God’s Plan A
By: J O N I E A R E C K S O N TA D A
“ . . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it
for good . . . ” Genesis 50:20
There was a time when I was content to wade ankle-deep in the
things of God. But that was before I snapped my neck under the
weight of a dive into shallow water, and a severed spinal cord left my
body limp and useless. Permanent and total paralysis smashed me
up against the study of God. And in the wee, sleepless hours of my
early injury, I wrestled with questions about why and how this had
happened to me. This was no casual question-and-answer session
in a living room Bible study, nor was it a merely academic exercise.
I fought off claustrophobia with hard-hitting questions directed at
God: “Let me get this straight, God .&.&. when bad things happen,
who’s behind them, you or the devil? Did you permit this or was this
your plan for me?”
It was in the hospital that I first read the book of Job, and
honestly I felt confused. The way I pictured God’s role in my
accident was far different than what I read in Job’s story. In Job
chapter 1, God makes it clear that he’s in charge. Satan conspires to
use everything to cause Job misery so that he will turn his back on
God—from the Sabeans to the Chaldeans, from freak storms to fire
from the skies—but God is the one who ultimately grants the devil
permission to make Job’s life miserable.
I had reasoned that it was pure dumb luck that I happened to
go to the beach that day. I thought it was the law of averages that the
tide just happened to be low that day. I figured that if Satan and God
were involved in my accident at all, then it must be that the devil had
twisted God’s arm for permission. I pictured God responding in a
hesitant way, “Well, I guess it’ll be okay for you to do such and such
.&.&. but just this once, and please don’t hurt her too much.”
I reasoned that once God granted permission to Satan, he then
nervously had to run behind him with a repair kit, patching up what
Satan had ruined, mumbling to himself, “Oh great, now how am I
going to work this for good?”
Worse yet, I thought that when I became disabled I had missed
God’s best for me, and that the Lord was then forced to go with some
divine Plan B for my life.
I think this is the false picture many people have about the
suffering in their lives. They assume that Satan’s schemes throw a
monkey wrench into God’s plans, catching him off-guard, and presenting
God with problems he wishes would have never happened.
But the truth is that God is infinitely more powerful than Satan.
Satan is a created being, and a fallen one at that. And in the book
of Job, God did not hesitantly and nervously grant permission to
the devil to bring suffering into Job’s life. Rather, God was the one
who introduced the subject of Job to Satan. So who was ultimately
in control? God was. And not only was God not frustrated or hindered
by Satan’s schemes, God actually intended to use the devil’s
deeds to serve his own ends and accomplish his own good purposes
in Job’s life.
Likewise, while the devil’s motive in my disability was to shipwreck
my faith by throwing a wheelchair in my way, I’m convinced
that God’s motive was to thwart the devil and use the wheelchair to
change me and make me more like Christ through it all.
God is heaven-bent on inviting me to share in his joy, peace,
and power. But there’s a catch. God only shares his joy on his terms,
and those terms call for us, in some measure, to suffer as his beloved
Son did while on earth. “For to this you have been called, because
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you
might follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Those steps lead us into the
fellowship of Christ’s sufferings where we become “like him in his
death”; that is, we daily take up our cross and die to the sins he died
for on his cross (Phil. 3:10; Luke 9:23).
God only shares his joy on his terms,
and those terms call for us to suffer as his
beloved Son did.
When suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which
we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our selfcenteredness,
blasting our soul bare, so we can be better bonded to
the Savior. Our afflictions help to make us holy. And we are never
more like Christ, never more filled with his joy, peace, and power,
than when sin is uprooted from our lives.
Does this mean God delights in my spinal cord injury? Was
he rubbing his hands in glee when I took that dive off the raft into
shallow water? Of course not.
He may work “all things” together for my good, but that does not mean a spinal cord injury is, in itself good (Rom. 8:28). God permits all sorts of things he doesn’t approveof. In fact, in a world of evil and wickedness, he allows others to do what he would never do—he didn’t steal Job’s camels or entice theSabeans or Chaldeans to wreak havoc. Yet he was able to erect a
“fence” around Satan’s fury to bring ultimate good out of the devil’s
wickedness. As my friend and mentor, Steve Estes, once told me,
“Satan may power the ship of evil, but God steers it to serve his own
ends and purposes.”
So I could ask, “Was my diving accident God’s fault?” Although
he is sovereign, no, it was not his fault. Or I could ask, “Was it an
assault from the devil?” and say yes, it possibly was. Or I can press
further, asking, “Was it part of living in a fallen, wicked world,
and not the direct assault of either the devil or God?” This may be
the most likely scenario, but whichever the schematic, I have the
comfort and confidence that the entire matter was under God’s
overarching decrees, and that nothing happens in my life outside
his loving plans for me.
Besides, how God allowed for my accident to happen is not the
point. The point is, my suffering has taught me to “be done with
sin,” putting behind me the peevish, small-minded, self-focused
“Joni” to mature into the “Joni” he has destined me to be, honed
and polished by years of quadriplegia (1 Pet. 4:1).
I’m not saying it’s easy. Actually, it’s getting harder. These thin,
tired bones are beginning to bend under the weight of decades of
paralysis. But I have to remember that the core of God’s plan is
to rescue me from sin, even up to my dying breath. My pain and
discomfort are not his ultimate focus. He cares about these things,
but they are merely symptoms of the real problem. God cares most,
not about making my life happy, healthy, and free of trouble, but
about teaching me to hate my transgressions and to keep growing
in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. God lets me continue to feel
sin’s sting through suffering while I’m heading for heaven, constantly
reminding me of what I am being delivered from, exposing sin for
the poison it is.
In short, one form of evil—suffering—is turned on its head
to defeat another form of evil—my sin—all to the praise of God’s
wisdom and glory! Is the cost too great? Is the price of pain too
high? Not when you consider that “this light momentary affliction
is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”
(2 Cor. 4:17).
One day God will close the curtain on evil and, with it, all suffering
and sorrow. Until then, I’ll keep remembering something else
Steve Estes once told me as he rested his hand on my wheelchair:
“God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” I can smile
knowing God is accomplishing what he loves in my life—Christ in
me, the hope of glory. And this is no Plan B for my life, but his good
and loving Plan A.
© 2009 by Joni Eareckson Tada. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Joni
Eareckson Tada is an author, artist, and advocate for the disabled through her
ministry, Joni and Friends.