How do we deal with the unintended consequences of our actions? It was a question posed by my friend the other day after watching the final season of The Good Place, a surprisingly-thought-provoking comedy. The show posed the problem that as life becomes more complicated, all of our actions have more and more unintended consequences. How is what could be a good deed (buying flowers for our mother) affected if there are terrible unintended consequences to those actions (those flowers are ordered on a smartphone that was made in a sweatshop, the flowers have been sprayed with chemicals bad for the environment, and our money is going towards an owner of the company who is engaging in immoral activities)?
My first respond to my friend was simply that we can only control so much. We have to worry about the intended consequences of our actions, be as informed as we can be, strive to do good and avoid evil, and leave the rest to God. When we allow our lives to be ruled by “what if” scenarios, we begin to live out of fear, not the freedom that God desires.
A few days later, however, the conundrum came back to me as I was thinking about another discussion and other life events. I was praying my rosary, but my mind was wandering into the realms of “what ifs” and “whys” when thinking about the mixed up strings of the tapestry of life.
The voice on my prayer app (free from the Augustine Institute!) brought me back to prayer. The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. The Carrying of the Cross.
The Passion. Talk about unintended consequences… at least on our end. The religious and secular leaders that crucified Jesus were certainly not intending to be instruments in the salvation of the world.
Perhaps God is a God of unintended consequences.
There’s a common expression–one that I’ve found plenty of solace in–that reassures us, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
The Passion. Suffering in my life. Mistakes. Even sins. God can work the greatest good out of all of it.
I realized this morning that I’ve been thinking that I generally write straight. “I usually write all these nice straight lines, but if there’s a crooked one, don’t worry. God can fix it. He can work with it.”
…But maybe I always give God crooked lines. Thankfully, in his fatherly power and mercy, he takes care of me.
He’s the master of working with unintended consequences. Because somehow, in one of the greatest mysteries of life, all things are in His will.
I haven’t figured that one out yet. But it gives me peace, looking back at events and decisions and circumstances and choices, and seeing that somehow, even in the messiest of times, even in the worst of decisions, even in sin … He brings good.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I haven’t figured that one out yet. But I thank him every single day for it. Thank you for your plan, God. Even when it has hurt. Even when I haven’t understood it. Even when it was dark and I thought I had messed everything up.
So what about all those unintended consequences to our actions?
It’s not that we should just go along, doing as we please, not worrying about how our choices affect others. This isn’t a license to sin or to throw discernment to the wind. That’s not loving God, after all.
Rather, it is a reminder that if we truly strive to love God, he will be a father to us. He will take even our sins and our mistakes and use them to paint the beautiful picture of our life. As long as we keep striving to love him, to love our neighbor, and to cooperate with his will, the rest is in his hands. And they’re good, fatherly hands.
Take a deep breath. And be prepared to find joy even in the sufferings.
After all, he is a God of unintended consequences.
Image credit: Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash
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