincere. Faith can bring great comfort in times of testing. Unfortunately, suggestions that great tragedy in a person’s life explained away with semi-biblical dogmas about “God’s plan,” which resulted in the death of one’s child don’t allay pain or grief or bring comfort, in fact at times can inadvertently and well-intentionedly do the opposite. People reminding us about “God’s plan” doesn’t even really help make sense of anything in death. These dogmas are, in deep tragedy, simply more reminders of how insufficient humanity is to give us what only God can give (and how frail and thin our attempts are).
The preceding is a repost from March of 2013 from Elisha’s Bones.
I always appreciate constructive feedback.