When ever there is a terrible tragedy involving a lot of people being hurt or killed, there is almost always a side piece in the coverage dealing with some who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t. If the person who avoided the tragedy is a Christian, the article is incredibly predictable. The person will talk about how something told them not to go or do whatever and immediately praise God for delivering them.
And, while I am happy for them that they didn’t have to go through whatever it was and believe that God can do anything including deliver one person from something terrible, I always finish those side pieces with frustration and more questions than answers.
The questions begin innocently enough: “Why was that person delivered”. They move to less innocent, “Why that person and not some other?”. Then they move further and further into the swamps of spiritual confusion: “Why not prevent the whole thing?”; “Why deliver Christians who are going to heaven anyway?”; “Where does human freedom enter the picture of such deliverances?”; “How do I get on the deliverance list?”; “Is there a chance that the person wasn’t actually delivered but just got lucky?”
I am sure there are some who find such questions irreverent, unspiritual and offensive. There are some, I know, for whom the answer to these and most other such questions is to say, “The will of God”. I know where they are coming from–I grew up in a spiritual context where it was assumed that everything that happened was the will of God and so there was no need to ask questions, unless of course, God willed you to ask the questions for some reason.
I trust God–I have committed my life to doing what God asks of me, sometimes even getting it right. But I have decided that for me, relying too heavily on “the will of God” as an explanation for everything is a bit too simplistic and at the same time, allows we human beings to easily slip out from under any responsibility we might have. It also prevents us from dealing with the essential reality that God is God and we aren’t.
We live in a world that is messed up–and the mess is the result of human sin. While God had to allow us to sin, it wasn’t–and isn’t–his will that we sin. And so a great deal of what happens in life is the result of sin, not God’s will. We can easily see and accept this reality in some cases–people reap what they sow. When a person who habitually drives drunk eventually gets killed in a drunk driving accident, we make the connection–generally privately because polite society generally doesn’t allow us to do it too publically.
But in many other situations, the connection is hard or even impossible to make. I have arthritis in both knees. I genuinely believe that arthritis was not in the original plan for creation, nor do I believe I am being punished for some sin in my life–as near as I can tell, there are some genetic issues that lead to the early development of arthritis.
The Apostle Paul makes a powerful and profound theological statement in Romans 8.20-21: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (NIV) Essentially, Paul is suggesting “Stuff happens”. It isn’t God’s will but a sign of the depths of disruption caused by human sin.
Not everything that happens in God’s will. While he may sometimes deliver people, sometimes the deliverance is a result of the randomness of the universe messed up by human sin. One might miss the tragedy and another might get caught–and both are simply caught up in the results of living in an creation groaning for deliverance.
So, does that remove God and faith from the picture? Not for me. While I might both suffer from and occasionally benefit from the randomness of the universe that sin introduced, I also believe that God is greater that the randomness. He is at work, using the randomness to get to where he is going, the new heaven and new earth promised in Revelation 21 where all will be as it is supposed to be.
Until then, we live, trusting that God is with us, working in and through the randomness to bring about his will for us and the whole of creation.
May the peace of God be with you.