I was really uncomfortable with something my daily devotional said today. It’s something I’ve questioned and studied for a long time - a constant irritant in my normally unquestioning faith.
The comment in this devotional was tackling quite a big issue that cannot really be tackled in a few paragraphs, so I may be judging it unfairly.
The writer was looking at verses in Genesis 50, including: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good so that others might be saved."
The writer goes on to talk about what God “intends” from problems and suffering: “From the beginning, God calculated for Joseph to experience all these things. Why? For the salvation of others.” The writer later goes on to say “Your problems have more purpose than you can imagine. Not because God merely used bad things, but because God intended them so that others might be brought to Jesus through your example.”
I struggle with this statement on many levels - both as a children’s worker who works with kids with disabilities, additional needs and difficult family backgrounds, but also with my own background too. Many children, young people and families are asking these questions, and I feel I need to have wrestled with it myself so I can help in the discussion.
There are many thoughts on God’s will. Two of them are: “Permissive Will” (Allows things - even though it’s sin) and “Directive Will” (God’s calling for your life - not as common as most would like.) There are quite a few other ones too. Look at http://bit.ly/dgOSES, as this gives some very helpful pointers on what people think about the will of God.
My starting point in looking at these questions is always the Bible, and the subject matter has to be myself - It’s difficult to talk to others about things like this unless I can show I’ve struggled with the question too. (Caveat time: You don’t have to have suffered to answer these questions, but showing you have given serious thought to it is helpful!)
I am alive on this planet because a church youth worker abused my birth mother - a horrible story in itself. Those who believe in the argument set out above would say I fit this verse to a T - out of an awful situation, came a children’s evangelist who may not have been here otherwise. Now, I believe God can redeem an awful situation, but can we really say that in reality God intended my birth mother to be abused? Personally, I don’t think so. But God has definitely redeemed the situation. As I talk to children who are survivors of abuse - the idea that God intended it is a harsh and dangerous one.
I also have a disability - but I can see God at work through it. Would I rather not be in constant pain? Well, yes! But the key issue here is not the pain, but my reaction to it and my relationship with God. Children with disabilities struggle with the idea that God intended their body to be one that doesn’t work properly - just as they struggle with the other side of the coin that they don’t have enough faith to be healed. We need to be very careful with our thoughts and theology here too!
In the last few years I have lost two female friends to suicide and another in the Australian bush fires, and in that time I have really struggled with people’s comments and prayers surrounding their deaths. In one prayer meeting I heard a person pray “God, we know you have ordained this in your perfect plan, and we don’t understand it….” Too right I don’t understand - but it was the prayer I didn’t understand. But many people believe this point of view, without actually thinking it all the way through to it’s conclusion. The grief was huge, but the idea that my loving heavenly Father may have “ordained this, made the grief so much greater - was it really God’s purpose to allow three families to be left without a wife and a mother…. And one father without his kids too? (My friend’s sons were also killed in the Australian fires). There are many grieving children out there, trying to piece together shattered lives after the loss of a loved one - how do we help them to understand these things?
It would be so easy to damage these precious kids with badly thought out and poorly explained theology. Where ever you stand in this debate - care needs to be taken.
My personal position lies smack bang in the middle of all the discussions on these things. I hope and I pray I can help children and young people who are facing suffering, plus their families, to go on believing in a loving God. I hope I can encouraging them to use what is happening to them to grow in their relationship with God.
My faith and life journey, I believe, are more to do with my relationship with an amazing God than what God can do for me.