Last Thursday morning I went jogging with Dave for the first time in years. It’s part of our new plan to get in shape and replace our constant mantra—We gotta go on a diet Monday!—with action.
The timing seems right, since we’re both at our highest weight in recent memory. Turning it into a competition helps motivate us; the first to reach goal wins a significant shopping spree.
Anyway, while we were huffing and puffing down an alley, we passed a hand-painted sign on the back of a playhouse that read: “Everything that comes your way, good or bad, will happen for a reason because God has a plan.”
I laughed, and said to Dave, “Did you see that? Can you believe it? Some people still think God has a plan.”
Of course, most of the time, I do too. When I’m confused or discouraged, the idea that God has a grand scheme for my life is comforting, even promising. God knows what he’s doing, and one day it will all make sense!
But when tragedy strikes or someone I love is suffering, the same idea can make me doubt God’s goodness. How can a loving God possibly think this is a good plan?
Days later, I’m still thinking about this bit of alley theology. Is everything that happens to me part of God’s personal plan for my life? Or is God more like a traveling companion, working in us and through us to accomplish his will where possible, without manipulating outcomes?
Though I lean toward the second scenario, if I’m honest, my thoughts and actions prove on a regular basis that I believe both. And maybe that’s because both have their benefits.
Here’s what I mean. If I believe God is busy implementing his sovereign, perfect plan, then nothing that really matters is at stake. This means I can place my trust in God’s infinite wisdom, which in turn helps me practice radical acceptance of whatever is happening. It gives me a reason to relax and let go.
But if God is not busy implementing his sovereign, perfect plan, well, then everything is always at stake. This means every decision I make matters, which in turn motivates me to do God’s will and be part of his redemptive work on earth. It gives me a reason to keep hoping, caring, and trying.
Clearly, I’m either double-minded or I ascribe to a spiritual paradox: My life is unfolding randomly in a broken world; but everything is happening exactly as it should.
Do I conveniently alternate beliefs, depending on the circumstance? Yep. At times, I really want to believe that God is intentionally at work in my life to accomplish his purposes. At other times, I want to let God off the hook for all the horrible things that happen in the world.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe this is just my way of grasping at a mystery far too big for my finite mind. Maybe resting in the crux of two seemingly incompatible truths is how I manage to hold onto the most important truth of all to me, which is that God is love.
This brings to mind a line from a Rumi poem:
“We were all born by accident,
but still this wandering caravan
will make camp in perfection.”
Maybe I’ll put this on a poster and hang it in our alley. :)
If you’re like me and grew up in the church, you can probably list a boatload of Bible passages that prove either side of this paradox. I’m not opposed to hearing about those, but I’m more interested in your thoughts and feelings.