A dear friend wrote a very funny piece on the use of platitudes recently, Friends don’t let friends use platitudes. Although I found it very funny, it made me sit up and listen to what I say to people who’ve had unfortunate things happen to them. Out of her list of ten common platitudes that people use, I found I had used two or three consistently, although I believed for good reasons. I also found that people generally use them when they cannot explain why they did something stupid or when their limited human understanding cannot allow them to explain terrible things that happen to other people.
The most common platitude that I have found is used with reckless abandon amongst people I know is “It was God’s will”. This is generally said to a person who is mourning someone very dear to them, and meant to convey that “even though this situation appears to have elements of evil in it, do not for one second think that God abandoned you. It was his will to take your beloved”. What the ….? Run that by me again, are you saying God purposefully took the one person I loved with all my heart, that it was his will that I hurt like I’ve never hurt before?
I’m extremely reluctant to discuss my thoughts on God on a public platform, for the simple reason that people often use their religion or beliefs to reveal their uncivilized side, leading to all manner of insults. But I was watching a TV program recently and a member of a provincial government chose to answer a question by invoking that most misused of platitudes: It was God’s will. This she said in reference to the death of a six-year-old boy who fell into the pit of a pit toilet in Limpopo a few weeks ago.
“God’s will?” That set off a deluge of unprintable words and phrases in my head. But what came out of my mouth was “What kind of a God would purposefully snatch a six-year-old boy from his parents in such a horrible way?”
Let me get this one thing out of the way before proceeding, I cannot imagine a world in which God is not at the centre of its existence, so if you were going to go all righteous on me thinking I’ve turned my back on my God, think again. All I’m questioning is why is it that we purport to worship an all-loving God but then ascribe the most horrible things to Him.
A God who is love would not visit evil things on his children. When a child dies, it is a premature death, whichever way you look at it. A loving God would not snatch away a child from people He loves. It’s not logical. God works in mysterious ways but not evil or painful ways.
It’s a very painful thing to hear supposed men of God stand on a pulpit and continuously say you lost your loved one because “It was God’s will”. Ke Thato ya Modimo, that’s the Tswana/Sotho equivalent. I include it here because it’s the most commonly used where around me and although it carries the same weight in translation to “It was God’s will” it’s slightly more “offensive” if you will. It carries the unexplainable connotation that it was “the will of God, what he loved or purposed for you”.
My friend suggested that if you don’t know what to say to a person who’s had terrible things happens to him/her why don’t you just say “sh*t that sucks! sorry it happened to you” or ” I don’t really know what to say”. Better yet, why don’t you simply say “this is such a terrible thing to have happened to you, I wish I could explain it but I can’t”. That’s more comforting than telling a person “the deity you call your Creator willed for this terrible tragedy to happen to you, he ‘loved’ and purposed it for you”.
For people who are mere creations of this loving God, we sure speak so much on his behalf. When we do not understand things we tell others he works in mysterious ways. When we can not explain tragedy we call it “His Will”.
The official who stated that the death of the toddler was God’s will was avoiding taking responsibility for the actions(or lack of actions) of her department. The interviewer had suggested to her that her department should take responsibility should a similar tragedy occur because she has had ample warning by way of the toddler’s preventable death. A preventable death is just that, a death that could have been prevented if human beings had done what they are appointed to do. We cannot ascribe human negligence to God.
Luckily, the God in the Bible does clarify some things for us: in the book of John 10 verse 10 he tells us, among other things that “… I came so that you might have life, and have it in abundance(more abundantly)”. I am yet to come across scripture that says every horrible death is through my will.
I have been reasonably fortunate in life that I have not had a lot of instances that people have come up to me and looked me in the eye and told me “it was God’s will”. The one time that it did happen, it hurt a lot and I kept asking myself the one question that a person who believes in an all-loving God should never have to ask themselves, “What kind of God is it that takes the life of someone so young and so horribly?”. It cannot be his loving will. It is people ascribing it to him.
Like my friend says, when terrible things happen to other people, simply say to them, “Sh*t happens, I’m sorry it happened to you'(obviously paraphrasing). Don’t blame it on God.