by Graden Kirksey
We’ve all heard the sayings before: “There’s no way to understand because God’s ways are just higher than our ways,” “Everything happens for a reason,” and “It’s all just a part of God’s plan.”
These statements say a great deal about how we view God and God’s activity in the world. I do not deny God’s ways are higher than our ways; however, I would contend, what we do with this scripture is not its intended purpose.
These sayings paint a picture of God which says God literally has everything under complete control. Nothing goes contrary to God’s desires or “plan.” When something difficult or painful happens, we are expected to accept, even though we can’t see it now, God has preordained the event to happen to achieve His purposes.
The problem lies in what happens when we take this understanding of God and apply it to our lives. If everything is all a part of the “plan,” then my life does not make sense, nor do the other countless horrors occurring around the world each day.
Thomas Oord calls the experiences in question “genuine evils.” These are events with no redeeming qualities. He says, “some evils are character destroying rather than character building.”
Our challenge as Christians is not to tell a story existing on the pages of a book, no matter how holy the book may be. Our call is to spread the word given for our everyday lives; therefore, any belief we have in God must be able to live in agreement with the lives we lead and share together.
In the case of genuine evil, we don’t have the luxury of adjusting our lives. No one wants to experience hurt or pain or loss. Instead, we have to find a view of God which can live in agreement with what we experience day in and day out.
For me, it all started some eight years ago in 2008 while I was in seminary. This was the year we lost our son, Josiah, to a rare genetic condition. He was our miracle, our child of promise, and he was gone. In an instant, I was forced to reestablish my relationship with God and my theology.
The God I thought I understood vaporized and I wasn’t left with much. I knew facts and could quote verses; however, none of my understandings of God lined up with the very painful reality I had to face.
I would never suggest God wanted such a thing to take place, any more than I would suggest God desired the Holocaust. The Bible tells us, God is love, and there are countless events throughout history which simply cannot be attributed to God, if that is true.
Saying God is love is not a comment on how God has treated someone. It is a statement about His very being. God cannot choose when He loves and when He does not love. God always acts the way perfect love would act. Oord rightly states, “a perfectly loving individual would do whatever possible to prevent—not just fail to cause—genuine evil.” For a perfectly loving God, “even one instance of genuine evil is one too many.”
I’m convinced the root of all of God’s actions is love. How do we deal with the all-loving, all-powerful, omnipresent God who fails to deliver us from evil? That is the question resting on the lips of all who have walked the dark and lonely path of inexplicable pain or loss.
Church is not always the most inviting place when we question long standing beliefs, especially beliefs concerning topics as uncomfortable as this. The default reaction is to tread water as long as possible, hoping the barrage of doubts and questions will cease.
Fortunately for the church, the questions generally do cease, but at great cost. The hurt and damaged many times find themselves without a home, let down and dismayed. Many leave the church altogether. Others eventually fade into the background.
What if I were to say God is all-loving and all-powerful and all-knowing and omnipresent and He doesn’t have to control “everything?” It may sound scary to consider at first, but I believe it is the only way to reconcile our view of God with what we all readily know to be the common human experience.
In the church, we often fear anything other than complete control will in some way weaken God. We prioritize power because it is what impresses us and, in our extensive attempts to maintain everything is going according to “plan,” our brothers and sisters are plagued by the thought that God’s desire was for them to experience their nightmare.
Consider trying to explain the divine plan behind the loss of an infant. I can tell you from experience this endeavor does not end well. Try telling a young girl her rape was God’s desired path for her. The emotional and physical baggage she must carry with her the rest of her life is simply her lot as prescribed by God Almighty. Such things are unthinkable, but they are exactly the corner where we put ourselves when we hold to this traditional view of providence.
True love does not force itself on the beloved, nor does it force the beloved to do what it desires. That is what selfishness and hate look like. “A controlling God of love is fictional.”
Accountability and responsibility are real. How we live and the decisions we make affect us and those around us. We aren’t more important than God, but God, out of His unending love, has seen fit for us to live in such a way that matters, a way where we have the privilege to return and share His love or choose to oppose and possibly even stand in His way. A lesser god would shove us aside and show us who’s boss, but not our God. Instead, He is willing to risk the hurt and the likelihood what He desires will at times not be what transpires.
We need to understand God is not up in the clouds or on His throne with popcorn in hand awaiting His favorite parts of history to occur. He is here. He is with us. He is Emmanuel.
It is not impressive to consider God controls His creation. Anyone can do that; however, it is amazing to see the Creator being counted among and suffering alongside His creation. Truly, “Greater love has no one than this.”