As Christians we accept that God has good plans for our lives. It’s the phrase that comes out whenever you hit any kind of bump in the road. We are comfortable with what the words mean, separately and together. We are familiar with the theory but we struggle more with the practical outworking of it. Why do God’s plans lead some people on paths littered with illness and grief? Where are these good plans when we watch those we love suffer? Or when we find ourselves digging through the last dregs of our strength, for yet another battle?
The truth is that sometimes God’s good plans hurt. Sometimes the way ahead looks so tangled with thorns you can’t even find the energy to attempt it. The battle rages around you and far from being fearless and courageous you are waving a white flag of surrender desperate for peace. When your cheeks are red raw from the tears you’ve been wiping from your face and yet they still keep falling.
Sometimes God bestows on you blessings you don’t deserve. Other times you’re grasping at the threads of dreams that fall through your fingers like mist. Some nights are not followed by joy coming in the morning. There may be times where in the place of words of comfort there is just pain, a pain that would consume you if you let it.
On these days, far from boldly declaring God’s promises at the darkness you whimper and whisper them. Words that are both familiar and entirely alien to your state of mind. You want them to still hold true but they start to feel like the fairytales you clung onto as a child, comfortable but intangible.
These are days where you catch yourself thinking if this is God prospering me, I wonder what the alternative looks like. And then you remember God gave the promise of Jeremiah 29 to the Israelites as they faced decades of enslavement and exile. Some of those hearing these words would never see their homes again. They were not a platitude but a promise that no matter how bad things got there was a purpose and a plan, that they were not forgotten or abandoned. It was not an assurance they would see the purpose this side of heaven or that this plan wouldn’t involve pain.
We do not follow a God whose hands are tied when suffering and pain enters our lives, left to watch feebly on from the sidelines. He is sovereign over every aspect of his creation, able to change our circumstances in an instant, to give and take away. Yet his purposes and plans won’t always line up with our own. His goal is not our earthly happiness but his eternal glory. And he uses trials and pain as an instrument to teach and shape us, to become more and more who we were meant to be. To be vessels shining out his glory into this fallen world, leading people to him.
Whatever comes my way I know God is still good. I still trust him. His character has not and will never be dependent on my circumstances. But that doesn’t make the pain any less real. And at times it can make the pain even more complicated to process, knowing God could have spared me it but chose not to, for reasons I may never understand.
But I think the thing I’m learning is it’s okay to sit with the uncertainty and conflict that pain causes. Emotions have to be felt before they can fade. There may not be words that will lessen the blows and perhaps we can be too quick to paper over the cracks with our platitudes. Sometimes we have to spend time confronting the gap, that exists between our hopes and expectations, and the reality we’re faced with. But we must know that God is still with us, no matter how vast the chasm we’re contemplating.
And somehow through the pain and the tears, his power will be made perfect in our weakness. Mysteriously he will work all things together for good. Some day we may look back and see his loving purpose over it all. What was sown into hard ground, and watered with tears, will be reaped with rejoicing.
And each day, no matter how much it costs us to say it, there will always be hope.