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.

2 thoughts on “God’s Plan Or Personal Responsibility?

  1. Pingback: My Year In Review: Blog Edition « dave gwartney

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