If Everything is God’s Plan, Then Nothing Is

Posted on March 6, 2013

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I’ve been doing some personal and theological “reverse engineering” lately. It goes a little something like this:

  1. I see signs pointing in one direction. Could it be that hand of God moving in my life? A possibility opens before me and, could it be, God is opening a door? I am normally hesitant to make any such claims because it seems too grand. But maybe this is different? Maybe this time everything is going to work out? Maybe the struggles of the past were like the stem pushing up through the dirt and this is the blooming flower that justifies the pain.
  2. I remain skeptical of these signs because they seem too good to be true. Whether by disposition or upbringing, I usually hesitate to jump into something with both feet. But I’ve been learning about vulnerability and trust and embracing the belief that life is too short to be constantly guarded, even if you’re guarding yourself from your own feelings of disappointment. But it becomes harder to stay skeptical when…
  3. These original signs are confirmed by people who have no knowledge them. When unrelated people make “random” comments to me about how my life might be better if I did X, then they stop being random comments and started to have a push to them. I usually see these things as coincidence rather than providence (and after the fact I call them “wishful thinking) but during the process it seemed like divine confirmation.
  4. So I start to pray. And I pray hard. I pray all the prayers I know: boldly telling God what I want, humbly submitting myself to whatever outcome (ok, not really), aching with hope, aching with fear. Prayers of exercise and sleepless nights. Unspoken prayers that I carry in my pocket. Prayers of time and space and being.
  5. Then I find out that X is not going to happen. Not because of me. Not because of anything I did or said. Simply because it is not the time for X to happen. (I apologize for being vague on what X is.) There is no one to be angry with and I still have my health, job, and family. I can pay my bills each month. I am blessed in so many ways. When I have even an ounce of perspective, my complaints about life not unfolding before me, seem whiny and ungrateful even to my own ears.
  6. So I rush to reconstruct a narrative where X not happening is still God’s plan. I begin a lot of sentences with, “Well, at least…” of “Maybe in the future…” Am I doing this for theological reasons or because it is easier than feeling disappointed? Why do I want to let God off the hook so easily? Why do I always have to be responsible for misunderstanding where God was leading? Couldn’t God just be a little more clear?

I don’t know what the future might bring. For me, it might include X or it might not. If it does, great! If it doesn’t (and who hasn’t had X’s in their lives that haven’t happened? examples: grad-school, failed relationships, jobs applications, illness, broken trusts, not making a sports team or call-back) then it feels like I went through a roller-coaster of hope and disappointment that could have been avoided.

I have two conclusions from this experience:

Some things just don’t make sense. While there are plenty of struggles in my life that I can look back on with a sense of clarity and see how they made me more mature, empathic, or skilled, there are just as many things that I can point to and say, “That doesn’t seemed to have helped anyone!” It’s possible that these moments are not about me. Perhaps those times are about the other people in the situation. Maybe they are growing and changing. But since I don’t get to see their growth, I’m left confused.

If everything is God’s plan, then nothing is. I believe that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28), but even Paul admits that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” (8:19). It sometimes feels, practically speaking, that God is always changing the rules and I’m always one step behind.

More important that me being able to figure out what the future is going to look like is:

How can I practice vulnerability and trust when it seemed clear I was being lead one way only to be stopped in my tracks? Won’t I be even more hesitant in the future to see God’s hand in my life, at least in the present moment?

I believe God cares about me. I believe that God wants me to grow in faith, emotional maturity, and in the depths of my relationships. I believe that God wants people, including me, to flourish. However, I don’t always know what this looks like. Is every event in my life part of God’s plan? Are somethings truly meaningless or are they full of purpose, but a purpose that is unknowable to me?

Maybe all of this is a good thing. (There I go, justifying my own disappointment!) Maybe this experience is pushing me toward an even deeper level of trust in God, one less formulaic and linear. Does a surfer question the wave? Does the tree doubt the sun when the clouds roll in? The snow does not erase the grass, it only covers it. I am still processing this experience  but I invite any answers this question:

Have you ever felt God’s hand in your life so strongly in the moment that you could act with complete confidence? What was that like?

Photo: freefotouk

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Posted in: Prayer, Theology