Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Is It All God’s Plan?

Most are aware of the recent death of Brownwood firefighter Shannon Stone. The 30 year old died after falling from the stands at the Ballpark in Arlington on July 7, 2011. Stone was attempting to catch a ball for his 6 year old son, thrown to him by Josh Hamilton .

This was senseless tragedy, in every sense of the word. It was a horrific accident, and it seems that no real blame can be placed on any individual. The Rangers were careful to ensure the railing in left field exceeded the federal safety codes. Hamilton, in throwing the ball into the stands, did the same thing that others had done thousands of times before. Mr. Stone himself was not acting rashly, he simply slipped and fell. No one is to blame. Literally, no one.

And yet, there is One who is often blamed when such senseless tragedies occur. Often, people blame God. Consider the following quote from Hamilton. He was asked if he intended to reach out to the family in the near future:

“Absolutely. I haven’t yet. I’m going to give this situation time to, you hate to think sink in, but I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. I can’t imagine. All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. You don’t always know what that plan is when those things happen, but you will.”

It would be inappropriate to criticize Hamilton for these words. He is not a theologian, and he has done his very best to express himself carefully, with words of concern and sympathy for the family. In fact, the Ranger organization and Hamilton himself were thanked by Stone’s gracious widow in the days following the man’s death. Josh Hamilton is the little boy’s favorite ballplayer.

What Hamilton intimated, that it was part of God’s plan to take Shannon Stone, is one that is repeated often by denominational preachers, and others who really should know better. It is unfortunate, and perpetuates a false view of God and His sovereignty.

It also is a peculiar response to tragedy. A little boy has lost his father. Regardless of efforts made for him, the money that no doubt will pour in to care for him and his mom, the education he will most probably receive at no cost to him, etc., etc., he still has lost his father. The idea that this was something desired by God is troublesome, and fails to bring much comfort.

The concept of God’s sovereignty does not require that God control all the events of every life. God has exercised His sovereign nature in securing man’s hope of redemption. But, the idea that God controls every aspect of each man’s existence denies the reality of choice.

Consider the following passage of scripture, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). As mentioned, God secured the hope of redemption by offering His Son as a sacrifice for sin. He desires all men to be saved. And yet, the Bible clearly teaches that many will be lost. If it is God’s plan that all men be saved, why is it that many will be lost? Because God has given man the freedom of choice. Despite the desire of God, some men will choose to reject Him. This does not deny God’s sovereignty. As choice is a privilege granted by Him, God retains his authority over man. Now, consider how that applies to the events at the Ballpark.

Shannon Stone chose to attend the ballgame. Hamilton chose to throw the ball into the stands. Stone chose to reach for it. These small, innocent choices led to an unforeseen and tragic event.

This was not God’s choice, and God did not make it happen. God sorrows for this loss of life, and this family, and stands ready to comfort them during their time of affliction. If Mr. Stone’s family will turn to Him, there is the hope of joy in eternity, which will overwhelm the sorrow of this life. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

While it is true that God continues to work in the affairs of men (cf. Acts 17:24-28); and that God punishes the evildoer as a consequence of His sin (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10); it is wrong to blame God for the senseless loss of innocent life that commonly comes through random circumstance. Proper comfort comes not in the idea that God took a loved one for some unknown purpose; rather in that God sorrows and desires to comfort, and that all accounts ultimately will be settled in eternity. For this we rejoice.