I see and hear this line everywhere—in church, on the mouths of well-meaning friends and neighbors, as well as on the little pearls of internet wisdom that travel mindlessly around. Years ago, in the midst of a monstrous catastrophe, I was at the receiving end of this comment countless times. It was usually delivered with eyebrows raised and heads cocked knowingly as if…what? As if I shouldn’t have bothered to prepare for the holidays because all along God had been busy planning a critical illness for one of my family members? As if I should have known better? Just yesterday, I heard this comment from an acquaintance remarking on the life-threatening accident of a friend of mine whose life and business had just been coming together. “We make our plans and God laughs at them,” she said. Huh?
To say that God laughs at our plans is to suggest a Supreme Being lying in wait for just the right moment to upend us. A demonic God who gleefully interrupts our plans and then chortles at the absurdity of our earnest efforts, when all along, we should have done…what? Nothing? Should have sat, waiting with folded hands because it would be impossible to guess what the Almighty Destructive Force might come up with next?
To say that God laughs at our well-intentioned plans paints a picture of the most callous God imaginable. Think of any scenario. Think of a family deep in the joyful preparation of holiday gift-buying. Think of a horrific accident removing the grand orchestrator of this holiday out of their midst and into ICU. Think of less critical scenarios—a car loaded with people and gifts impaired by a flat tire in the midst of bumper-to-bumper traffic and unable to attend the celebration. Think of someone just fired from her job with a pile of gifts she can no longer afford wrapped beneath her tree. Would you laugh at these situations? No. Neither would I.
Neither would God.
To think that God orchestrates everything from inconvenient mishaps to devastating catastrophes in order to teach us a lesson, is to believe in a God without mercy or compassion. We live in an entropic world—a world of breakdown. Life happens, and we contribute to it. And sometimes while we’re rushing around, things happen that could even have been prevented had we slowed down just a bit. And some things can’t be prevented. The God I know is not a God who laughs when you fall down the stairs or burn your hand or even unwittingly offend a friend. God is Understanding. God is Love.
Of course this comment implies that there’s a lesson to be learned from our busy-ness. That in delving into our plans we were somehow out of alignment with the Divine Plan or out-of-tune with our own intuition. That we should have slowed down, listened more carefully, executed our plans differently. Those explanations might be true, but not always. Sometimes the unfortunate scenarios suffered by our family, friends, and neighbors don’t happen for their spiritual benefit at all, but for ours. Sometimes the family on the side of the road with the flat tire is sitting there for us—so that we will express God’s Love and Understanding by upending our own plans in order to help them.
The faster we leave God out of these minor and major catastrophes of life, the faster we’ll put ourselves in. The faster we self-actuate, the faster we can respond to the pain of those who need us. In putting our plans aside in response to the pain of others, we are expressing the love and compassion of the true God—a God who laughs with us, not at us.