There are times where I find myself wrestling with the idea of “God’s plan.” i.e. What is God’s plan for my life?… what is God’s plan for this or that situation?… What was God’s plan for these particular circumstances? Where does God’s plan begin and end? Does God have a plan for each and every one of us through each and every one of ours days? One plan and one plan only? What about all the garbage in this world? All the bad stuff? Yeah, yeah – I know… It wasn’t in God’s “original plan.” He had perfection planned for us but then sin entered the picture… We’ve all heard that sermon before. But we believe in an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God… So He knew the choice that would be made for sin to enter the picture… so where did God’s plan go after that?
Was God’s plan for me, at six years old, to lose my dad to a motorcycle accident? Was meeting then marrying my beautiful, intelligent, amazing wife of 19 years and then having two beautiful children together part of God’s plan for me?
How can one “plan” have such opposite spectrum ends in it? Tragic, unexpected death… amazing, once in a lifetime love… both woven into a plan? I’m gonna be honest… I think in any sense of anyone’s ideas of good plans… that sounds like it’s only half “good plan.”
Many Christians as I was growing up told me that yes, even in tragedy, God has a plan. Many said it even more bluntly… “God took my dad,” and that I had to have faith that “it was part of His grand and mysterious plan.” Many said it even more cruelly – though they didn’t mean to – that in God’s Plan I could take comfort because evidently “God just needed my dad up in heaven more than we all needed him down here on Earth.” Sigh. Well meaning people can say very stupid things sometimes.
Then I look at my wife and kids. My wife is gorgeous and smart, caring and generous, nothing short of amazing. Same for my kids… All three far better than I should have ever been entitled to and probably a mystery to non-believers as to how I could have them. Yet I do…
Two vastly different chapters of one story. On one hand, a tragic, life altering accident. On the other, the blessing of a lifetime in my wife and kids.
So here’s a thought… what if God’s plan for us has less to do with our circumstances… and more to do with our actions?
In Matthew 5:43-46 Jesus said this, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” The bold emphasis there is mine… but just to point out something I think we overlook all too often… In this world, stuff happens.
Look… Can you imagine a world where there were only two sets of people… the one set where only bad things happen to them, and the other set where only good things happen to them. The people in the bad things camp would be asking pretty quickly, “uhmmmm… how can I switch over to that other camp? I’d like the good stuff now.” The good things camp would holler over to them…”All you have to do is believe and give your life to God!” Boom! It’d be a mass exodus pretty quickly wouldn’t it? I mean who in their right mind would want to just “keep on keeping on” being in the bad things camp? They’d say, “you mean all we have to do is believe and do what God says and we will get all good things? Sign me up right now!” On the surface, I’ll confess that actually that seems like a pretty good scenario. God could get 100% participation in a matter of hours! Whole world, saved. Happy. Pow!
The more I think about that scenario though… the more I realize how fake and shallow it would be. I mean if God maintained the “believe in Me, follow my commands and you will have only good-stuff-always,” He would get 100% follow rate… but it wouldn’t be because anyone cared about Him or their neighbor… It would be for the swag. It’s “Good Parenting 101” to know that if you give your kid every single thing they ever want, you are guaranteed to raise a… self absorbed monster. Now that’s where the comparison has to end… because I am not saying the bad stuff that happens to anyone is punishment. It’s not.
Bad stuff can happen because of choices we make… i.e. smoke for 30 years, good chance lung cancer can happen. Bad stuff can also happen, though, for seeming no reason. i.e. I know someone that was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and they never smoked a day in their life.
That’s the scenario that bothers us the most. It’s the scenario that agnostics and atheists point to as THE reason there is no God. “How could a loving God allow those things to happen,” they ask. That’s where I think Jesus’ statement speaks to me the loudest. Basically, He said, good and bad things are going to happen to all people regardless of who they are or what they do. Christians are going to get cancer, same as hindus. Murderers are gonna win the lottery, same as saints. Atheists will find lifelong loves same as Oompa Loompas… or whatever. This world is going to be beyond amazing at times and thoroughly tough at other times regardless of who you are or what you do.
In the end though, are you going to live your life loving the unloved, helping those in need, making a difference in the lives of others? In other words, are you going to live your life according to God’s plan… the plan He established in the life of His Son. The example that He set on Earth… loving the unloved, helping those in need, making a difference.
For me… I have been able to speak to many kids over the years that have experienced devastating loss of someone they loved… and when I’ve been able to share my story with them, they were able to see that they can get through it… that they will feel better eventually, that even though the loss will always be there, they too will be able to speak to others down the road and help. The circumstance of losing my dad was awful and I would give anything for it to not have been a part of my life. For a long time, when I chose to just sit in my misery… God’s plan was still there but I wasn’t pursuing it. But when I decided to take action, and use the circumstance I couldn’t change for something bigger than me… God’s plan didn’t just exist… it was in motion I was chasing it.
The sun rises on the evil and on the good, just like the rain falls on the just and on the unjust. Not for one minute do I believe God ever said, “Welllll, I need your dad up here more than you need him down there.” I do believe through it all, though, that He has always said, “I am here for you. My heart broke when yours did. It breaks still today for the loss you experienced. I am with you. You can do this! It’s gonna be ok… Get up… You can do it!… Now take a step… and another… and another! Yes!! I’m here!! I will never leave you! Keep loving!! Keep pursuing!!! Keep fighting!!!! Don’t stop! I’ve got you!!”
And the rain falls sometimes… And the sun sets… but it also rises… And God’s plan lives regardless of the circumstances.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.