Climbing The Mountain

Mountains have been a big theme for me recently.  In the spring I was given a book to read about climbing Mount Everest called The Summit.  Upon completing that book I googled a documentary about the same topic – the obstacles that have to be overcome in order to accomplish such a feat.  This month, my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary by taking the family on an Alaskan cruise.  Among many of the beautiful sites we took in was the awe-inspiring Denali, the largest summit in North America.

The theme of mountains is a timely one because another mountain I have been scaling for quite sometime now is Mount Sinai.  Not only did I literally attempt to climb Sinai back in 2008 (and was not successful, by the way!), but it has been the topic of a writing project of mine for the past five years.  You see, Mount Sinai is where Moses was given the Ten Commandments.  Several years ago I taught a series on the historical understanding and contemporary application of this ancient spiritual document.  That series turned into a writing project, and I am excited to announce that the writing project has now turned into a bonafide ebook!  Ten Essential Words is now available for purchase.

This personally represents reaching the summit of a mountainous project fraught with its share of obstacles and hidden dangers.  From writers block to busy schedules to my own insecurities of – like the real Mount Sinai – falling short of the goal, there have been many times when I have had to convince myself to resist retreating to the safety of the predictable, flat terrain of everyday life.

Whether a friend or if you just happened across this blog, I would invite you to share this journey with me.  Ten Essential Words is available in a variety of formats for download.  I would love to hear what you think.  Regardless of whether you read the book, I invite you to subscribe to this blog.  I will be posting chapter excerpts, news about how the Ten Commandments continue to shape our world, and give updates about the project.

Thanks for joining me at the summit!

At the top of En Gedi

God’s Plan Or Personal Responsibility?

No doubt overshadowed by the shooting in Colorado was something that caused a bit of a stir earlier in the week.  George Zimmerman, who now infamously shot and killed Trayvon Martin, gave an interview to Sean Hannity.  When asked how things would be now if he had responded differently, Zimmerman answered this way:

I feel it was all God’s plan and for me to second guess it or judge it …

He then trailed off, not finishing the sentence.  Martin’s parents were understandably upset by that statement.

Now I am not writing to judge Zimmerman’s much scrutinized intent in the shooting.  I’ll leave that to his due process.  But I too was frustrated by the implication of Zimmerman’s statement – the implication being that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was part of God’s plan.

Unfortunately, it is a belief that is expressed all-to-often in religious circles.  The logic goes something like this: if God is all-knowing and in control of all that happens, then everything that happens must be part of God’s plan.  And the extrapolated extension of this logic implies that if something bad happens or I make a make an ill-advised choice, not to worry – it is all part of God’s will.  Taken to its full extent, this logic essentially relieves me of any personally responsibility for the choices I make.  It is all God’s will.

I wonder if the misuse of God’s plan or God’s will isn’t the result of some confusion around two scriptural ideas.

  • The first stems from a familiar passage from the book of Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I have heard people basically take this verse to mean that if my intentions are good, then everything that happens, happens for my good and must have been part of God’s plan.  But that isn’t the truth being express in this verse.  What is being expressed is that no matter what is happening – whether good or bad, whether good intent or royal blunder – God can use that event to shape me for the better.  There is a difference between God using a bad/negative/evil event to shape us for the better and God being the cause of that bad/negative/evil event.
  • The second emerges from a much deeper theological issue.  It is often expressed as a theological dilemma by both the believer and the sceptic: if God is all good and all powerful, then why is there evil in the world?  Why do bad things happen?  Many believers, holding that God is all good and powerful, simply presume then that everything that happens is part of God’s plan.  I would hold, however, that in order for free will to exist, God allows for actions to have consequences and as a result, bad things do happen in the world.  There is a difference between God allowing something to happen and God willing something to happen.  Entire books have been written on this important difference.

Granted when pressed, many people of faith may stop short of holding to the fullest extent of that logic.  Which is why I believe it is important for people of faith to be careful how the language of “God’s will” is utilized.  I do believe that God can take this tragic shooting and make George Zimmerman a better person for it, which is perhaps what he was trying to express.  But I do not believe that the shooting of Martin was part of God’s plan.  The same can be said for the shooting in Colorado.  And that difference is important.