Does God Really Have a Plan?
The way things go, you get so low. Struggle to find your skin. Hey ho, look out below: your prayers will never be answered again…You know it’s all beginning to feel like it’s ending. No love’s as random as God’s love. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it.
The Book of Ecclesiastes offers thoughts on the meaning of life. And the meaningless of life. According to the author, everything is meaningless. In particular, wisdom, pleasures, folly, toil, riches, advancement, and praise are meaningless. In fact, he begins (“he” being known as “The Teacher”) begins the Book by claiming, Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. I imagine this guy was not voted “Most Likely to Inspire Others” in high school.
To be fair, the author does include some eloquent thoughts at the start of chapter 3. A time for everything, he promises. For birth, for death, for killing, for healing, for weeping, for laughing, for mourning, for dancing, for silence, for words, for love, for hatred, for war, for peace, etc. Very true – there is a time for everything. If you live long enough, you will certainly experience all those things the Teacher mentions. And then some.
But who’s to say when you get to experience each? Is it God’s will for you to suffer, while your friend succeeds? What about when you receive a wonderful job promotion, while on the same day your neighbor receives a pink slip? One heartwarming testimony is sandwiched between many heart-wrenching tragedies. Just when you think the events that happen in your life are somehow connected, you realize some are solitary and random. May we ever remember that our world is not a picture strung together by dots, colored by Kindergarten students.
There is a written account that describes the amazing gift of life. Somewhere in the wild a gazelle was giving birth. An incredible process to be sure. The newborn touched the ground, unaware of its surroundings, but no doubt a source of immense love to the mother. As soon as the gazelle reached down to embrace her baby…a leopard ran out of the bushes, scared the mother away, and ate the baby. Seems fair, no?
I visited a man at the hospital who was recently diagnosed with the insidious disease known as pancreatic cancer. He spent more than 40 years taking care of himself, treating others with kindness, and working his tail off so that he could retire early and enjoy his later years with his family. One morning he woke up feeling a bit sick and he now finds himself in a hospital room, wondering aloud what he did to deserve this. “I have done everything right,” he told me. “I’m less than a year away from retirement. I’ve taken care of my body. Treated others with respect. Worked sometimes two jobs to care for my wife and children. And now I have to deal with a deadly disease? Tell me, chaplain: how is this fair?”
Of course I have no answer for that. And I certainly didn’t go into “preacher mode,” offering tired cliches and pithy bromides. If I were in his position, and you quoted Philippians 4:6-7 to me, which states, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, I think I might throw something hard at you. Seriously, I do understand what the Apostle Paul is trying to say there, but let’s remember the score of the game before we start throwing the ball downfield. The Bible is a wonderful Book to be sure. But it’s a Book that creates questions more than it provides answers. It’s a Book that forces discussions more than sermons. A Book that reminds us that, as the old Yiddish proverb says, “We plan, God laughs.”
No, I had no answer to that patient’s question, “How is this fair?” Still don’t have one. Probably because none exists. Another patient – 48-years-old, like me – lay in his hospital bed unable to walk due to a serious back injury. In fact, he was told he never be able to work at his job again. This crushed his spirit. So did the realization that he may have to wait longer than expected to begin the rehab process. Understandably, he sounded like a defeated human being. Why is he, a 48-year-old white father and husband just like me, stuck in a hospital room unable to walk himself to the bathroom, while I was able to walk out of his room, leave the hospital, drive my car home, and spend a lovely evening with my wife and children? Why? How is that fair? How would God explain the randomness of that situation?
“God has a plan for you,” I could have assured this man. “Don’t worry. God’s got this. Our time here on earth is so short, we’re like vapors that are here for a bit and then vanish into the night. Remember this world is not our home. Jesus will return to make all things right before you know it!”
Suffice it to say, I did not say that. Nothing even close to it.
Seven billion people running around with seven billion different stories, challenges, and victories. No two are the same. It all seems so random, no? But does that make our existence meaningless? I certainly do not think so.
Empty yourself here. You have but one life to live, so focus on that. Jesus came to live among the best of us, the worst of us, and all in between. Why? To show us how to live, not how to “get to heaven when we die.”
Sometimes we look around us and think, “How random?” If, as the Teacher states, The same destiny overtakes all, then I ask you to go out and do something intentional today.
Your uniqueness may just make someone’s world a bit brighter.
In His Name,