Many people—whether they know it or not--function by this bad theology. When something good happens, they say it is because God set it in place for us long before time. Conversely, when something bad happens, to us or to others, it is because God allowed it—whether to teach a greater lesson or for some other reason beyond our “puny human understanding.” In this system of thinking, everything is beyond our control. Its adherents are nothing more than pawns. Life is simply a series of unchangeable events—put in motion by an inactive God, whose plan is more important than love, growth, and change. In such a premeditated theology, there is no room for a loving, compassionate God who becomes human, dwells among us, is crucified, dies, is raised from the grave, and ascends to Heaven—all for our sake. Faith, in these parameters, is unconditional acceptance of the mysterious divine scheme.
If a woman--physically wrestling with the damning memories of abuse and scandal—asks me the question: “why?” the last thing I will never say is: “It’s all part of God’s plan.” When a parishioner--looking up at me with tears of confusion rolling down their face—says: “what did I do?” the last thing I will never say is: “It’s all part of God’s plan.” Watching the horrific video of a twister sweeping through town—pictures of debris flying everywhere—and reading articles about houses demolished, fields gone, lives extinguished, the last thing I will never say is: “It’s all part of God’s plan.” If God, by chance, does have a plan in mind for me and for the whole world, I cannot believe it is one filled with pain, suffering, and death. As I look to the cross of Christ, the only plan I can ever imagine God putting in motion is one where God comes in our very midst: standing beside us, embracing us with arms of love, catching every tear that falls from our face. If Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are part of some divine plan, it is one of love. Right in the middle of the Sh*t that happens—as we pick up the pieces of our relationships, personal lives, and homes--Christ is with us. We are never left to walk in the darkness alone. Christ, our Comforter, goes beside us through it all. Sh*t happens; yet all plans aside, God’s love for us in the Crucified and Risen Christ persists.
In his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Martin Luther beckons us, as theologians of the cross: to call a thing what it is and to walk alongside others through all life’s twists and turns. A theology that says everything--good and bad--is part of God’s greater plan neither calls the horrible atrocities what they truly are: senseless, nor serves to care for people deep within their suffering and doubt. Instead of such an empty theology, Luther offers us a different way to look upon and address the broken relationships, random accidents, and violent disasters we encounter. Through the lens of the theology of the cross, we are called to face life’s irrationalities head-on, for what they are: brokenness, not God’s plan. We are not called to rationalize through things that don’t make sense or speculate on some hidden Da Vinci Code, but instead to walk beside the victims--those hurt and questioning--through their suffering, caring for them as Christ’s hands and feet. Sh*t happens. Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, calls you and I to respond to others who are in the thick of it. Empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, we are able to go into places of disaster—such as the decimated remains of Pilger, Nebraska—and courageously bear one another up: giving hope to others, in Jesus’ name. Grace, not Sh*t, is “all part of God’s plan.” You and I—as theologians of the cross--reveal Christ’s presence in all of these times through our words and actions. Instead of looking for a plan to make sense of everything, trusting in God’s grace, let us live in the new life we receive in and through Christ, Crucified and Risen.