Today’s question comes from Yvette. She wrote: “Do you believe that we are in control of our destiny, or is it all in the hands of God? And if we are in charge of our destiny, then why do we say ‘God has other plans.’ Or if it is in God’s hands, why does he forsake us to live with pain and loss?”
As many of you have probably already figured out by now, I like to use very concrete examples to talk about abstract ideas. It helps me wrap my head around some issues that would otherwise be tough to grasp. With that said, here’s how I would chew on the matter you raised.
When it comes to the issues of “our destiny” and “God’s plan”, I often compare it to the dynamic between a parent and a child.
Most parents have a very simple, very basic “plan” for the lives of their child. They want their child to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled.
Some parents live into that “plan” by being controlling and trying to force their child to do those things they think will make the child happy and fulfilled. They might, for instance, steer them toward a specific career or a specific relationship.
A healthier model for parenting, however, is for the parent to step back and give the child room to make her/his choices. Sometimes the child’s choice will result in pain and loss; sometimes, the child’s choice will result in happiness and fulfillment.
It absolutely kills the parent to see her/his child hurt when the child makes unwise decisions. Nevertheless, the parent loves the child enough to let the child make her/his choices.
Similarly, using the theological concept of “free will”, I believe each child of God has been blessed with the ability to make her/his own choices.
Sometimes, those choices cause the child pain and loss; other times, the choices cause the child happiness and fulfillment. No matter what the choice, God is there – loving, nurturing, and supporting the child.
Of course as we all know, the child of God can’t control every aspect of her/his destiny. There are things that happen that are random. Some of a child of God’s cells might replicate incorrectly, for instance, and cancer results. One of God’s children might be walking down the street and get hit by a bullet or a drunk driver. The sense of pain and loss in these moments can be excruciating.
In these moments, some folks feel a need to try to explain the inexplicable. They use clichés like, “I know it hurts, but it’s all a part of God’s plan” or “I know it’s difficult to understand, but God had a reason for making it happen, and it’s not up to us to question God”. People don’t say these things to be hurtful; they often say such things because they don’t know what else to say.
In talking with dozens of individuals who have had well-intentioned folks say these things to them, they almost all say the same thing. It is much more painful for me to believe in a God that would intentionally cause this to happen to me than it is for me to believe in a God that gifts us with free will and allows things to unfold as they do.
In moments of incredible pain and loss, there is one thing my faith allows me to say: God is with you and feels your pain. God is not the cause of your pain, but the source of your comfort and healing.
So what about you? What is your perspective on Yvette’s question?