Was John the Baptist in the center of God’s will when he was beheaded?Was James in the center of God’s will when Herod killed him with the sword?
Was Stephen in the center of God’s will when he was stoned to death?
Was Paul in the center of God’s will when he received “forty stripes save one?”
Was Paul in the center of God’s will when he was beaten with rods?
Was Paul in the center of God’s will when he suffered shipwreck?
Was William Carey in the center of God’s will when his wife Dorothy died?
Was William Carey in the center of God’s will when his second wife Charlotte died?
Was Adoniram Judson in the center of God’s will when he was imprisoned for 17 months?
Was Hudson Taylor in the center of God’s will when his wife and five of his children died?
Were John and Betty Stam in the center of God’s will when they were beheaded?
Were Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian in the center of God’s will when they were murdered?
It seems that the only thing we can answer to the above questions is “Yes.” Each of these people was in “the center of God’s will” when something bad (or “unsafe”) happened to them. How do we reconcile what we see from history with this phrase that is so often preached?
1. Bad things happen to people in God’s will and out of God’s will.
I remember hearing this phrase in connection with a story about a missionary. As the story goes, he and his family left for the mission field. Because of the frequent threat of poisonous snakes, the wife became more and more worried for the safety of her children. She eventually convinced her husband that they should leave the field. After returning to the States, one of the children was actually bitten by a snake just outside their home. In her haste to get the child to the hospital, the mother backed over another child with the car. Both children died.
This illustration was given to show that “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” If this story is true and if God allowed this to happen because of the family’s disobedience, then it should be a lesson to us about disobeying God. However, equally horrifying things have happened to people who were obeying God and who were (as far as we can tell) in the center of God’s will.
2. Being in God’s will does not guarantee safety on this earth.
I believe the phrase in question is dangerous because it plants the seed in our minds that if we follow God, we will be safe. In other words, good will happen to us instead of bad. In other words, life here on earth is better if we are in God’s will. While it is always better to follow God’s will, it will not always seem better here on earth. Often, doing what we want will be safer or better for this life.
If a believer takes this mindset (being in God’s will = safer life on earth), their faith will be shaken when bad things come. They might question whether they really were in God’s will. They may keep trying to be in God’s will, but bad things may keep happening. Eventually, they may conclude either: 1) It is impossible for them to be in the very center of God’s will and they simply give up trying, or 2) There is no God and they may turn their back on Him completely.
Do I think this one phrase drives everyone to these conclusions? Certainly not. As I mentioned before, I do think it can plant a dangerous seed in people’s minds.
3. Safety is promised for believers after this life.
A believer’s life is not an exact replica of every others’. One believer may live a life relatively free of hardship and trials while another seems to have nothing but those things. We must realize that the safety that is promised us is not for life on this earth, but for our eternal life in heaven. It is there that we will experience no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow. Until then, things might be very . . . unsafe.