Corkery SJ provides some clarification on the inquiry about God’s plan in our lives and why sometimes things just go wrong.
Does God really have a plan for our lives? If so, why do things go wrong so often?
One evening recently I was walking down a popular Dublin street and I went into a church. On display there I saw a booklet entitled, God’s Plan for My Life. I did not have time to read the booklet, which I’m sure was excellent, but I must admit that I wondered what effect its title would have on someone who had been born into crippling poverty, or had just been diagnosed as terminally ill, or had become unemployed at the age of fifty after thirty years in a job. I imagined that it would be difficult for people in such circumstances to believe that God had a plan for them.
A difficult problem
There appears to be an insoluble problem. On the one hand Christian faith teaches that God has a plan; on the other hand, daily life teaches that things go wrong all the time. The only way out of the difficulty is to say that there is nothing incompatible in God’s having a plan and things going wrong in our eyes.
So am I saying that God wants things to go wrong for us? Certainly not, Jesus clearly reveals God to be against the things that make human beings suffer. But this does not mean that such things will never occur. For it is part of God’s plan that things can happen that are not sent to us directly by God. This is a complicated idea: let me try to explain.
When something occurs in your life, whom do you hold responsible? That depends. For example if someone treats you badly, you hold that person responsible; you do not say that God has mistreated you. In fact, you appeal to God for help in dealing with the hurt.
Similarly, if a person close to you is injured in an accident, you explain what has happened by saying, ‘The scaffolding collapsed,’ or ‘the other driver was speeding’. You deplore the fact that the accident took place, and you apportion blame according to what you believe caused it: faulty equipment, irresponsible behaviour, or whatever.
You do not in your rational mind hold God responsible for what has happened; and of course you appeal to God to heal the injured person. Initially, in emotional turmoil, you may blame God, but when you think about it, you begin to see that God is as pained by the event as you are.
Because God really gives human beings charge of the world, things go wrong that would never happen if God had kept everything directly under control with no involvement on our part. When God involved us he took an awful risk. It is like the risk you take when you delegate a task to another person, or invite a child to help you, or respect the freedom of another human being.
The risk is that things will not be done as you would wish; or they will be done badly, or selfishly, or meanly; or not at all. God took a risk by sharing control over things with us, by planning our lives in a way that includes our involvement. It was indeed a risk. But not to involve us would have been to make us like puppets on strings, rather than human beings who free.
Co-creators with God
We clog our roads, pollute our skies, and overcrowd our cities. We find cures for some illnesses, and develop stressful life-styles that cause other ones. We make economic arrangements that benefit some people, but deprive and neglect others. If God’s plan did not include our involvement, these things could be avoided.
That is why, especially if we are on the losing end, we sometimes wish that God had not shared the running of the world with human beings. But God did – in spite of the risks. Why? Because God wanted to make us co-creators.
We have not, of course, lived up to our responsibilities as Co-creators That is why bad things happen. But this fact does not mean that God has no plan and that all is out of control. It does mean, however, that God cannot assure us that nothing bad will ever happen to us.
What God does promise is to be with us, no matter what happens to us. And so we can never tell ourselves, ‘I shall not walk in the valley of darkness,’ but we can always say, ‘If I walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear; you are there with your crook and staff..’ Psalm 23:4 These words express the unfailing plan of God; That God will always, absolutely always, be with us.
This article first appeared in the Messenger, a publication of the Irish Jesuits.