The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What is Our Role in God's Plan?

Linda M. asks, “When people say ‘let God handle it’ or ‘it is all in God's plan,’ does anyone remember God (or whoever) made us thinking, reasoning, humans, and we have an obligation to use our brains and common sense, not just lay bad stuff or good stuff on God's whim?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Note from Rabbi Krishef: Have a question that invites responses from our interfaith panel of clergy? Come across an ethical dilemma lately? Ethics and Religion Talk needs your questions! Send them to me at [email protected].

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“I agree with you that there are some people who use God as an excuse to not use their brains. However, nothing can harm us more than the belief that because we are thinking and intelligent beings, we don't need God. The book of Genesis bears witness to the fact that this is how we ended up in the mess that we're in. Adam and Eve thought they didn't need God in order to decide whether they should eat from the fruit the Serpent offered them or not, so they ate it and plunged humanity into the worship of Self. The fruit they ate infected them and everyone who came after them—including you and me. The choice that Adam and Eve made becomes a blatant declaration of independence from God which marks the beginning of sin as we know it today. From this point on humanity went from relying on God to relying on Self.  Thus, it behoves us to pay heed to Proverbs 3:5-6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ ”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The Catholic Church teaches:

“By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, ‘reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.’ For ‘all are open and laid bare to his eyes,’ even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures (Vatican Council I, Dei Filius).

“As such, ‘creation has its own goodness and proper perfection’ and remains ‘in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained.’ This journey to perfection is called divine providence.

“Because human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, we have the use of reason, the ability to know that we know things. Human beings then ‘can initiate and control their own actions’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 430) to choose to freely accept God. In doing so, one does not simply lay bad or good stuff on God but recognizes one’s own place in the realm of created beings. Thus, using the reason God gave us to openly accept and promote good and to reject that which is bad or evil.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“I believe the questioner rightly understands that God ‘handling a situation’ assumes we are using all the gifts He gives us -- including our intelligence -- to the best of our God-given abilities.”

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“My mother used to say to me, ‘God can’t steer a train which is not moving.’ In other words, use your intellect, your values, your experiences, and your intuition, and proceed with making a decision and journeying on. God does not decide for us and push us along as if a toddler in a stroller but offers guidance we can find in our sacred literature, in prayer, and in the voice of counselors and pastors and friends. Presbyterians do not believe in ‘fate’ but do believe in providence; that is, that God offers guidance for humans which allows us to share in God’s work and way. It’s guidance, not mandate. God leaves signposts, which we can follow or not.

“‘ One part of providence is that God cooperates with the people whom God created to work in the world to accomplish God’s divine purposes. Humans can have a relationship with God that enables us to share in God’s work and carry out God’s will. God’s divine will is the power and purpose behind the universe.’ (The Thoughtful Christian: What do Presbyterians Believe?)”

“In my belief systems, when ‘bad things happen to good people,’ I do blame God, using the divine as a scapegoat, and accept that some things happen for reasons beyond my ability to know of comprehend. When good things happen to good people I am grateful, or course, but that gratitude is both for God’s goodness, and for the wise choices a person has made (studying hard, working diligently, making sacrifices on behalf of others) as much as for a supernatural action or lack thereof.”

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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