This post is an expansion of an idea that was part of my Easter sermon this year. I began by noting how often people speak about looking for a divine plan in their lives. Everything happens for a reason and all of it is leading in the direction of God’s will. Periodically I see ads for sites like Christian Mingle which promises to “Find God’s match for you.” Have they discovered the divine algorithm that will lead to perfect pairings? Is there a pi-type constant or an E=mc2 for romance?
People find comfort in the idea of a divine plan working in the background of their lives, that they are doing what they are supposed to do and being where they are supposed to be. It can be frightening to face life as a series of random collisions, intersections and choices without a clear destination. There must be a plan; there must be a purpose. If only we could figure what it could be.
Several times, Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “God does not play dice with the world.” While I agree with his sentiment (and realize that it is a much more knowledgeable sentiment than my own) I would also add that, “God does not play Battleship with the world.” I’m sure many of you played the game as children. Each player has a 10x10 grid on which to place 5 ships of different sizes. Then you take turns naming coordinates: B5 – miss, C10 – miss, H7 – hit. The player who sinks all the opponent’s boats first wins.
It is as if people view life as a game of Battleship with God hiding the correct path. We call out our coordinates: learn a trade – miss; take an art class – miss; learn to salsa dance – hit! We hope that we are somewhere close to what to God intends but never know for certain if we should have taken the right turn at Albuquerque (miss!)
In the past, if someone came to my office asking for advice about finding God’s special purpose for his or her life, I would talk around the issue. In part, I knew that this was sacred territory and this person probably had a good deal invested in the idea that there was a plan just for him or her. I also had to deal with the fact that as a Lutheran pastor we talk about a sense of call and many pastors will talk about being drawn to ministry, being called as a young person but only following the call after some misadventures.
Yet at the same time, I find little in scripture or tradition (or experience for that matter) that points to the idea that everyone has a unique calling or destiny. Certainly some of the big names, like Moses or David or Mary, get called to specific roles in the story. Yet for the most part everyone else gets instruction in how to one might live. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12) Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
I believe that the ideals of Christianity might discourage or preclude certain life decisions. If it hurts others; if it takes advantage of others; if it denies the basic humanity of others, you probably shouldn’t do it. Find another career path for the Walter White in you.
Over time I have come to realize that there is a plan for each of us, but it won’t tell you where to work or whom to marry. It is a plan we hear every year as we listen to the gospel story and experience the path toward the cross and the joy of resurrection. In this story is God’s plan that sets us free from a Battleship life, fearing that our decisions might pull us from some preordained proper direction or that our mistakes can never be undone. Instead, God’s plan for each of us was to set us free.
In the gospel story, Jesus offers us a way to approach the path of life, wherever that path may take us, a way that is shaped by compassion, peace and love. It doesn’t tell us where to go but rather how to be along the way. Be loving. Be joyful. Be at peace. Be free and know that God is with you through it all.