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Pop Songs and Theodicy - Should They Ever Mix? (Wanted: Lyric Input)

Several months ago I took a chance and posted a new lyric called "I Am a Soul" here on Conversantlife. It was scary to go "public" with a baby song, especially when it involved sharing naked words without their accompanying music. Still, folks were kind and the process was useful enough that, well, here I go again.

This is another new song on deck for the project I am currently recording. It is my attempt to articulate some of my struggle with the way we (I) understand God's sovereignty as it relates to the events (monumental and trivial) of our lives. Not everyone is going to agree with my current understanding of things -- I can live with that. But I'm curious to know what the song says to people.

One of the things I've been learning from the feedback on my Christianity Today columns is that we all hear things in the context of the conversations that are already going on in our own communities and especially in our own heads. So, if you would be so kind, please help me out here. What does this song say to you? Can you follow it? Does it speak to you? If so, in what way? Does it push any buttons? If so, which ones? Does it make you feel anything?

With thanks for your friendship and input,

CA

According to Plan
Carolyn Arends


Rain comes and so often it falls
On the good and the evil, it’s not personal
The sun shines, ‘cause that’s what suns do
It probably don’t mean it’s been thinking ‘bout you
Even though God’s in control of it all
Sometimes the sparrow is going to fall

Well I’m not so sure that God moves everything
Like pawns in a chess game or puppets on string
And I can’t determine just whether or not
He causes our trials or He makes them stop
But I am convinced we get one guarantee:
There’s no situation that He can’t redeem
When He moves in our hearts that’s when we understand
It’s going according to plan


We try to pull back the veil
We tug at the curtain but to no avail
We say “There are no accidents”
But we can’t account for all life’s randomness
So maybe some things are not orchestrated
Oh but with God nothing has to be wasted

Well I’m not so sure that God moves everything
Like pawns in a chess game or puppets on string
And I can’t determine just whether or not
He causes our trials or He makes them stop
But I am convinced we get one guarantee:
There’s no situation that He can’t redeem
When He moves in our hearts that’s when we understand
It’s going according to plan

Yes I am convinced we get one guarantee
There’s no situation that He can’t redeem
When what we meant for harm he turns into some good
When our hearts start changing then it’s understood
He’s doing the miracles only He can
It’s going according to plan

c 2008, Running Arends Music/ASCAP

Tags | Music

Comments

It can be difficult for Christians to watch "good" people suffer while "evil" people prosper (Job 21, Jer. 12:1, Mal. 3:13-18). Sometimes the sun does shine on our lives and sometimes we're in a valley of shadows. Whether this is caused by random external events or by our own life choices, God is still in control. As a wise songwriter once wrote, "His love is always there, no matter where you are...". I definitely agree with the conclusion that "there's no situation that He can't redeem" as does the Bible ("We know that all things work together for good to those who love God" - Rom. 8:28) You gave the example in your book of God using your brother's illness for good, much to your mother's surprise.

You asked what buttons the song pushed. I think that the idea that God is not in total control all the time, does not move us like pawns or puppets on a string, is frightening in a way. If someone I love suffers greatly or a child dies and this is not "part of God's plan," how can my heart bear the pain? This question was asked in a secular movie that I was watching recently. A child was critically ill and one family member asked the father if he thought that perhaps it might be God's will for the child to die. The father (who had already lost his wife and other immediate family to death) replied that he had to think that or his heart would break.
As we struggle to make sense of the presence of evil and suffering in the world, how minutely God controls the situation seems supremely important.
As we become submissive to His will, do not try to figure out His intentions, we become like the Psalmist in Psalm 130, "...my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my sould, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my sould." This is probably offensive to some. But it leaves us ready to follow the Psalmist's lead in stating that the Lord's love is better than life itself to us (so loss of life becomes less significant). We can say with Habbakkuk, "Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation, God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds' feet, he makes me tread upon my high places." Or we can say with Paul in Phil 4 that we have been taught how to be abased and how to abound and have learned to be content in all things. We have to remember that these words are written in a context in which there was a 50% childhood mortality and 5-10% of women died in childbirth. They are not talking about minor dissappointments. They are talking about poverty, famine and death.
So I would agree with the lyrics that I don't know. It's scary and it may break my heart, but I don't know. I just know who I trust.
May we all learn to rejoice in the Lord, without regard to success or failure of earthly enterprise, wealth or poverty, even without regard to life or death of those we love or our own.
doc

Doc, this is a wonderful analysis/exploration of the concept in Carolyn's lyrics. Thank you for bringing such powerful scriptures to the table.

Great post Carolyn!

Carolyn,

Thanks for being open to feedback.

I really appreciate your desire to tackle this difficult topic through song. I also appreciate your desire to stick close to biblical examples and language. However, I think I come away with a different conclusion after reading your lyrics than I do after reading the passages you reference.

Here are some examples:

Rain comes and so often it falls
On the good and the evil, it’s not personal
The sun shines, ‘cause that’s what suns do
It probably don’t mean it’s been thinking ‘bout you

This seems to stress an impersonal force of nature, steering us away from the idea of a sovereign God guiding His creation.

Matthew 5;44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

This passage actually stresses the personal nature of God's directing of His sun and rain. He knows exactly who He causes it to shine and fall on.

Even though God’s in control of it all
Sometimes the sparrow is going to fall

I'm not sure what to think of these lyrics. They seem to suggest that sparrows still die in spite of God's "control of it all" rather than because of it. It leaves me a little confused about how to understand God's sovereignty.

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

This passage stresses not that sparrows fall in spite of God's control, but because of it. We are to take comfort in this and fear not, because nothing will happen unless God decrees it, and because God values His elect above all other creation.

And I can’t determine just whether or not
He causes our trials or He makes them stop

Again, I'm left with uncertainty about God's sovereignty. I'm being told that God is not in complete control, or at least that there's no way of knowing whether He is or not.

But I am convinced we get one guarantee:
There’s no situation that He can’t redeem

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

This passage gives us great certainty that the most tragic event in human history was ordained by God. He did not just make good things come out of a bad situation, He ordained everything that happened. God predestined the crucifixion of Christ from before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians). He did not redeem the choices of sinful human beings that were beyond His control, He sovereignly directed their path "to do whatever [His] hand and [His] plan had predestined to take place." We can trust everything is going according to His plan, not because he reacts to situations beyond His control, but because He causes everything that happens.

So maybe some things are not orchestrated
Oh but with God nothing has to be wasted

Again, this seems to communicate the idea that God is working with the mess that we create, that He is cleaning up after us. However, we can be certain that God is not just making the best of a bad situation, but that this is the best of all possible worlds because He has sovereignly directed all that has come to pass.

When what we meant for harm he turns into some good

When I read this, I come away believing that God is reacting to our mistakes, our evil intentions. But the passage you are alluding to does not phrase it the same way:

Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

In the same way that Joseph's brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good. Joseph comforted his brothers in a time of great distress by explaining that although they meant evil when they tried to kill him, God meant it for good because He had planned for Joseph to find his way to Egypt. The passage says not that God reacted to Joseph's brothers' decision to kill him, but that their decision was predestined by God to work according to His plan.

Overall I think your lyrics are not comforting in that they communicate a great amount of uncertainty about how God works in this world. I think the Bible gives you reason to be much more certain.

Thanks for sharing.

It is comforting to know that "it's going according to (God's) plan" even when we don't understand the plan at the time.

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?" - Romans 11:33-34

Hey All -- thanks so much for the incredibly thoughtful and detailed input so far. It's tempting for me to clarify/counter/debate/cite other Scriptures ... but I'll resist because the whole point of this exercise is to hear what others receive from the song without me providing additional explanation/background/argument. (Maybe I'll blog about my perspective later.) So thanks! Please keep it up!
CA

Wow!
The dynamic tension between the Omnipotent and "God is Love." This used to seem easy to me- but isn't anymore. Great timing on these lyrics as I struggle with some of the same questions. I think our (evangelical) faith has lost the reality and wonder of the Mystery that is God. Embracing the unknown was very familiar to the early church fathers, but lost in modernity when we can throw a quick apologetic together that answers anything neatly, efficiently and quickly. We don't trust what we can't explain. The more I dig, the more "Other" I find God to be; and the more amazing it is to find the worth and value He appears to place on me...

As you the writer well know that every song has a focal point. I wrote for myself a pithy statement for how I understood this song. It is that through God's super-natural miracles and my changed heart that I am "convinced" of His ability and "plan" to "redeem" any situation of what appears to be "randomness"...within the beautiful and the ugly.
I know you've been around the world and have seen horrific struggles and tragedies in people's lives and nature. We can't account for the randomness of millions oppressed and murdered under brutal governmental regimes and yet we also hear of and know of different stories of redemption for some people who through miracles have come through and out of these evil conditions. Moreover, one watches nature programs and sees from insects to mammals to animals the appearance of order AND randomness as each creature brutally eats its way through the food chain--and the sun keeps shining and the rains keep falling regardless of how we or nature feels about it.

I appreciated the line: "And I can’t determine just whether or not
He causes our trials or He makes them stop" This line is the souls wrestling match between the measure of God's intention to do things and God's permitting of things. As you express it's not necessarily one or the other but both. God is ultimately responsible for "intending" to "permit" humankind and our world to fall into corruption; however, through His lovingkindness God can redeem any situation.
Responsible--He is the Creator of all things. Intending infers a motive--His lovingkindness and justice.
Permitting is what has and is happening--of corruption in what feels like randomness.
Lovingkindness--before the world was created His redemptive secret plan was set in place through Jesus Christ to more fully reveal His mercy and grace.
Justice--through our separation we more fully see that God loves and hates some things.
This might look like I have my theology in a nice little package; however, I am very aware of my inadequateness to fully understand or explain the sovereignty of God...
I humbly place it out here to show the back drop of my comments for understanding this well written song.

Ron -- you have pretty much exactly summarized what the song (and the songwriter) is saying. As good as it's been to hear other perspectives, it is also very heartening to know I'm not alone. Thanks for taking the time to post.
CA

What a wonderfully uncomfortable song!
There are no warm fuzzies or happy endings only an abundance of new questions.
May this song challenge us as Christians to take God out of our heart shaped box and view Him as the mystery that He is.

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