You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go,
God is sending you.
Wherever you are,
God has put you there.
God has a purpose
in your being there.
Christ lives in you
and has something
he wants to do
through you where you are.
Believe this and go in the
grace and love and
power of Jesus Christ.
— Rev. Richard Halverson
I love this benediction by the former U.S. Senate chaplain, Richard Halverson; I’ve been using it since it was introduced to me by Rev. E. Stanley Ott over a decade ago. I would end every worship service at Westminster Presbyterian, Baytown, Texas, with the words; they were so much a part of our congregation that when I left the church for my next call, my going-away cake said, “you go nowhere by accident.” Soon after I left the church, the new interim pastor came by my office wanting to talk about that benediction. How could you possibly use those words? The theology is all wrong, he said, and dangerous for the spiritual and emotional development of our members. We need to assure people that God doesn’t cause the pain in their lives. “You go nowhere by accident …” implies that God creates even the bad things that happen to good people.
We see the same tension in the Joseph story. Does God cause those bad things to happen to Joseph? It is all part of God’s master plan? Is God a powerful manipulator of human lives? Did God know Joseph’s brothers would traffic him to the Ishmaelite traders who would sell him to Potiphar’s house, where he would be accused of attempted rape and thrown in prison, which would lead to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and leading Egypt through the boom and bust, all so that he could provide food for Jacob’s family during the famine? Did God plan all of that? Did Joseph really go nowhere by accident? Didn’t he really go by human abuse and by assault? This couldn’t have been God’s intention.
Joseph says pretty much the same to his brothers when they return to Egypt, in part, to appease their fear and guilt about what they had done to him:
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:5-7)
I cannot believe in a God who would cause that amount of pain in the life of Jacob’s favorite just so that one day he can save his family. I cannot believe in that any more than I can believe that a person is stricken with cancer so that they can be a witness of goodness in the chemo lounge God doesn’t intentionally heap riches and wealth on one and starvation and poverty on another just to make a point. God doesn’t make bad things happen so that we can grow in faith, or be more creative, or meet the right people. That understanding of God is mistaken; it’s premised on a hind-sighted logic that gives meaning to something after the fact. It takes a truth … “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)” … and turns it around to imply that God caused those bad things to happen in the first place. No, that is not the God I know and love. God is more like the potter with the clay. If things don’t turn out exactly the way it was imagined, then the potter uses the apparent imperfection or flaw to create something new, dramatic, functional and beautiful.
In Joseph’s case, God continues to act in the life of the boy, who was abused and stripped of all he was given (his name, his family, his home, his prized cloak, his freedom, his identity) yet continues to live faithfully. In fact, God blesses Joseph so much, that he is a blessing not only to his own family, but to many nations. Sound familiar?
When I say the words of the benediction, “you go nowhere by accident” I am not saying God has a master script that we’re all reciting in which God wants us to be in the cells of prison (literally or metaphorically); I am saying, instead, that God is so much a part of us that he is present even in the worst of times and the ugliest of places. Even in those times and in those places, we are guided and shielded and blessed by the hand of goodness. God can take the worst of conditions and still work in us in such a way that we can be a blessing to others. Christ, who lives in us, wants to do something through us where we are.
Joseph realizes that it’s not his own ingenuity that saved his family, it was not his intellect or his good looks or his wealth … it was the work of God … the blessing of God working it out through him … “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).” This is the life of faith. So everywhere we go, we go with the intentionality of God’s grace, God’s abundance, working in us, strengthening us, saving us, forgiving us …
What do you think of the idea that God didn’t have it all “planned” from the beginning, but that God works in and through us, even our flaws and sins?
Thank you for explaining this benediction. The implication that God causes bad things so our faith will grow has always bothered me. I do believe that God can and does work through any of life’s events.
Bonnie, I appreciate your comment. This was also a difficult part of last week’s reading about the sacrifice of Isaac. But I’m still unsure how to handle that … part of me still dismisses it to “a different time”, or that it is part of the trials of relationship, but it’s a very very difficult text.
Perhaps amazing Isaac was transformed by becoming a father at 80/90 yrs. Did that make him feel that Risking all with God was powerful and meaningful beyond any reality he’d experienced up til then. How good it is to be asked to engage our imagination and “imagination Storm” instead of Brainstorm ideas and thoughts about these ancestors of ours….what they thought, experienced and how they were “re-formed” by their encounters with the Living God.
Correction: amazing Abraham NOT Isaac! Blush
Thanks, Mary! I’m one who thinks the “re-forming” of the person is foundational. I’m also one who thinks that the Living God is somehow changed by God’s love for us as well. Which is quite “out there” for many.
I’ve been benefitting by some spiritual practices via Terry Chapman and so I see growth/transformation everywhere and that we are not so separated as we might think, from God or others, via Terry’s hero Richard Rohr. …. So, as you can see Wendy, OUT THERE works for me. I’m a liberal and a Christian and I don’t see that as an oxymoron.
Terry left a good quote on my fb wall in response to this post …
“The place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you
wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
the beloved has bowed there-
The beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming…
Just wrote a long comment & it disappeared….error! Argh
We have a spam filter on here that requires the first comment from a user to be approved by the admins … so, your comment was delayed for a few minutes waiting for my approval. It should be back now.
A distinction between God causing and God allowing must be made here… it seems that God allows things to happen that seem woeful to us for reasons that are not quite clear to us. . . and yet God’s promise is not that woeful things won’t happen, but that He is with us in the midst of them and working good in and through them to advance his ultimate plan… God isn’t bound by time as we are, and He knows how it all will turn out… I don’t think He’s making it up as he’s going along, as confused as we are… He is in control, even as this control is hard for us to see, perhaps except in hindsight…I don’t like that suffering is one of the best ways for us to grow closer to God and learn things we can learn no other way, but there it is… I’d rather read about it in the book, but that never seems to be as effective…
How wonderful that I found this, Wendy. I was privileged to “sit at the feet” of Richard Halverson for the last 10 years of his pastorate at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD, before he became Senate Chaplain in 1981. My spiritual foundation was created as I listened to him, and I especially loved his Benediction. Honestly, I don’t recall him saying the entire benediction very often, but even now (at another church) I always know a fellow parishoner whenever someone says, “You go nowhere by accident.” After all, God does not follow behind us, he goes beside us, or before us…whether it is into troubled times and situations or the more joyous moments in life. And like the “Footprints” poem says, sometimes He is carrying us. No, He doesn’t send us into trials, He makes sure He’s right there with us and eventually, He weaves all those horrible things into a magnificent new creation. The catch: we have to be willing to accept it and give thanks.
John Stott, in his last public sermon, shared that he had come to a place of believing that the great purpose in life was to become like Jesus. He said, “Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.” If Stott is correct then this sets a different context for suffering and the evil and injustice the followers of Jesus frequently experience. Christlikeness comes in and through suffering, hardship and injustice. Ease, comfort, pleasure and prosperity can never produce Christlikeness. This line of reasoning has caused me to be less certain about the source of suffering in the life of a believer. It is possible that the Potter knows that a significant level of suffering is exactly what is needed to produce the “vessel” He desires.
During my days at the Naval Academy I learned “A good helmsman is never made sailing in smooth waters.” I believe this same principle applies to us as disciples. “A true disciple becomes an effective and impactful follower of Jesus only as they learn to submit to suffering brought into their lives, with no regard to the source of that suffering.”