Time: 3:46 AM
Place: The floor of my study room in the Gamma Phi Beta House
Why: I took my medication after dinner so I could stay up and work on homework tonight, and homework is boring. And this message is too important to wait until after the school week from Hell is over to write. It has to happen now.
I am a member of First Presbyterian Church of Thomasville, Georgia, and I am under the impression that no sanctuary is more beautiful than ours. I was baptized in that sanctuary. I was confirmed in that sanctuary. It was in that sanctuary that I realized how much I really love architecture. I sang my first duet with my sister in that sanctuary. I played sardines during youth group lock-ins in that sanctuary. I’ve been to funerals, weddings, and come to appreciate the fact that we serve grape juice for communion in that sanctuary. I’ve cried there, I’ve laughed there, I’ve come to know Christ there.
But it was not until a couple of weeks before graduating high school that I really realized the gravity of that space.
It was Youth Sunday, a Sunday in the late Spring during which the Youth of the church lead the service. They sing, read scripture, take the offering, preach–the whole shebang, led by sixth through twelfth graders who were approached by the Youth Leaders and coerced into performing a particular role.
By the age of eighteen, I had stood up in front of the congregation more times than I could count.
Granted, my Youth Sunday participation had been less than scintillating the year before. I was in charge of the offertory prayer. You know, the prayer that is given after the offering has been taken from the congregation.
It goes something like, arms out to the side, “Lord, receive these tithes and offerings as a sign of our gratitude and abounding love for You. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
My dad even typed it up for me.
But I’d gotten up there, no stranger to public speaking, mind you, lifted my arms, and said, “Dear God…”
*Insert ten second long pause*
What came next was reminiscent of Greg Focker’s prayer in Meet the Parents.
It ended with “…and thanks again. Amen.”
But, nearly a year later, as I walked up to deliver my meditation on Romans 12:2 as the last of the senior speakers, I could hardly breathe.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I was nervous because I was about to deliver a message about one of the topics with which followers of Christ struggle the most: Discerning the Will of God. It’s a subject over which one must tread lightly because of how easily God’s Will and the scripture pertaining to such can be misinterpreted.
Here is the gist what I, with the help of our associate pastor, took from this passage:
If we focus on worldly goals, we are shutting God and His plan out. It is only by surrendering our hearts to Him that we can be led, for he molds and shapes our hearts to follow the path that He has lain for us.
I delivered the message, left the pulpit, and returned to my seat. And as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt change stirring.
Standing up in front of a congregation and interpreting God’s word had required a lot more than stage presence. It had required conviction.
So I fell in love with prayer, and out of it, and back in. It’s a cycle. And I committed myself to letting God guide me as best I could.
“It’s all part of God’s plan.”
It is such a default Christian thing to say, but we all do it.
This post is about the colossal hole we’ve created as sons and daughters of Christ by using this saying.
It’s a spiritual crutch.
It’s a religious pep-talk.
It’s a backup plan.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this saying. The fault comes with how we use it and fail to fill in vital information.
The huge fault, the colossal hole, comes when it is used as a response to the question, “Why would God allow this to happen?”
The fact of the matter is that a parent who is grieving the loss of his or her child, a victim of a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, or a friend who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness doesn’t want to hear that their tragedy is “all part of God’s plan.”
You plan surprise parties.
You plan vacations.
You plan baby showers.
You don’t plan bad things. You plot.
So you’re safe. You have officially answered a question to which you did not know the answer by giving the End-All-Be-All of answers.
“It’s all part of God’s plan.”
And your intentions were truly the best.
But here is what has really just happened.
You’ve just used God as a scapegoat.
That victim has instead heard, “God planned this tragedy. God planned your hurt. God planned your misery.”
Your genuine intentions have accidentally painted God to be a villain, a puppet master who directs all of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the world. He is responsible for all of it.
WHOA, NOT TRUE.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”
And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5
The whole truth here is that God is good. He is good all of the time. He is perfect. His intentions are perfection. He cannot create misery. He cannot create hurt. He cannot create tragedy.
Those are all concepts spun from evil, woven by darkness, and caused by human err.
We brought those things into His perfect world.
God doesn’t kill children. People and accidents do because we brought imperfection into this world.
God doesn’t wash away houses. Hurricanes and floods do because we brought imperfection into this world.
God doesn’t massacre a crowd. People do because we brought imperfection into this world.
God doesn’t take someone’s health. Diseases do because we brought imperfection into this world.
God does not orchestrate hurt. God bares the burdens and the hurt of the entire human race with us. He hurts when we hurt.
If it were up to God, children would not be taken from their parents, and parents would not have to bury their children.
If it were up to God, homes would not be lost.
If it were up to God, the hate that has to exist in someone’s heart to kill would not exist.
If it were up to God, our bodies wouldn’t fight with disease.
He did not intend any of this.
But God has to allow it. He has to allow it all because we chose, and continue to choose every day, to stray. He has to allow it so that we will realize how weak and how saturated with evil we are without Him. He has to allow it so that we might find our way back to Him. He has to allow it because we separated ourselves from Him, so the decision to follow Him has to be our own. He cannot guide us until we have welcomed Him into our hearts.
God does not orchestrate hurt, but He promises to bring us through it.
He promises to be our refuge, to bring us comfort, to mend our broken hearts.
He promises us joy and light and love because He has promised us Himself if we give Him ourselves.
He has promised us a future if we follow Him.
He promises us eternal life.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God is sovereign. He knows our future as well as He knows our past. He has gone before us and mapped out great plans for our souls. He has fought the battles we have yet to face. He has seen the tragedy we have yet to experience. He has born the sin that we have yet to commit, and yet He still promises to stay with us, to be our guide, and to bring us out of the darkness that we have cast over ourselves since the beginning.
You might try to claim that He is spiteful for punishing us, for even allowing hurt to come to His children, that no one deserves to bear any agony.
But here’s what we really don’t deserve:
We don’t deserve His life, His Kingdom, His grace, His mercy, His blessings, or His love.
But he allows us to have it, all of it.
Not only does he allow it, but he promises it.
So yes, God does have a plan.
But everything we are dealt in life is not “all part of God’s plan.”
No, your hurt is not part of His plan. That’s the result of our disobedience.
His plan is free of hurt, free of hate, free of sin. But we cannot find it in this world. We’ve destroyed it. We have no life except through Him, through His redemption, through His promise. And life according to His plan will be so much grander than anything we could ever imagine.
So let’s stop incriminating God. Let’s give thanks that He will deliver us from evil. Let’s take comfort in the knowledge that our Redeemer is so much stronger, so much more powerful than any of the darkness we face. Let’s open up our hearts to Him so that we may be renewed instead of turning away from Him when we need Him most. Let’s be humbled by the fact that He–the only pure goodness this world has ever known–has not only allowed us, but has chosen us to follow Him. Let’s rejoice in the fact that HE NEVER LEAVES US and He will never lead us astray.
Time: 6:36 AM
Place: Couch in the Gamma Phi Beta Lounge
Why: To knock some sense up into your head and mine.
God is good all the time.
All the time, God is good.