Someone recently told me that they had been told all their life that “God’s plan is always the mitigating factor in one’s life.” I heard someone else claim that her life-altering stroke was God’s plan for her. I know many others who would recoil at this kind of suggestion. How could it be God’s plan for me to suffer? They may even decide, “If that is who God is, then I don’t want anything to do with him.”
Some draw great comfort from the idea that God has everything planned out. Not everyone in this category is necessarily a five-point Calvinist, but they likely have a robust view of God’s sovereignty. These people can deal better with tragedy and setback by emphasizing God’s plan in all things. They don’t necessarily think God causes all things, but for them, God wouldn’t allow it if it wasn’t part of the plan.
Others are comforted by the idea of God entering into our suffering, the one who empathically hurts with us. They are likely to see many things in our world that are not the will of God. They aren’t trying to doubt God’s sovereignty, but they are not comforted by the thought of their pain being part of the grand design.
Where you fit into this spectrum is greatly influenced by many factors, including your faith upbringing, personality, and experiences. I am not sure that the Bible gives us a clear answer. There are some examples of someone’s suffering serving a greater divine plan like Job and obviously Jesus. But when you read the Psalms you encounter a great many people who simply do not believe their suffering makes sense at all. Psalm 10:1 opens with “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
The Bible is fairly resistance to giving answers as to why something terrible has happened. What is modeled is crying out to God in our distress and resolving to trust him when we don’t have answers. Clearly, not everything that happens in this world or in your life is God’s will. Why else would Jesus teach us to pray, “…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer recognizes a gap between God’s heavenly will and what is happening on earth. The prayer seeks to close that gap.
I make it a point not to challenge someone if they tell me what has happened to them is God’s will. After all, how would I know? I also never tell someone what has happened to them IS God’s will. Again, how would I know that? The tension between the sovereignty of God and the various happening on earth, good and bad, remain in tension until the reign of God is fulfilled in a new heaven and a new earth.
I know it is not God’s ultimate will for any of us to hurt or be sick. And that one day we will be in a new heaven and a new earth where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). I can’t figure out why this thing or that thing happens to me or to you, but I know that God is good, and his will ultimately prevails. And I will trust him as we await that glorious day!