Plans

Satan on his way to bring about the downfall o...
Satan on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost by John Milton. Paradise Lost Book III, lines 739-742 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote from Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.  He opposes abortion in the case of rape partially on the grounds that even this is part of God’s plan.

I was struck by this.  Not by the abortion part.  I was struck by the God’s plan part.

I think partially because of where I am in life right now.

I’m going through some struggles.  These struggles don’t feel like they are all the way deserved.  I’m not comparing my struggles with the unimaginable misery and confusion of ending up being a pregnant rape victim.

I am saying that there is a broader and dangerous theological principle running around underneath Mourdok’s words.

It’s rooted, I suppose in a desire to pay honor to God’s omnipotence.  I think it’s a good thing to take His omnipotence seriously.  But there comes a point where honoring his omnipotence, taken too far, pays disrespect to his unfailing love.

Certainly God is powerful enough to determine and manipulate and control every event that ever happens.  But does he unroll his power in this way?

There is a view that was prominent in the 1800s.  Lots of people happen upon this view today, often with out even being aware that they’ve rediscovered the beliefs held by our forefathers, many of whome were important founding fathers of the U.S.

Usually it’s called Deism.  Deism is the belief that God wound up the universe and then let it go.  The Deist God isn’t emotionally involved with what’s going on in the Earth.  This kind-of God could easily plan in advance to bring about a life through the horrendousness of rape.

This chess-master God controls everything and therefore it seems must be the one responsible for all our suffering.  He was behind Adam’s and Eve’s fall, behind Judas’s betrayal, behind even the fall of Lucifer in the first place.

A god who unrolls all his power on the universe and leaves no room for the errors of creations is a god who was willing to use as mercilessly for reasons that seem wierd: if God wanted to make things himself, if that was his end game, why didn’t he just create them directly, out of nothingness.

Getup Get God
Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

But the God I worship?  No, never.

It is possible to go to the opposite extreme.  It is possible to honor God’s love for us at the expense of his omnipotence.  It is possible to try and worship a God who is like the friend who passed you tissues and ate ice cream out of the carton but never actually engaged in changing the circumstances of your life.  (Wow, did I sound like a girl!  I feel it necessary to say that was a bit of poetic hyperbole: I never actually ate ice cream out of a carton when depressed.)

The way I know to balance God’s love and God’s power pops up over and over again in scripture.  Joseph tells his brother what was intended for evil God turned to good.  The life of Jesus testifies to the fact that God does not exert power over, like a puppet master: instead he wields power from beneath; he is a God of last minute reversals, or transforming glory from apparent misery.

It seems small, maybe.  But the Senator?  What he should have said, I think, is this.

God can use an event as horrendous as rape.  He can take what was meant for evil and cause something good.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

7 thoughts on “Plans”

  1. Wow! Really? This is probably our widest disagreement ever. I see the distinction as incredibly important.
    To say that it was God’s plan that a child came from a rape is to suggest that God knew that the rape was going to occur in advance. Since God had the power to stop this chain of events, he is complicit in the rape itself. It is this thinking that keeps many people far from God.

    To say that the rape is a perversion of God’s initial plan, and that He took this tremdendous evil and that he placed a life in the midst of this pain… that’s the act of a redeemer-God, a God who loves us.

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    1. I agree with both your conclusions, Jeff (in your post and in your comment), and you’re absolutely right that the idea that God is complicit in something as horrific as rape (or as what you’re going through, which I think is also pretty horrific) is the kind of thing that keeps people far from God. In fact, I had a conversation earlier this week that skirted this. I’m just not sure I agree with the way you GET to those conclusions.

      I guess I just think:

      a) A Deistic God doesn’t PLAN anything–thus the winding up. If such a God were true, then karma would be a lot more reliable, because by cause and effect, everything would happen exactly as we deserve it. No matter what anyone says, rape is never deserved. Nor is your situation deserved. Jesus pretty much clears up the “bad stuff is always a punishment” assumption with His remark in John 9.

      b) We broke the world by our own error and wilfulness, as you observe above that God allowed us to. The thing is, I think God not only honours our choice to break it in the first place, but honours the system our brokenness “created.” Therefore, I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that He knows exactly what’s going to happen but doesn’t always step in to prevent it. (Knowing is not always the same as planning.) If He were the quick-pick-up-the-pieces-before-it-gets-too-bad Nanny State God, then whether He knew everything in advance or not, I would think He would jump in as soon as He figured out what was going on, and just “fix” everything. But that kind of parenting is, as you know, not always actually the most loving in the end, even if it near kills you to let your kid walk through the logical consequences of their (or even someone else’s) bad decisions.

      c) Due to the conversation I mentioned earlier, I’ve been thinking a lot of about the Mary/Martha/Lazarus story. I think that story well-illustrates that sometimes things happen outside of God’s true and original design and intention, and which break His heart (“Jesus wept . . . and crying out with a loud voice . . .”), but He doesn’t step in to stop them (He waited 4 days until the guy was really dead) even though He could have–because whether the specific event was part of His plan or not, He had a bigger, overarching plan which couldn’t, in this broken world, have happened without the sorrow, horror and despair happening first.

      Does this make God complicit in our misery? I don’t know. Sometimes I think so. I just don’t think it’s ever outside of His love for us. I believe that God loves each of us individually and is personally involved in our individual stories, but I also believe that His love goes beyond those little stories and that He is writing a much bigger one than we’ll ever see in this lifetime, and that His love is much bigger than we’ll ever comprehend in this lifetime.

      Sometimes the plotpoints, therefore, are going to get rather far beyond us, and that’s when we hit the pivot where we decide if this is going to tip us toward God or away from Him–if we’re going to hide in the house and miss the miracle (as Mary almost did), or say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” and then in the next breath, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” As Martha did.

      I understand the objection that says if God willfully allows such tragedy, what’s to trust? But I think the answer comes in the trusting–and that’s when we see that God loves us, mourns with us, has experienced tragedy like us, and is the only one who can make any good come out of it.

      (I think I just wrote a blog post.)
      (

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  2. That last line was terrific, I’ve been trying to figure out how I would word it myself. So thanks for putting words in my “head/heart.”

    But it also seems, sometimes, like a cruel joke that children are conceived by rape or by “careless encounters” while the tears of the barren woman, aching for a child, seem to go unanswered.

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  3. Not that I want to sound cliche, but, now we see dimly, then we will see him face to face. Our perspective now is so limited and I think this is part of the testing of our Faith because as we know Him and indeed trust in Him who we get to know! Our experience doesn’t jive with that God picture. Nothing can be answered quite so simply of course and I like you struggle to reconcile my faith in light of the various situations that present themselves each day. Often times I end up with no real understanding but simply a an attitude of surrendering all that I don’t understand and acknowledging that I need Him every hour.

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