As humans we are always looking for the story. Our hearts long for meaning and significance. When something happens that threatens our certainty, we rush to find a story to fill in the gap. Any narrative will do, just SOMETHING to help make sense of it all. In the midst of unanswerable questions, we create narratives to help smash uncertainties into a more familiar category.
Personally, I’ve been trying to lasso myself into a category I like. I have been desperately trying to wrestle decisions to the ground, against their will, just to have the comfort of a penciled-in plan. Where will I work? Where will I live? Can I quit nursing, get my lip pierced, and start working for Whole Foods? Or maybe I’ll be a vagabond for a while and make a full-time job of writing my pen pals from coffee shops.
In my experience, when bad things happen, people of faith tend to start creating a story for WHY. So we say, Jesus let this happen so that you’ll be able to comfort others who go through this situation. Or Jesus knows you are strong and can handle this. Or God predestined everything to work for His plan; He is in control. I’ve found none of these helpful, but that last bit about God being in control especially irks me.
I wonder how these views of our Heavenly father bring comfort when any earthly father who acted in this way would be sent to jail. What if your dad caused you immense pain so that you would be able to relate to other abuse victims? How would it feel for your parents to put you in harm’s way just to test your resilience? I think I’d grow bitter, angry, distrusting, and as self-reliant as possible. That kind of human is not worthy of my respect, trust, nearness, or efforts. If that’s how God runs the universe, he is not a god I want to be near. How could I trust that Jesus is both simultaneously Love and the puppet master causing my pain?
Several years ago, I began to question what it means for God to be sovereign. Dangerous territory, I know. Does he plan out every detail of every person’s decisions from the beginning to end of time in order to have it all line up in perfect accordance with his purposes? Is that what it means for God to be in control? Is it possible there’s a different view that not many people talk about?
In my searching, I found a pastor named Greg Boyd who offers this analogy. Imagine a man creates a computerized game of chess. He knows every move the computer will make. The design is brilliant. Only someone with great skill could defeat it. In the end, the creator of the game wins the game. Next, imagine a man who creates a computerized game of chess with infinite possibilities of moves. He doesn’t know what the computer will do next, but the man is such a skilled chess player that he, in spite of a difficult opponent and great uncertainty, still beats the game. Who is the better player? Who is more skilled?
There are a lot of things I don’t have answers for. The question of what God knows beforehand, what He allows, and what He is responsible for are murky waters. Sometimes we try to cram the person of Jesus into our systematic theologies, into a story to eliminate our doubt. I’m not trying to do that here. There is plenty of room for uncertainty and paradox. Do I see how Jesus is working things together in my life? YES. Too many “coincidences” have taken place in the last several months for me to deny the influence of God working in the details in my life. He is, after all, called Immanuel, God With Us.
In the midst of all my wanderings and lostness and questions, there is one thing I believe to be true. Jesus came into the world to redeem it. To bring healing and freedom and joy. Jesus walked around bringing life to people. He delighted in nourishing people with food and wine, healing physical ailments, bringing freedom to those enslaved by greed, selfishness, and sex. So what is God’s will? If it brings life, it’s something Jesus wants.
One of my favorite authors, Sarah Bessey, has helped to clarify some of this. In her book Out Of Sorts, she writes, “I see the promise of sovereignty not as hyper control over the minute painful details of the world, but as a faithful promise that all things will be restored, all things will be redeemed, all things will be rescued. Sovereignty is a promise, not a threat. I no longer think of God’s sovereignty as what theologians call a ‘blueprint’ plan for humanity. Sovereignty is redemption not causation.” To me, that’s a better God to believe in.
In a particularly difficult therapy session a few months ago, I found myself crying and telling Jesus, “I HATE THIS. No, I mean I REALLY hate this. It feels horrible and terrible and BAD. It makes my body hurt. My chest is tight and I might throw up. All the way to my bones I hate it.” I heard Jesus say to me, “Yeah, I know. I hate it too. I REALLY hate it. In fact, I hate death and pain and suffering so much that I did something about it.”
That doesn’t make all of this go away, but the story of Jesus is a story I can see myself in. It doesn’t answer all of the questions, but it does give me hope. Whatever good comes out of this situation is all because the Jesus I know is in the business of using everything for good, turning it into something beautiful.