I’m leading an online Bible study on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In this study, I’ve been diving into some good ole Methodist theology in regards to works righteousness, our response to our faith, etc. I simply adore Paul’s writings and this has been not only fun for me to do, but eye-opening as well . . . especially considering the place I’m in right now. This letter is the “joyful” letter in that Paul ends it with a joyful note (and a hopeful one). Friends, I could use some joy and hope these days, so this has been a timely thing for me.
As I’m in the midst of this study, I’m also participating in DivorceCare at a local church. This has been a good thing, so far, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the participants. However, I can tell that my theological stance and their theological stances are a bit different – either that, or they just are not aware of what they are saying. I keep hearing the phrase “God has a plan so just hang in there.” Or, “this was part of God’s plan so it will be okay.” I cringe when I hear that. It reminds me of people who say to a grieving mother, “It was God’s plan for little Timmy to die.” I have a hard time believing for a moment that the God that loved us so much to send his son to die for us would then take the life of a child all because it was the “plan.” As a United Methodist I don’t believe in predestination – rather, I’m a believer in the gift of free will. I do, however, believe that our omnipotent God knows all things and could do all things, but our choices in life are still our own. Life still happens. And God leaves us to our free will and loves us through it.
As I read Paul I hear his words when it comes to God working THROUGH and IN us. Paul believes wholeheartedly that we have responsibility to respond to our faith by opening ourselves up to God’s work in us, to choose to live a righteous life (a life in Christ Jesus). God is not our puppet master, but God can guide if we were to listen. Ultimately, though, the choices we make are our choices. When tragedy happens, it happens and God doesn’t make it happen. I know that God didn’t ruin my marriage to teach me a lesson, or to make a greater “plan” open up for me. But, what I DO know is that through this tragedy in my life, IF I open myself up to God’s healing and work IN me, then God will lead me to make good choices moving forward. And, I’m a firm believer in prevenient grace and I know, without a doubt, that God’s love and grace is working in me even when I am closed off, grieving, or hurting so bad I can’t see the forest for the trees.
No, I don’t believe God is sitting up there with a huge game board moving me around like a game piece from block to block. Rather, I know God is rejoicing with me as I make good choices and grieving when I make poor ones. I know that as I pray and listen, God is speaking to me and offering me the strength I need. I know that as I walk through dark days ahead that I am never alone. But, will God get me out of bed in the morning? No. Will God reach down and make it all better? No. Is it up to me to make choices in my life and do so with God’s guidance? Absolutely.
The “big plan” is simple – live a life of Christ, get through the junk, and remember who loves me through it all. That’s a pretty good plan.