Does God decide who lives and who dies from illness, accident, or wartime battle?

Five veterans of the Iraq War, profiled in USA Weekend recently, have no doubt. Having faced situations where by all logic they should have died, they are agreed that “God had decided it wasn’t my time.”

A missionary friend survived a trip to Africa on a freighter loaded with munitions and traveling through submarine infested water during World War II. She is convinced God’s protection brought her through.

Friends of mine have said the same thing. One has a World War II helmet with two bullet holes in the front, one in the back, and a side rivet that holds the liner in place sheered off.

Another is a Vietnam War medic who rescued a wounded officer and carried him through enemy crossfire to safety, incurring only a flesh wound in the process. They, too, say, “it wasn’t my time yet.”

However, that conviction raises another question: why them and not some others? Were the survivors more worthy than those who died?

Certainly not, they would all answer. But for some reason that God alone knows, their time was up. That’s the best and only answer they can give. Does God plan out our lives in this way – at least our death? Philosophers and theologians have argued both sides of this question for millennia, and they haven’t been able to come to any satisfactory conclusions.

Scripture doesn’t help us much here, either. “I know the plans I have for you,” God is quoted as saying in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. Yet people are frequently urged to “choose,” as in “Choose this day whom you will serve,” from a speech to the people of Israel by their new leader, Joshua. There is no final resolution between these two outlooks on life: “I have plans” and “you have a choice.”

One doesn’t have to be on the battlefield or in the middle of a treacherous ocean to face this question. People who survive a bout with cancer often are convinced God didn’t want them to die yet, while families of others who didn’t survive wonder why their loved one didn’t get chosen. The same thing is true with an auto accident.

Our young adult daughter was killed in

an auto accident, but her passenger survived with only bruises. The life she had before her was loaded with potential; why her, we wondered, and not someone else?

In situations such as these we search desperately for meaning. That’s what this discussion is really about. We aren’t trying to argue philosophy; we’re looking for meaning in our lives.

My wife is convinced God took our daughter for a reason. He could have protected her; he had many times before. For my part, I have trouble respecting a God who would kill my daughter for any reason. I have to believe he didn’t want it to happen any more than we did. There it is…in the very basic experiences of life…not a philosophy but an attempt to give life meaning. And we, my wife and I, represent both sides of the question: determinism and free will.

Job, the Old Testament character who has come to symbolize righteous suffering, challenged God on this issue. “I don’t deserve what I’m having to live through,” he said, “and if I could get you in court I’d prove to you and the universe that I’m right and you’re wrong.”

God took up the challenge and began to fire questions about the universe that Job couldn’t begin to answer. God concluded that Job would be best to “leave the running of the universe to me; my understanding is a lot bigger than yours.”

The question of determinism and free will is bigger than the human mind can grasp. I believe the best answer is to trust God to do it right. That’s the only answer I know that both makes sense and gives comfort.

By Don Lindman