God’s Plan in Aurora?

This message was presented to Asbury Church in the aftermath of the Colorado Movie Theatre shootings.    We begin our message with a reading from the Old Testament Book of Job, copied from the Message version of the Bible…

Then Job defended himself: “I’ve had all I can take of your talk.

What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches?    

What’s your problem that you go on and on like this? If you were in my shoes, I could talk just like you.
I could put together a terrific sermon and really let you have it.

But I’d never do that. I’d console and comfort,  make things better, not worse!
6-14 “When I speak up, I feel no better; if I say nothing, that doesn’t help either.  I feel worn down.  God, you have wasted me totally—me and my family! You’ve shriveled me like a dried prune, showing the world that you’re against me.

People take one look at me and gasp. Contemptuous, they slap me around    and gang up against me.  And God just stands there and lets them do it,  lets wicked people do what they want with me.

I was contentedly minding my business when God beat me up. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me around. He set me up as his target,  then rounded up archers to shoot at me.  Merciless, they shot me full of arrows; bitter bile poured from my gut to the ground.

He burst in on me, onslaught after onslaught, charging me like a mad bull.
 Now my face is blotched red from weeping; look at the dark shadows under my eyes, Even though I’ve never hurt a soul and my prayers are sincere!

“O Earth, don’t cover up the wrong done to me! Don’t muffle my cry!

There must be Someone in heaven who knows the truth about me,
in highest heaven, some Attorney who can clear my name—

My Champion, my Friend,  while I’m weeping my eyes out before God. I appeal to the One who represents mortals before God  as a neighbor stands up for a neighbor.

You certainly do not need me to dive into the horrific events that occurred in a movie theatre in Colorado this past week.    It has been all over the news.   We have all heard of the horrific events almost as they unfolded.  We have seen the tears of family and of those who were lucky enough to have escaped.   We have seen the pictures of the aftermath, and that of the shooter full of madness sitting in a court room.

I imagine that over the next few weeks or months, we will learn more about this young man and what drove him to do the unthinkable.   There will be talk about gun control.  There will be talk about violence in our communities.  There will be talk about mental illness.   We will hear the stories of ordinary people who lost their lives as well as ordinary people who became in heroes in an instant.

In the aftermath of this nightmare, some will react out of fear.   Some will over react.   It is almost as if you cannot help but over react. In the end, the moments before the shootings for each of the victims seemed so regular and every day that it scares the daylights out of the rest of us.    We are reminded that things are uncertain.  Life is precarious.   Life, at times is scary.

Like you, I have been trying to make sense of the news reports.    Like you, I cannot shake the image of a young man, mentally broken perhaps beyond repair, with dyed orange hair, truly and fully believing he is the arch nemesis of a comic book character.   I found myself wondering what it must be like to be a pastor of that community.

As the memorial services begin for a handful of the dozen victims, I heard a pastor, speaking to reporters about a young girl he was about to bury, say:  “I know that God sometimes works in ways that make no sense..,” he said,  “As people of faith, we have to trust – in moments like this – that this is His plan.”   As I heard those words, at first they passed right over my head. 

A little while later, I found them returning to the front and center.

As I thought about the words spoken to that reporter, I could visualize the pastor saying the words over and over again.   First he would say it to the girl’s parents.    To a mom, he would say;  “It’s God’s plan.”  Then maybe he would repeat them to a scared and lost little sister; “It’s God’s plan.”   Maybe he would repeat the same words over and over, to classmates, neighbors, aunts and uncles.    “It’s God’s plan.”   

After closing my eyes and seeing that conversation occur again and again and again, I have decided something about those words.  

Excuse the bluntness, but they’re crap.

I have heard those words way too frequently.  Uproar was had on Huff Post, just this week about George Zimmeran, the killer of Trayvon Martion, when he said killing Trayvon was part of God’s plan.  Listening to the blogger go off, I started to listen.   I heard it said just twenty four hours later about the movie theatre shootings.  I also heard it few days later about the marriage of Tom and Katie and the trials and tribulation of Lindsey Lohan.   I have heard other bloggists repeatedly call that phrase out this week.   What are we saying, when we say this was “God’s plan”?   That uproar which took the blog world by storm, coupled with my now unsettled mind, led me to scrap my original message and pen a new one – this one – as an attempt to piece together my own thoughts.

As I took pen to paper in my handy dandy journal, I remembered the story of a little boy.  

As a five year old his addicted mom and dad broke up, and Dad disappeared.   Dad was later killed in a street fight over $15.00.  At the age of six, he had already lived in two dozen apartments, and the routine would always be the same.   Mom would need a fix, she would find a man who was willing to give it up, she would offer herself in exchange, and the boy and his mom would find themselves in a new place again.       When the fix ran out the mom would eventually leave and start over, but not before the man with the fix would extract his pound of flesh from the little boy, sometimes in ways unimaginable.

When the boy was 12 he already had a half a dozen arrests.  He held drugs for bigger boys.  He shoplifted.    He joined a gang.    He carried a pistol by 16.    By 18 he was addicted too.  Two days after his nineteenth birthday, he died of a heroin overdose alone in an alley behind the apartment building his mother and her new man shared.

As I discovered this story of a young man who lived a thousand miles and a dozen lifetimes away, I heard a Pastor say, this boy’s life – all of it – was all God’s plan.      With those words, we were to shake our head, say Amen, and try to forget.   Because it was God’s plan, we can now close our eyes and not see the face of that little 5 year old boy.   We can move on.  Because it is God’s plan, the nightmares, the anxiety, and the fears can all be shed.

I’m so tired of it.   It steals my breath and breaks my heart.   I know that God is all powerful and in our presence without fail, but this it’s not – and just cannot – be right.   It’s not correct. 

And to borrow the emphatic declaration from that original posting that got me all fired up; This is not God’s plan.

It is not God’s plan that a broken young man straps on over 6000 rounds of ammunition and storm a movie theatre.

It is not God’s plan that a loved one gets sick and dies.

It is not God’s plan that a young boy is beaten, betrayed, and abused before he can even read.

It is not God’s plan that you hurt so badly.

It is not God’s plan for a mother to shove needles in her arm, or to sell her body for her drug.

God’s plan does not include overdoses, heartbreak, bullet wounds, cancer, or street gangs.

God’s plan does not include the violent death of a 13 year old girl in a movie theatre or a 19 year old in a back alley.

Something is not right when it comes to our culture, our faith, and our way of thinking about God.   Do we think that God, like some cosmic alchemist, stirs up the pot, puts a gun in a boys hand, and pushes him to squeeze the trigger?   Do we honestly look around at all the wonders and glory of God that stand before us and think that this is how God works.

I know that the words have to provide some level of comfort to the hearer –or the sayer- smiply because of what seems like an overwhelming desire to repeat it to each other.    In the past, I have leaned on those words myself.   I have said them.   I have told others that God is mysterious, God is sometimes hard to understand, and sometimes bad situations are his plan.  

Today, I apologize for that.    Today, I know for certain that I was wrong.

God does not want his Glory to be seen in the screams of a little girl.    God does not want his majesty to find its testimony in the madness of mental illness.    God does not want Grace seen in crack cocaine, whiskey bottles, or bruises on a child.   Certainly God does not want love expressed in the broken hearted agony of grief and sorrow.  In the end shame on us and shame on me for having thought so little of God.

How do we dress up God?

There is and will be hurt.
There is and will be pain.

There is and will be doubt.

There is and will be sickness and heartbreak.

And yes…there is and will be evil….organized, personal, corporate, and or systemic.

Recently I have stumbled upon a quote, and since then I have been tossing it about like candy.  You might have heard me say it a couple of times already. It has stuck with me, and it is quickly becoming almost a mission statement.   It has two parts…   First it says “Trust God, and kick the darkness”

As opposed to resting all our heartache on the “God’s Plan in Pain”, today I call you to stand up and tell the world that this is not God’s Plan.  Today, I call on you to kick the darkness.

Be the teenage girl who kicked the darkness as she crouched in the gunfire to apply pressure to a stranger’s wound.

Be the young man who kicks the darkness, as he holds a middle aged strangers hand, and repeats “its over” a thousand times until the man finally believes and can open his eyes.

Be the nurse, who kicks the darkness as she stands for thirty hours trying to repair the broken bodies of people she has never met.

Be the stranger, who kicks the darkness as she opens her wallet to pay for stranger who has racked up a half a million dollars in hospital bills in less than a week.

Be the friend, spouse, sister, brother, son, or daughter, who sees the hurt, the hunger, the cold, the prison of another and kicks at the darkness by stopping everything.

Although I am not sure of the authorship of the quote the full wording that has captured my attention is this:   “Trust God, and kick the darkness…AND keep kicking it until it bleeds light.* 

Although the stories that began this message hurt, cause us to question, and may reveal something about God, they are not his plan.  This is not what God desires. 

I have come to the simple conclusion that God desires the light that shines in the moment after. God desires the light that bleeds through the darkness.

God’s plan is not seen in the pain, but rather in the darkness bleeding light  and revealing the person who stops and offers to carry the hurt.  God’s plan is seen in the person who casts asides his own hurts, his own dreams, and his own passions just to see you smile again.

God’s plan is not seen in the addiction, but rather in the darkness bleeding light  and revealing the person who stops and fights to keep you clean.   God’s plan is the doctor, the psychologist, the sponsor, and the friend, that helps you see a better, healthier, and holier way.

God’s plan is not seen in the fear, the anxiety, or the uncertainty but rather in the darkness bleeding light  and revealing the person that offers you their strength, their sturdiness, and their assurance to keep you standing firm…  despite the shake in your knees.

You might find my theology lacking, immature, or incomplete, but I would argue against that assesment vehemently.  In the end, my God and his plan is not found in the earthquakes, pain, and hurt.

My God and his plan is the one revealed in the moments that follow.

(pic by Reuters)

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