God’s Unplanned Purpose

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Right after I graduated college, I was having a hard time finding a job. In the depths of my frustration and growing self-doubt, a well-meaning friend said something I’ve heard many times before and since: “Don’t worry, God has a plan for you. Apparently you just weren’t meant to get any of those jobs. Everything will work out and you’ll find yourself exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

It’s a comforting idea for many, I suppose, the notion that God is in total control, that everything happens for a reason and that we always end up where we’re “supposed” to be. But for me, it wasn’t comforting so much as it was disturbing—after all, that makes God sound more like fate or destiny, something that controls outcomes by controlling us and others.

And it also leaves me at a loss to explain the way God intervenes in our lives: Why and how does God choose to work good or harm (or not at all), helping some people to get a job, win the Super Bowl, overcome disease, win wars and not others? Why would God include disaster and tragedy, pain and loss in a plan for ultimate love and reconciliation, and distribute it so unevenly throughout creation?

I believe thinking of God as totally controlling everything that happens in our lives with a plan or reason gives us a false impression of God and our relationship with God. God is love and cannot act apart from love. Love does not produce harm, and love does not control. God does not plan the good or evil that happens in our lives and in our world, or undercut our agency to make things happen to us or for us. We have agency to choose and act as we will, making the problems of this world the product of our own decisions, systems, societies, and failings.

But because God is love, God also has a purpose and desire for us, and we have to trust that God is loving enough and God-enough to work good purposes through our choices, our mistakes, and our limitations. Our task is not to figure out or to carry out God’s plan, but to be in such close relationship with God that our actions and choices will naturally reflect God’s purposes of love and reconciliation. And we must trust that if and when we fall short, if and when the systems, cultures, societies we live in fall short and cause more pain and distress, even here God can still work God’s purposes of love out of the mess we make of our own plans.

Photo credit: http://janawoj.wordpress.com/

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