Someone I love dearly received an unexpected diagnosis. My heart ached to hear it. As this person shared their news on Facebook, one person remarked, “Well, this must be God’s will.” My eyes bugged out as my blood began to boil. God’s will? Really?
I’ve been mulling over this concept for quite some time. When someone receives a medical diagnosis, people often blanket it under the guise of “God’s will”. When hurricanes drop devastation, we say it was “God’s will”. When an entire family is tragically taken in a car crash, we say “it was God’s will”. But was it really?
Before I sat down to write this blog, I went to social media to gather up opinions. I asked them this question: “Are all bad things that happen God’s will?” This seems to be a hot topic—my Facebook page was flooded in only an hour. Here are just a few of the responses:
Kathleen said, “A question I’ve asked again and again. After losing a friend to cancer, we went to a church where the pastor said, ‘Everything that happens is God’s will, and we should be big and strong enough in our faith to take it.’ We walked out. Were we weak? Maybe. But plenty of yuck happens that is not God’s doing. People make evil decisions that hurt children. People go with their selfish needs and desires, despite God’s soft whispering voice that said, ‘This is not for you.’ I have seen it again and again. God does help us grow and learn through our terrible experiences, and maybe, just maybe, give us the courage to write about it and help others grow through, as well.”
Jeremy said, “This mindset makes God the author of pain and suffering…which he is not. Pain and suffering are the result of original sin. This means that for us to judge that someone is suffering due to a particular sin, as in the case of Job’s friends, is always bad theology unless the suffering was a direct cause of that sin rather than an inferred consequence. When we make God the author of pain and suffering we create confusion rather than comfort and guilt instead of solace.”
Dana added, “Bad things happen to good, Godly people. Like my sister getting cancer at 45. Was it God’s will? No. Did he know it would happen? Yes. The worse thing anyone could have said to us was that it was God’s will. I do not believe God willed for her to suffer so terribly as she did. I believe it broke God’s heart to see her suffer and for all of her family to be sad and crying. He was with us and I believe he caught every tear drop in His hand. Someone suggested to one of the family members that maybe she wasn’t prayed for enough. What a slap in the face and an insult to our faith. If that person had been correct then every person prayed for nonstop would be healed. But we live in a fallen world and this world is not perfect. This is not our home, thankfully!”
I love how my friend Cathy worded it:
“Tara, I agree with most of what has been said above. Even if certain statements seem at odds with one another. His ways are not our way and His thoughts above our thoughts. When my eleven-year-old son was killed in a tragic accident, I learned about God’s allowable or permissive will (as Jolene says) vs His perfect will for us. Sometimes He permits things to happen for reasons we cannot understand or know. Was it for my own maturity? So that my son would be spared from drugs in his teen years? To increase my love for my daughter who was left? No idea. And I, too, don’t think God works that way, though these outcomes could result from such a tough situation. Sometimes He allows these hurtful things to happen to His own for reasons only known to Him. When it happened to me, He gave me a deep knowing-that on the day I see Jesus and am reunited with my son in heaven, I will have all my questions answered. Yet, I will be so thankful and overwhelmingly happy to see them both, I won’t care about those ‘whys’ anymore. After that, I didn’t waste time wondering because I trust the One who holds my hands through it all. I know He knows. So all is well.”
My husband and I were recently discussing all this and he said, “I suppose when it comes down to it, we blew God’s perfect will to smithereens in the Garden of Eden, didn’t we?”
We are locked in a cosmic battle whether we realize it or not. Good versus evil. Light versus darkness. God, the King of all, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer versus Satan, a fallen angel. Ever since Satan lifted up his heart in pride and said, “I will be like God” (Is. 14:13-15), he declared war against the Almighty, His creation and all God’s kids.
And here’s the thing, Satan will never be like God. He can’t be. He tries over and over again and fails every single time. Evil might be good at imitating Light for a little while but what it ultimately births cannot be hidden: death, disease, and chaos. Satan knows this. So if he can’t be like God, he does everything in his power to make God appear to be like him: cruel, vindictive, and indifferent.
Personally, I think it’s one of Satan’s techniques as an accuser to have us believe it’s God’s will when bad things happen so we can then turn around and say, “God must not be good”. If we begin to believe God is not good and doesn’t have our good in mind, we will begin to question everything else about Him and the unraveling of our faith begins. Our enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. He loves nothing more than for us to face crippling loss, and then have us turn to God with an accusing finger and say, “How could you?”
To say everything that happens is God’s will just leads to a directionless life, one full of personal irresponsibility and doubt in whether God really does have our best in mind. What a terrible way to live!
But God does indeed have a will. What is it? Scripture makes it clear.
1) For all men to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
2) To give thanks in all circumstances. This strengthens our joy and dependence on God in adversity, as well as building patience, endurance, and forming us into the image of Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, James 1:2-4)
3) To live a life that is that different from the world, unpolluted, holy and set apart. (1 Thess. 4:3, Hebrews 13:20-21, Ephesians 5:15-20)
There is another type of will we need to talk about. Free will. God granted us all freedom to choose. Free will comes at a high price. He will not force us to love Him. He will not force us to do the right thing. Some choose love and light. Some choose darkness and evil, and their actions ripple far and deep, effecting generations in profound ways. Remember that cosmic battle we talked about? We are locked in war, whether we want to be or not. But take heart, child of God. We win. Read the Bible all the way to the end. Jesus will make all things right. As my pastor often says, when Jesus is finished, you’ll be able to look at all those horrors, the tormentors, the abusers and say, “Jesus took care of it. Boy, did He ever take care of it.”
In thinking over all this, God keeps bringing a passage back to mind. Luke 7: 11-17. A funeral procession was passing by Jesus and when He saw and heard the intensity of their grief, the original language says His compassion was so great He couldn’t help Himself. He had to move and intervene. He touched the funeral bier and brought the dead boy back to life.
He is the Author of Life. Nothing grieves His heart more than suffering. Some day all will be made right. Our enemy does not have the final say. He will be crushed.
And the beautiful thing about our Savior is that, even in the here and now, we can say, like Joseph, “what you intended for harm, God used for good.” He births beauty out of the most broken messes.