For some reason my entry “5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” is getting a lot of traffic again.
And I’m getting a lot of push back because of my thoughts on suffering and “God’s plan.”
So, in an attempt to clarify it all, let me say this:
I will not endorse the notion that it is God’s plan that people get cancer. I will not endorse the notion that it is part of God’s plan, specific or otherwise, that children die by gunfire. I will not endorse that Hiroshima was part of God’s big plan.
I cannot do any of these things because I have sat by too many bedsides and buried too many children, even in my short pastorate.
Now, have I seen beauty in death? Absolutely. But have I seen senselessness? Senselessness that goes far beyond any sort of platitude like “God’s wisdom is foolishness” or any other attempt to bend the words of Scripture to make meaning out of the meaningless?
And that’s the thing. Such theologies that try to put God at the helm of these tragedies or, even worse, try to say that God is a passive bystander, are attempts to make concrete meaning out of meaninglessness.
We all make meaning out of life. We all do; there’s no escaping it. I have heard and known people calling their disabilities beautiful tools they use to learn about life. I have heard people say that the death of their child was instructive for them.
I do not deny that these things are true.
What I deny is that a particular truth was intended to be drawn from them. What I deny is that a particular truth was in the Divine mind as those tragic events happened.
What I deny is that God is in the dirty pain business.
Now, I think that God has caused me pain; causes me pain. I experience the pain of being wrong all the time (perhaps in this instance, too?). I experience the pain of having my ego subverted, my best-laid intentions crumbled, my pride blown away, my intellect shattered by a God who speaks a word of grace to me when my greatest desire is for retribution.
But I do not think that God has caused my car accident so that I learn to drive better. I may thank God for an accident that taught me a life lesson, but I don’t think God was passively watching it.
I think God was in the pit of fear and hell that I was in while going through it.
And that is a theology of the cross that, I think, truly speaks to the crucifixion story and the Good News of God.
The crucifixion story is one that speaks of Jesus’ suffering not as something apart from humanity, but a part of humanity. I am not one to believe that God caused the crucifixion for some atonement. I think that when you act and talk like Jesus, you die for it because our power systems (even the power systems that try to make sense out of the senseless) don’t like it.
So, do I think that it is all part of God’s plan that your foot was amputated? That your brother or sister died in the Iraq war? That your father has prostate cancer?
No. I don’t. And we can quibble about philosophical categories for God, and whether God knows all, can do all, is everywhere…all of that. We can quibble until the end of time, and I don’t think we’ll be any closer to the truth than if we just allowed God to say, “I’m not going to make sense out of senselessness…I’m going to make resurrection.”
Then maybe we can learn to die to our need to make sense of it all, and be resurrected as people who can hold tension well…a tension taught to us by a life that includes suffering, joy, and all in between.