Yesterday, I heard an interview with a man who had survived the massacre in Las Vegas. He was very distraught and shaken. Crying, he wondered why it was that he lived and others died. There was desperation in his voice to come up with answers. The interviewer tried to console him and offered up that everything happens for a reason but he would have to figure out what that reason was.
I appreciated the care of the interviewer and it was obvious he was shaken as well. However, I wondered how comforting that theology really is. Is he saying that God made the bullets from the madman hit some people but not him? Did God intentionally cause some to die but others to live or did God just save this man but did not lift a finger to save another? Thinking about God as a cosmic puppeteer does not give me much comfort, in fact, it makes God seem arbitrary and even mean.
Certainly this man has an opportunity to take the tragedy and use it to make a bigger difference in his life and those around him. It offers a chance to reevaluate his life, to stop taking things for granted and help provide peace and love in a world desperate for such things. But where is God in this? God is present, helping him, comforting him, guiding him. God is grieving with him and offering opportunities for joy in the midst of the pain. God is here, God is present but I would have difficult time telling someone that this event is part of God’s plan.
Instead, consider this. God has given us freewill. We are free to be who we want to be, to accept God’s grace or reject it, to live as we are called to live or be tempted and overcome by sin. God does not treat us like puppets, controlling our every move. Rather, God treats us as children, inviting us to live in relationship with others and with the Trinity in a way that is not equal but relational. It is not a controlling God that manipulates our lives, it is a loving God that gives us freedom. So, you might ask, is God a hands off God, not caring about us but letting us live in pain and suffering without caring for us?
I would offer this. In the midst of our living, God is present, directing us, guiding us, teaching us how we might live and how we might understand. God comforts us in our times of need and shows us a way to live in joy even when the world offers us pain and anguish. God offers us love even when the world offers us loneliness and despair. God offers us hope when the world crushes our dreams. God offers us peace when the world attacks us. God is indeed present and working in our lives.
So, you say, there is no plan? Everything is just chance or luck and God reacts to it? Obviously God has not given me the cosmic plans to the universe but I trust in Christ when he tells me that the victory has been won and the things of the world have been defeated.
I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” – John 16:33
God indeed has a plan, but it is a cosmic plan that gives final victory. Part of that plan is our freedom to live or reject love or peace. As God works in the world, and as we do our part, slowly and inevitably God’s plan is revealed. We see it on mission trips when a family devastated by poverty finds hope in the new floor we install. We see it at the death of a loved one when friends bring roses to plant as a reminder of the joy of life. We experience it at church when we sing a song of faith and goosebumps arise. We experience it in conflict when we might disagree but peace and calm prevail.
The world is not perfect by any stretch, but I trust in a God who has proven dominion over death and violence and offers us to live in a different way. The world may try to thwart God’s plans but ultimately God wins.
I feel awful for the man who was interviewed, as much for his pain he experienced that day but that he had taken life for granted for so long that he did not prepare himself for a day like he encountered. Certainly, just because I have faith does not mean I will not experience sadness. However, I do know that a deep faith will give me a foundation to answer more quickly those questions that arise, to more fully stand up against the storms of my life and be ready when I need it most.
Thanks be to God. Amen!