When someone we love dies young, or tragically, one of the sentiments that often starts to come out is that this somehow must have been God's plan. It must have been God's purpose for his or her life. It must have been the plan all along that this person would be in a car accident or get cancer or whatever and perish before this world was ready for them to, before the fullness of their own life.
This is, I think, an extremely unhelpful theology and one that raises more questions about God than it answers or is even capable of answering. How could a loving God ordain tragedy? Millions of hearts all over the world are crying out with this very question, unable to reconcile an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God with the tragedy of early death (or even disability).
Here is where we must recognize and hold onto a very important truth: something can be God's will without being His purpose.
When you were born, before you were born, God had an idea for your life. He knew what He was doing, and He had before His eyes the fullness of all that you would be and all that you would do and all that He would accomplish through you. Your life has a purpose and a plan.
But you were born into a world of sin and brokenness. And nowhere in God's Word does He ever say that on this side of eternity, He will simply disregard or plow through this brokenness or pretend that it doesn't exist and treat you like your life is going to go perfectly the way He purposed it. Rather, He says quite plainly that this world will bend us, crease us, trouble us. It troubles Him, too.
And maybe God's purpose for your life was that you would spend the bulk of your years working in a job that brought you in contact with a number of unchurched every day, for the purpose of witnessing to them through your gift of faith and His will was that you would be strong and courageous, the same way He so often told the faithful in His Word to be.
Maybe, though, the world had other plans for you. Maybe the fallen world crept in and you got cancer at a young age. God's purpose for your life hasn't changed; He wants to use your gift of faith for the purpose of witnessing to others. Only now, you do it in a cancer ward and not in a job, per se. God's purpose for you never changes. But His plan for you might.
You see, His will was never that you would live your long life in pain and torture, tormented by the brokenness of this world in a way that you can't get out of, in a brokenness that you can't heal. He willed you to be strong and courageous, but in a broken world where your body is being ravaged by the effects of the Fall, God has to decide whether He wants to invoke His will against the powers and principalities of this world or whether He wants to tweak it for His glory and your good. And so, you die.
Because the very greatest will God could have for you would be your perfect peace, your total healing, your complete restoration, and your well-deserved rest. He's always willed these things for you, although He may not have ever willed them this early. It wasn't the plan. It wasn't the purpose of your life. But it became His will because it was the very best good He could do for you.
At any given moment, God is willing for you the very best good. He is willing for you the greatest of His glory. He is willing for you with tender mercy and unstoppable love. And that means that sometimes, what happens to us in this world changes God's specific will for us because He has to factor in what our circumstances, what our real life in this fallen world, mean.
And when that happens, it doesn't mean that whatever happens to you was always God's will for your life. It doesn't mean that whatever happens to you was God's purpose. It doesn't mean that whatever happens to you was God's design. It means that whatever happens to you is God's love. And God goes on loving you even when brokenness changes things. Even when disease changes things. Even when disability changes things.
He goes on loving you no matter what, for loving you was, is, and always will be His will.
Even when plans change.