For Better and Worse

Lately, I’ve been in conversations about good and evil. For me, the real wondering is really about how “God works” in the world and in our lives. I wonder about this a lot. Not so much the question of why bad things happen to good people but why good things happen to good people.

Seriously. I am blessed. And sometimes I feel uneasy about that.

I have incredible opportunities each day to do good work that uses my gifts. I have a community of people who walk along side me to share many things. I have a husband who accepts and even forgives my imperfections that never go away. I have two children who are making their way in the world despite my good and poor examples of how to do that. I live in a stimulating and beautiful neighborhood and have the promise of a new job and community that will offer new chances to be in sustaining partnerships.

Why do I get to do this? It’s not about deserving; is it grace or about God’s providence for all our lives? I looked up the word providence in the dictionary. It’s nice to see what you think you know in print.

Providence is the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power and timely preparation for future eventualities.

Hhmmm…why do I get to rest in God’s provision? Did I prepare well for this future I am living into? I don’t know the answer, but I do know it is not as simple as dividing my life into what I do and what God does. Being in relationship with God means you do things together; not as either or.

Katherine Patterson writes about a taped series of talks by Father Martin Smith entitled “Co-creators with God.” The idea of “co” creating—that seems full of grace because there are parts of my life I take action and other parts where the universe seems to align in possibility. She writes,

Christians have tended to go to one extreme or another in explaining our task as people of God. At one end of the spectrum are those who feel that God has a plan for every individual life, what we typically call ‘God’s will for my life.’ In this model ‘it is our duty by prayer and study to get a peek into our personal file and then act out what we find there.’ That was the sort of religious atmosphere in which I, and I dare say many of you, were raised. Find out God’s perfect plan for your life—and stray from it to your peril.

Each day of my life has been a new ideation of my own questions about how, when, and where God is showing up or hovering or already moved on… I’m sure there is a “way” of sorts but not a single path to travel.

Patterson continues,

At the other end of the spectrum are those that leave a person’s life work totally up to each individual. That’s what the gift of free will is all about , they maintain. God doesn’t really have all that much to say about who we are and what we become. God has given us intelligence and freedom, and it’s up to us as free, intelligent beings, created in the image of God, to find the meaning of our lives.

I’ll admit I’m kind of there at times, because it’s too difficult to think that God would give me a good life. Why me and not that other one? I often live like I am in control of outcomes. But always, the parts don’t add up—my efforts and the outcomes are not simple cause and effect.   I know my efforts and gifts are limited and sometimes limiting what is possible. Father Smith says that we forget to consider those passages that say we are co-workers with God. Patterson says we are partners in meaning making.

Jesus sets us a wonderful model in the parables by telling stories that challenge human nature and often-human notions of justice – and leaving it to the listener to make sense of the story. This is what writers do: they tell the story and invite the reader to help create the meaning, a meaning which will be different for each reader because every reader brings to the writer’s story a unique life story of his or her own. God, as Smith eloquently reminds us, calls us not to blind obedience nor to a lonely, stumbling through the dark, but into a creative partnership with God.

Somehow that makes sense to me. In my professional life that is an apt expression of the transactional theory of reading—that recognizes each of us bring our bodies, minds, and energies into each such grace-filled encounter. The tricky part is the partnership happens in strength and struggle, for better and for worse… making meaning no matter. Right now I just happen to be at better.

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