For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
I can’t recall the number of times someone has quoted that verse to me. While my family was homeless, someone would remind me that “God has a plan for me” and things would not always be like this. My favorite song was “Before the Morning” by Josh Wilson, which states that “all the pain that you’ve been feeling is just the dark before the morning.” No matter what happened, God had worked it all out already. His plan was not what I had in mind, but it was “perfect” and would cause me to grow spiritually as long as I trusted him. I learned to ignore the pain and imagine that there was a greater purpose for it all. And besides, God won’t give me more than I can handle: it says so right there in the Bible (1 Corinthians 10:13, in case you were wondering).
So I believed this “K-Love Theology”, as I like to put it, and honestly, it worked. I did not have to worry about what the future held because God held the future. I went through life care-free and unapologetic, thinking that whatever happened, God had it all under control. Terrorism wasn’t scary. Environmental destruction wasn’t scary. Death itself wasn’t scary because “if God calls me home, it is because my task is complete.” I fully believed that my future was mapped out by God and he would do what he saw fit.
So it was that my life was moving along great. I applied to a nearby college that basically fell into my lap as the head baseball coach called me up and asked if I wanted to visit. It was everything I ever dreamed as the baseball team was very good, the coach was someone I wanted to learn from, and it was a small, Christian university that was close to home. When I looked back on my life, I could see how all the choices I had made since I was 10 years old had led me to this point. There were too many coincidences: it had to be God’s sovereign plan.
Then my family broke apart.
My dad left our house and my mom cried alone in the bedroom begging God to change things. Things got worse as my sister got sick, my mom was dealing with a pregnancy, and no one in my house had a stable job. I was getting ready to go to college, but my family was in shambles. Selfishly, I tried to believe that it was all in God’s hands and so I didn’t need to worry about it. God would take care of it. He had never failed me. But my mom kept crying, my siblings kept growing restless, and the turmoil never resolved. God didn’t step in and change everything; he didn’t even say a word.
I thought about it more and realized that this pain had been caused by bad and sinful choices. If that were true, did God cause those sinful choices to be made? Did God cause sin in order for us to grow spiritually mature? People at my church would tell me, “Well I know it’s a bad situation, but look how much you have grown because of it!” and “I know it isn’t perfect, but God still has a plan for you!” I was baptized in Jeremiah 29:11 and for the first time in my life, I started to doubt it.
How could God break my family apart just so I could grow closer in my relationship with him? How could God orchestrate sin so to bring about a better tomorrow? Did the ends really justify the means? And the scariest thought of all: was God really in control?
So we arrive at Sunday night in Las Vegas. An armed gunman ruthlessly targeted a crowd singing along to Jason Aldean. A single act of terrorism such has never been witnessed in modern America. 500+ people were physically harmed; countless others were emotionally and mentally harmed. Not a single person prospered on that night. 59 people are now without a future and some of those who grieve their losses are now without a hope.
That Jeremiah 29:11 stuff doesn’t work for me anymore. I no longer believe that God has a sovereign plan for all of us.
It is not just this act of terrorism that has caused me to arrive at this conclusion, but many other things as well. I cried for hours following the attack on Paris. I have heard of earthquakes taking countless lives. I have seen videos of the tear-stained faces of little Syrian children fearing for their lives. I cannot look at the victims of Harvey, Irma, and Maria and say that “God is using this for your good.” To rephrase the famous quote from the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, “This is not a God story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story.”
I can no longer close my eyes and pretend that God has it all under control. As my professor adamantly puts it, there is a difference between “childlike faith” and “childish faith.” Childish faith refuses to do anything because “God will take care of it.” Childish faith is looking at your neighbor who has just lost a loved one and telling them, “This is all part of God’s plan.” Childish faith is ignoring the agony and pain of those all around the world because “everything happens for a reason.”
Childlike faith is seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Childlike faith is noticing something in the world that does not reflect God’s character and setting out to change it. Childlike faith is mourning with those who mourn and weeping with those who weep. It is lamenting over the fact that this world does not look like it should. It is being honest and asking God why he does not step in and stop disasters from happening. It is questioning and curiously seeking answers from a God who is so mysterious.
I do not buy the myth of providence: it leaves me silent when I should be vocal. It makes me lazy when I need to move. It allows for more people to suffer in the name of a “just and loving” God. Sending my “thoughts and prayers” only add to the belief that God will help people so I don’t have to. Whether we like it or not, God remains silent in these events. Help and healing only come when we do something. We must respond to the pain and suffering of this world.
Please don’t be mistaken: just because God is silent does not mean he is not active. As I look at the cross and hear the cry of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46), I see a God who does not ignore suffering, but joins us in it. I see a God who is brokenhearted over the seemingly endless suffering of this world and decides to suffer with us. I am reminded of Elie Wiesel’s quote in Night recalling the hanging of a young boy at Auschwitz:
“Behind me I heard the same man asking, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer, “Where is he? This is where – hanging from the gallows.”
Perhaps God is silent so that he can be with those who have no voice.
Perhaps he is silent so that we can finally hear them.