I dug into my brownie Sunday as I asked him to catch me up on the last fourteen years. Jeremiah and I had lost touch after college and only recently reconnected via Facebook. Despite more than a decade of silence, we fell back easily into friendship. We’d both lived overseas, survived faith crises, never married, and felt our lives to be on the verge of something new. Neither of us expected our stories to turn out this way. Our other college friends got married, had kids, and lived in the cities they’d planned on with the jobs they’d hoped for. But not us. God doesn’t have us on the group plan.
I know Jeremiah and I aren’t the only ones who can feel like we’ve missed open registration for God’s group plan. Most of us tend to compare our personal slice of adversity to everyone else’s plenty. If the doctor diagnoses us with a chronic disease, every one on Facebook just glows with health. While we scrimp on groceries to pay the rent, everyone around us drops twenties at Olive Garden like it’s no big deal. When another month passes and our hopes for children get dashed all over again, another five couples at church announce their pregnancies.
Singled out for suffering?
It can start to feel like God’s singled us out for suffering, that while he lets everyone else sign up for the group plan—with low premiums and fantastic benefits—we’re left facing our shattered dreams without any real coverage. For all we’ve invested in God, we don’t seem to be getting much out of the deal.
The apostle Peter found himself in a similar situation (John 21:15-22). After his tête-à-tête with Jesus over the rooster incident, where Jesus took Peter aside to forgive for each of the three times Peter had denied him in cold blood, Jesus also gave Peter a look into the future and how he would die.
But Peter’s relief at the total forgiveness Jesus offered only lasted a second. In the next moment, he’s concerned about fairness. What about John—would John die too, or just him? Peter wanted to be part of the group plan.
Jesus’ response speaks to us when, like Peter, we’re tempted to believe that someone else has landed a better deal with God than we have: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (v.22). The intriguing thing about Jesus’ response is that John would die, exiled on the island of Patmos, but Jesus didn’t say that because he wanted to address Peter’s heart. When it comes to God’s work in our lives, there is no such thing as a group plan.
Looking like Jesus, as only you can
We do ourselves and our triune God a disservice when we think that joining a group plan would better than the life he’s given us. God loves us too much for that. His love ushers us down tailor made paths and prods us towards specifics hardships that he’s scrutinized before allowing into our lives. Each of us, created in his image, is too gloriously unique to warrant cookie-cutter treatment. Instead, God intends to refract his glory through each of us until the world can catch a glimpse of Jesus that can only be seen through a Jeremiah, a Shannon, or a you that has been shaped by God (2 Cor 3:18).
When we insist that God sign us up for a group plan, we begrudge the Holy Spirit’s creative license to make each of us into the masterpiece his love envisions, and we limit God by the smallness of our dreams. In a sense, demanding equal treatment means asking God to love us less, since his work in each of our lives takes into account the potential in each of us that only he knows how best to unleash.
Some of that creative work involves shaping us through hardship, training us through disappointment, and pruning off the parts of us diseased by sin, but God isn’t some insurance company CEO trying to make another buck off our lives, he’s deeply invested in us, shaping us into someone unique, someone glorious, someone that reflects Jesus as no one else can. Why would we trade that for a group plan?