A couple weeks ago, I presided over a graveside service for the father of a good friend I’ve known since middle school. Unfortunately, he’s had to go through this twice in a several year timeframe: both parents in their 50’s, dying from cancer. It’s not just him who’s had to endure it, but his three children, losing two spoil-you-rotten/love-you-to-your-core grandparents. He may not be the most overly religious type, but when speaking to his wife in making preparations for the most unfortunate proceedings at a cemetery, she, like many children of God cling to in such heart-wrenching moments; she boldly asserted: “Well, it’s all part of God’s plan. We just have to go along with it…” or something along those lines.

There’s never a perfect time to dive into these theologically most troubling waters, and definitely not over the phone after a loved one’s death or at a funeral home exchanging often cliché pleasantries or at sorrow-filled graveside. I do not pretend to know the exact percentage of God’s divine intervention on the daily comings-and-goings of life in comparison to our role in all the various circumstances of the world. And I will be the first to admit that my current theological take on such things has changed over the years, and I’m sure it will many, many times, and not just because of Biblical or theological textbook readings or hearing sermons or lectures, but being immersed into those heart-wrenching moments when all we can cling to is the Holy Spirit who somehow knows what to do with our “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Nevertheless, as of right now, I am not a subscriber to “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “everything happens for a reason” or the like. At least, not the “reason” in the sense that God orchestrated it all to happen a certain way from some heavenly headquarters, pressing almighty power buttons or sending down some form of divine puppet-mastering to make everything happen on this earth exactly as God envisions it. I don’t cling to the image of God taking away three children’s grandparents so that they better count their days or live life to the fullest or more treasure family or whatever else we humans come up with to not only (what we think) help them feel better, but help us feel better, too. I do boldly assert the reality not just of free will, but our human body condition that can move freely about from running with joy to slowly collapsing with a disease that we still can’t quite figure out and countless many day-to-day in between.

I do boldly assert that love is far more beautiful when it can be chosen to do so. I do strongly cling to the God who does not operate as a manipulator, but sets us free out of the empty tomb, freeing us from worrying about sin and death as anything that can separate us from that spoil-us-rotten/love-us-to-our-core God. Yes, in that setting us free holy empowerment, we are not only free to love in rushing to loved one’s bedsides and playing with children on the floor, but we are also free to not be so loving in rushing to judgment and playing with hate-filled thoughts at the height of our minds.

I do boldly assert in a different plan that God has for us: a most beautiful plan of walking beside us not on a pre-determined path, but whatever road we choose to take, no matter the hills and valleys, no matter the joy and sadness, not to mention no matter the theologies we cling to about that one who is Emmanuel; whether it’s the God who operates from a heavenly headquarters, or sets up shop in church sanctuaries as an earthly base, or goes with us wherever we go, or whatever else in between. I do strongly cling to the idea that things do happen for a reason, but more so because individually or collectively, we hold much more responsibility than we tend to give ourselves credit for in this life. That can be daunting and scary, to put it mildly, but it can also be incredibly beautiful. I like to think that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, too: to nudge us along to the beautiful, to the grace, to the compassion; not only for ourselves, but that we may freely share it with other wanderers about this life. I like to think that’s part of the wonderful reason our Lord came into our human midst: to show just how breath-taking that love can be for us and for the whole world. Thanks be to God, indeed!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad