By: Brianne Edwards
Words can Wound
Something utterly terrible has happened and a well-meaning, faith-filled friend who is trying to be there for you nonchalantly says, “It’s all in God’s plan.” It’s usually said without much thought and comes with an underlying goal of leading us to trust in God. It is meant to help us think about the positive things that could come from this—the personal growth, our new ability to empathize, the good to the community, and the meaning we can make from it. As if any good might possibly justify this profound level of heartache.
When I was wobbling from the knockout blow after the death of my son, there was no other statement more wounding to my faith than hearing people say that God planned this for me. If this is God’s plan, then I don’t really want that kind of God. To cause radical suffering for the good that can come from it doesn’t sound merciful or loving in the slightest. It took me a long, long, time to recover from the wound that came from wondering if God willed the death of my child—thinking that it was somehow in His plan to snatch my little boy from my life without warning.
I finally figured out a way to make sense of this nonsense. It started with realizing that God doesn't plan and orchestrate our tragedies. The only realm in which we can say that the terrible things we experience are “part of God’s plan” is in the overarching umbrella of the human condition, or in his permissive will. This is what God allows for us, but not what he desires for us. To create the possibility of genuine love, it was a necessary step to give humans their own free will and the ability to decide for themselves if they will choose love or not. With that gift of free will, the human condition got messy in a hurry. In God’s permissive will, tragedies and sorrows of all kinds become part of the human condition, but this is not what he plans or desires for any of us.
Death is the work of the enemy. “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome and there is not a destructive drug among them, nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who belong to his company experience it.” (Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24)
Good, Good Father
Parenting has given me some meaningful insights on how to think about God’s role in our distress. As a parent, I may cause some discomfort for my child for their own good and growth. No matter how awful they think it is, I will insist that they eat a few vegetables, turn off their screen, and finish their homework—not because I want to upset them, but because I want them to grow in strength, maturity, and wisdom. God probably gives us some minor discomforts in the same way. He allows us to experience dilemmas in important relationships, or feel unsatisfied in our job, or feel some discomfort in our bodies, in order to nudge us to re-evaluate these circumstances- helping us to grow in strength, maturity, wisdom, and love. While I wouldn’t hesitate to give my child some discomforts for his own good, I would never, under any circumstance, tragically wound my child for the good that could come from it. I wouldn’t bring him to the brink of his existence so that he can appreciate the gift of life. I wouldn’t remove his arm to teach him a powerful lesson in resilience. I wouldn’t give him a chronic condition so that he can understand the weight of suffering and make meaningful connections to others who are hurting. It’s true, even in the most horrific of circumstances, there are usually some things that emerge as silver linings. However, if something terrible happens to my child, it is by accident of being human, not because I willed it for him.
God doesn’t will our tragedies either. Discomforts, maybe. But not the things that put us in the abyss of profound suffering. Rather, just like I would sit in a perpetual bedside vigil for my tragically wounded child, weeping with him and for him, God does the same for me. When I suffer profoundly, He draws silently near and weeps with me because of my pain. Even if He doesn’t remove my pain, He brings me little comforts in a million different ways to show me love and support as I navigate the hardest parts of being human. God didn’t plan my tragedy. Instead, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Whether I feel His presence or not, he will keep vigil beside me until I am ready and able to stand on my own again—and that’s the kind of God I can love.
Brianne is the founder of Lach's Legacy, a nonprofit organization working to support those who have experienced the unexpected loss of an infant and working in the fight against SIDS. She is also an author, with her first book A Thousand Pounds launching in 2022.