“Well, it’s part of God’s plan.”
And so the Christian negates the problematic tragedy of pain. Your very real and perplexing struggle boxed up and dismissed in one statement that so many of us, as Christ-followers, roll off our tongue as if it’ll make everything alright. As if everything will somehow be solved because of the blithe mantra that “everything happens for a reason.”
Sometimes everything doesn’t happen for a reason.
Sometimes, life is arbitrarily mean, cruel, and heart rending.
When, as Christians, we dismissively make these kinds of statements as excuses for God, we in a way elevate ourselves to a position of removed security. We apathetically presume some higher knowledge of God’s purposes, without giving thought to the agony of those facing suffering. We give the spiritual pat-on-the-back without getting dirty and hurt in standing with others in their pain. But, to remove the reality of pain in this world as some abstract happening that a distant God weaves into some unknowable, incomprehensible blueprint is to do a disservice both to the acutely distressing position of the sufferer, and does no justice to the presence of an all-loving God through their suffering. The Christian position, if I understand it rightly, is that God is not removed from our present condition, passively watching down from up in heaven’s ivory tower. He is not somehow sitting “out there” in the controller’s seat, a puppet master pulling inconsolable cosmic strings together for his amusement. He is not patiently sitting out eternity waiting for the day when he can smite the evildoer to hell in order to balance the books.
I think we Christians say that painful circumstances and uncomfortable happenings are somehow part of God’s plan because we haven’t fully comprehended the work of Christ. You see, the Gospel, the great scandal of the Christian faith, reaches its climax with its protagonist, God made man, entering into the darkest reality of the human condition, stepping into the malevolent arms of Death, and coming out victoriously holding the keys to eternal life. This is a God of nail-scarred hands, saturated in sweat and blood and doused in man’s darkest depravity. God walking in skin. This – this incarnation – is the assurance of a God who stands with the sufferer through the devastating reality of their pain.
The Christian isn’t removed from pain or shielded from its dark reality by some lacklustre excuse that it is part of God’s plan. Instead, the reverse is true – the Christian is born from pain. The marks of a Christian are the scars of when abundant love met eternal justice in the paradox of grace – when a saviour stepped into sin, when God was slammed into godlessness, when Christ shed blood for humanity.
For this is a God who partakes in the tragedy of a world torn from his blueprint, in order to bring about the design of a world willed in perfect love and mercy and joy and kisses and laughter. When we make out that God is somehow removed from our pain when we say that it’s all part of his design, we forget that his design was to enter into the maelstrom of our affliction to redeem us from it.
If, then, we’re going to be Christ-followers walking out into a broken world, we have to stop with half-hearted answers and making excuses for God. Our story is of a God who was utterly broken on our behalf, who came to stand by the afflicted in their pain, not watch them from afar in security. That means we need to forgo our security on behalf of those we find ourselves alongside – the pain stricken, the least, the lost, the broken. We need to stop with the safe, but often unhelpful, answers, and get our hands dirty and hearts broken by standing with our family in their suffering.
Reckless love means sacrifice. Reckless love means just standing by when everyone else has ran away. Reckless love takes courage.