This is an article that I wrote for the “Speaking of Religion” column in the Bennington Banner. Here is a link to the Banner article: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/speaking-of-religion-god-has-a-plan,532926?
It’s happened again. Another day that started out like any other, another school is rocked by senseless violence. Social media tells us yet another tragedy has unfolded almost in real-time, and our shock and outrage begin even as the event itself is winding down. And almost as quickly, the fear creeps in. Those of us with loved ones in school at any age wonder if the next time will be closer to home; if the next victims will be faces we know and love.
It’s hard to know how to respond to the horrors of young lives cut so brutally short. So many of us, myself included, offer our sincere prayers for the victims, the ones who lost their lives, those who were injured, and those who are trying to cope with the loss of safety and security, with faces they’ll never see again in this world except in photographs and memories.
Not knowing how to offer comfort, grappling with tragedy in a world that proclaims the presence of a loving God, many people turn to an old rationalization: this must be part of God’s plan.
I have a son. He’s almost a teen now, and I’m just beginning to learn that I can’t protect him. When he was younger it was a natural part of my role in his life. But he’s older now; a youth and not a child. I have to give him the freedom to make mistakes and accept the consequences. He’s got to learn to do that on his own, because he has to know what consequences are before the transgressions can graduate from staying up too late on his iPad to more significant, and more damaging, possibilities.
But I still wish I could protect him.
I’m not ready to start worrying about drugs and alcohol. I’m not ready to start worrying if his friends are going to stand true, or if they’re going to lead him down another path. I’m terrified to think about whether today is the day someone will bring a gun into his classroom, or whether that won’t be until tomorrow, or the day after.
I don’t want to think about that. I want to think about what I want for him, not what I can’t protect him from. I want to think about my plans to raise a fine young man, to send him to college, to be as proud of the man he’ll become as I hope he will one day be of the man I’ve been. I want to see him have a family, have children. I want to be there when those children graduate from high school, from college. I want to be there when they start families of their own.
I want to be excited for him, not afraid for him.
But yet another shooter walked into another school, and 17 more people are dead.
And they say God has a plan.
God built this world and gave us the capacity to know joy and sorrow, to make mistakes and achieve greatness within the measure of our human limits. God built us a world of beauty and ugliness. God created for us a place where we can know triumphs and defeats, and where we can know successes and failures. God created a world that knows both good and evil.
And then God gave us a wonderful gift: free will.
God created this world for us, filled it with wonders both glorious and terrifying and then God gave us the ability to live our lives as we decide, in human terms, governed by human law but not forced to adhere to any rules of the divine or infinite. God gave us freedom, freedom to choose, to choose well, or to choose poorly, but to choose freely, without anyone, not our sisters and brothers, not our parents or children, not some devil, not even God forcing our hands one way or another.
And though we have failed God time and time again, though we have disappointed God throughout the ages, God has forgiven us each time we have fallen; God has steadied us each time we have stumbled.
This isn’t about the shooter. I’m not minimizing the devastating effects of mental illness. I’m not speculating on what may have led him to do what he did.
I’m talking about laying blame on God and some unknowable plan.
God does have a plan, but it’s not a script. We’re not playing parts or trapped in destinies we can’t escape. We are not pieces on a chessboard, being moved against our will.
God does have a plan, and God’s plan is the same plan that I have for my son. The same plan that any parent has for their child.
God’s plan is for us to choose to love one another, to choose to nurture and support one another, to choose to forgive one another, to choose to live in community with one another. God wants us to do what we can, in love, through God’s grace, to make the world a place where we don’t have to be afraid. Where we can trust that our children are safe to live and learn; to choose their own course in their own time.
God’s plan for us is to be born in love, grow in love, live in love, and share with each other a love so strong it was willing to endure humiliation, suffering, and even death on the cross, for our sake. A love so strong it can still change our world, if we choose to let it.
Like any good parent, God has a plan.