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Does God’s perfect plan really include this?

Lord willing? Wrestling with God’s role in my child’s death

Jessica Kelley used to assume, as many Christians do, that everything that happens is part of God’s “design.” Unable to reconcile the idea of a loving God who orchestrates suffering for some mysterious higher purpose, she began an intensive process of Scripture study, wrestling with her understanding of God.

She arrived at a “beautiful, Calvary-centered, Scripture-based” picture of a God of love that sustained her through her deepest agony: the illness and death of her four-yearold son, Henry. Kelley tells her story in the new book Lord Willing? Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death.

Kelley juxtaposes Henry’s suffering and death from an aggressive brain tumor against the common Christian notion that everything happens according to “God’s perfect plan.” In an intense, provocative dialogue with the traditional Christian view of God’s role in suffering, she presents an alternative grounded in Scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus.

The “blueprint worldview”—the idea that all things transpire according to God’s divine plan— permeates Christian culture. It’s found in the sermons of nationally known preachers, bestselling books, chart-topping songs, influential blogs, and famous speeches.

This view says that radical suffering is part of God’s plan—whether from tsunamis, tornados, human trafficking, poverty, or deadly diseases. There are two main versions of this blueprint worldview. In one, God causes everything to happen, even bad things. In the other, bad things aren’t necessarily caused by God, but he specifically allows them to happen for some greater good.

Either understanding of the blueprint worldview would imply that “the horror Henry experienced was simply a display of God’s mysterious wisdom,” Kelley says. “A blessing in disguise,” “God’s discipline,” “part of God’s plan to glorify himself” are other blueprint explanations for Henry’s suffering. Kelley notes that these explanations for God’s role in suffering render God’s character mysterious at best and sadistic at worst.

Yet through her wrestling, Kelley came to embrace that, while there are many things about God that remain shrouded in mystery, God’s heart of self-sacrificial love is not one of them. In fact, this love was fully revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:3).

She notes how Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and even calmed a violent storm at sea. Kelley realized that when God wrapped himself in flesh he didn’t use his power to afflict or destroy, but rather to bring life “to the full” (John 10:10).

As she compared God’s self-revelation in Jesus to a God who designs humanity’s suffering, Kelley discovered a huge chasm. And during the process of engaging those questions, she found new, more satisfying answers.

She rejected the blueprint worldview and adopted a “warfare worldview.” This view holds that, for now, God doesn’t always get his way and that evil, pain, and suffering are not God’s ideal will for us.

This view attributes evil to wills other than God’s. “Our unique suffering results from any number of infinite variables in this complex universe, many of which lie outside our awareness,” Kelley writes. In this view, God, whose nature and character are love, is at war, continually battling cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. “God is good. God battles evil with love. That’s what the cross was all about,” Kelley says.

This new understanding of God’s character allowed Kelley to “fall into God’s loving arms without reservation” when Henry died.

Now, Kelley wants to share the passion she’s found in this view of God. “When I share the love of Jesus, defeat dissolves and triumph emerges. When I profess the truth that Henry’s death was not sent by God for a mysterious higher purpose, I find strength,” she writes. Lord Willing? is her testimony, a commitment to share her story and spread the knowledge of God’s great love.


Jessica Kelley is a writer, speaker, and survivor of child loss. She has degrees in psychology and counseling, and has worked as a school counselor. Born and raised in the South, Jessica now lives with her husband and five-year-old daughter in Saint Paul, Minnesota. You can find her processing her faith journey at

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Herald Press is the book publishing imprint of MennoMedia, a ministry of the Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

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