I was recently having a conversation with a coworker who described herself as “spiritual, but not religious,” and she said something like, “well everything happens for a reason, right?” I paused, and then I told her that I don’t know if everything happens for a reason. She was shocked because she assumed that because I believe in God, I must believe in the “big plan.” And I guess I do, but I also believe we can’t know the “big plan.”
The more we talked, the more she reasoned that we can look back on stages in our life and see the reasons, whatever they are. We can think about what we learned and why we were in that circumstance. Hindsight gives us the clarity to see the why, to see the big plan and how that experience was preparing us for the next step.
I get it. I see the value in always looking for a lesson to be learned, a way to grow and improve. That’s important. But I hesitate to say those things because I am comfortable with my own smallness, my true inability to know.
I bet she’s right, and everything does happen for a reason, because I do (most of the time) believe in a God who has sovereignty and a plan and our best interest at heart. But perhaps more strongly, I believe that we can’t really know the reasons. Even when we look back and can see how something fits now, what we learned, and why we met that person or were in that place at that time, it feels like guessing to me. We can make those reasons up. We can make reasons fit. We can create lessons and a grand why, but we’re doing that from our own limited view. For me, it’s God who sees the whole plan and has the best vantage point, and in recognizing my humility, I don’t want to make guesses when I know I don’t have all the information.
I became a Christian in high school, more or less at a Bible study at my friend Laura’s house. Her dad ran the bible study for her and her friends, and so it was usually about six to ten teenage girls in their living room, reading through a book of the Bible over the course of a couple months, with the guidance of her father. Her father isn’t a pastor, or a trained theologian, or anything like that. He’s her dad, a contractor and a Christian. And I can confidently say that the biggest impact he had on my faith was when we would ask a question, big or small, and he would say, “I don’t know.” Sometimes– plenty of times in fact– he had answers for us, but when he didn’t, he admitted it. And that meant everything because I didn’t want trite answers or reasons that fit a certain agenda. I wanted–and want– honesty and a God that is bigger than me, than all of us.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have noticed that the times I feel most frustrated and impatient and angry with Christians and pastors and church leaders is when they are certain. I think the phrase, “The bible clearly states…” should be banned from our language. So much is unclear. To me, absolute certainty is suspect. We can’t have all the answers, and truly, they aren’t ours to have. We can’t know for sure all the reasons and the plans. We can’t know for sure who’s in and who’s out. (A lot of times, I don’t even know if I’m in or out.) What I want, and what I love when I hear it, is for Christians to admit that we might not have all the answers. It feels so candid and vulnerable, and it acknowledges our smallness.
This faith of ours is so big. This God of ours is so big. By all means, I say look for the lessons. Learn from your experiences and the people around you. Recognize that some stages are temporary, a season, and that we can grow and get ready for the next. But remember, too, that the Reasons are big and you are small. So beloved, but so small.