One of my Facebook friends posted the following text that someone had shared with her: “Where you are today is no accident. God is using the situation you are in right now to shape you and prepare you for the place he wants to bring you into tomorrow. Trust him with his plan, even if you don’t understand it.” I imagine it was intended to give hope and encouragement. For a nanosecond, it does, but then a few questions are bound to rise up.
Today, on the feast of The Holy Innocents, does anyone believe that God planned and was using the death of innocent children in Bethlehem to shape someone, their parents perhaps, for a better life tomorrow? I’ve been to two heroin overdose incidents this week. Does anyone seriously think their being addicts overdosing on bad heroin was in God’s plan to shape them for a better life? My dishwasher flooded the kitchen this morning. A hose coupling broke. Was that part of God’s plan?
That kind of thinking is just plain lousy theology. Which is not the same thing as saying that God cannot be present in any situation, accidental or otherwise, offering the opportunity for something good to emerge from it. Moreover, something good emerging from a bad situation does not magically make everything all right. What was bad, hurtful, unjust, or immoral is still bad, hurtful, unjust or immoral, but it is possible that, through God’s presence, something worthwhile might yet emerge, and it most certainly would require a little cooperation from you and me.
There are only two words in that unoriginal broken down aphorism worth paying attention to: trust him. Not trust him with his plan, just trust him. That’s all. Accidents happen. Evil people do evil things without God’s permission or intent. You and I do dumb things that no doubt have God shaking her head in disbelief. What I am certain of is that I can trust God, as I know God in Christ Jesus, to be there with an offer of grace and direction. That’s not the same thing as believing that God caused me to be in whatever condition I find myself, even as he leads me in a new a better direction, a direction I may or may not go in.
Let me put it a different way. Paul matured enough in his faith (his trust in God) to let God lead him to his final days in Rome. I have no doubt that God knew, in whatever mysterious way God knows, that the trip would involve many unpleasant hardships, but that does not mean God planned or caused those hardships. It only means that Paul could trust God to lead him through them to the completion of his ministry. The completion of Paul’s ministry may have been God’s plan, but God had to rely on the unreliability of a human being.
If you are not happy with that, you have three choices. One is to say that God is in charge of absolutely everything and we have no choice except to perform as God has planned for us. Another is to claim that there is a plan, and unless we find and follow it we are condemned to hell. The third is to assert that the devil is the ruler of this world, and we are the victims of his plan of destruction with our only hope being God’s partial and tentative victory over him. Oddly enough, I know some who hold all three positions at the same time. Curious that.
That’s not what I find in the gospel record, and I don’t think you can find it either except by stitching together a patchwork of verses separated from their context.