"Everything happens for a reason...." "God doesn't need a plan B because He already has a perfect plan." These are just a few of the platitudes I've recently come across that have given rise to a steady current of thought and contemplation within me for the past few weeks. And in weighing these questions, I found a sense of clarity that helped lift me from the pit of self-pity into a place of relative peace.
Does everything happen for a reason? Writer Tim J. Lawrence believes the idea to be toxic to the human heart- that insisting terrible things MUST happen for some better reason strips us from the ability to do the one thing we must when confronted by loss, pain, suffering: to grieve. (I highly recommend reading his insights here: Everything Doesn't Happen for a Reason.) I've known this to be true from my own soul-searching, and I have come to believe that God's plan has many letters, an infinite number perhaps. Not only is it psychologically maddening for me to speculate on what the cosmic reason for every little thing might be, (anyway if it's not a very GOOD reason in my estimation, it's little consolation that something might happen for A reason...) But it is spiritual poison for me to even entertain the thought that pain, suffering, death, emptiness, heartache are part of my loving God's "perfect plan" for me or anyone else.
God, the author of our lives, may have written our stories, but we are the editors, and He has gifted them to us more as "Choose Your Own Adventures" rather than fixed narratives. I believe God had a perfect plan which He, out of love, surrendered to humanity when He created us with the precious gift of free will. The consequence of separating ourselves from Him through sin was not only spiritual but temporal: our choices have an effect not just on our relationship with the Creator but on the natural world as well. When God created the universe, His "perfect plan" was that we would abide with Him in it- however sin created a schism which separated earth from heaven and us from Him. The disturbance not only made heaven unavailable to us until Christ redeemed us, but it permeated to the natural order, upsetting it indefinitely- until the new earth and new heaven will be brought forth. Like the aftermath of an atomic bomb experienced for decades to follow we will continue to feel the effects of original sin in our souls and in the everyday phenomena of our earthly lives until we are united with God for eternity.
Did God plan the recent mass-shooting in my town? The one that took the lives of six innocents in a diabolical act of violence? Does God plan a life of starvation, abuse, neglect for children all over the world? Are they spiritually-ordained absolutes? I do not believe so. I believe these sadnesses are a physical effect of our sin and that each choice to sin sets into motion waves of brokenness that penetrate every level of life on earth. We are all subject to the effects of others' choices, for we are one body. Even the earth itself is subject to human recklessness and narcissism. Sickness? A part of God's plan? Or an effect of having created a toxic earth through our pursuit of innovation and convenience? Did God plan for me to suffer the deep, deep pain of infertility? Am I to believe He gifted this to me from the first moment He thought to create me?
No, I don't believe God ever planned my suffering or anyone else's, but it became an eventuality the moment sin destroyed what His perfect plan for us was. And I believe He gently picks up the trampled remnants and recreates His plan more magnificently than it ever was before, the way an artist uses a faulty brush stroke to form a masterpiece. There is no better explanation for Christ. So then, does everything happen for divine reason in accordance with God's perfect plan? Or do we recognize beauty in the aftermath of great darkness and attribute the fruit of that transformation as the "reason?"
I believe that God's perfect plan is still lingering on the periphery of possibility and that we are players in it- who through grace can help draw others closer to what that plan is. Therein lies the "reason" for the crosses we are allowed to bear. If we can through our experiences of suffering enlighten ourselves to the broader world around us with better empathy and motivation to connect with others both physically and spiritually, then we can play a small part in helping to guide humanity down a path more aligned with what God's perfect plan was from the very beginning: to be united to Him in this life as well as the next. Meanwhile, I want to hold tightly to the vision of God taking this suffering and shaping it into something more beautiful than I could ever comprehend and try, try, try to be patient as I wait for the transformation.