God’s will is not as individualised as we’ve made it. Obedience is more important.
When Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, the world was shocked. Adventist Review reported the story of Frieda Souhuwat-Tomasoa, a 67-year-old Dutch Adventist who had purchased a ticket for MH17, due to a last minute crisis in Indonesia. Three days before her scheduled flight, however, she realised she would be travelling during Sabbath and changed her ticket. Her conviction to never travel on Sabbath saved her life. However, her comments in the Adventist Review interview sparked controversy online.
“I am here to witness that God has spared me because I need to continue my mission here in Ambon and be available to aid people in our world who need help,” she said.
While some celebrated her faithfulness and affirmed her calling, others thought her comments were callous.
As one commentator put it, “Does this mean that God didn’t need all the other people who died in the crash?”
My answer? No. For thousands of years, Christian and Jewish theologians have pondered and argued and tried to articulate where God is during a tragedy and who is responsible. I don’t have the time or space here to rehash those debates but I do want to ask, what can we learn from Frieda’s testimony and the reaction to it?
Frieda said God “spared” her because she was “needed”. Some have implied that this means He didn’t spare the others. Actually, the quote only deals with her own experience. She is still processing the tragedy, trying to make sense of why she is alive. The experience has given her renewed vision—more reason to continue making a difference. Her comments and some of the anger directed at them, both stem from a misunderstanding of God and His will.
These days, the individual is paramount and it seems we have made God’s will for our lives into some individual fairytale—a perfect plan set out before us that (if we accept it) will give our life impact. So amazing events, miraculous escapes and meaningful opportunities mean that we are following God’s plan, whereas sudden deaths, terminal illness or dysfunctional relationships are either enemy attacks, sinful symptoms or blamed on God.
We have forgotten the corporate will of God. Yes, He loves each one of us and knows us intimately. He knit us together and knows the number of hairs on our head. But most of His commands are to His people as a whole—trust and obey my commandments, love God and your neighbour, be bold and strong.
God’s commandments are like a wall bordering our path. We can choose to go cross country, live outside God’s law and make our own choices. But if we live our lives within His guidelines, we live within His will and keep ourselves from some troubles (there are roadblocks from time to time). Throughout her history, Israel disregarded God’s law, playing outside and suffering for it.
God’s will is not as individualised as we’ve made it. Obedience is more important. Frieda was blessed by following her conviction not to fly on Sabbath. Following God’s command in this case kept her safe but it doesn’t mean she was favoured over and above everyone else on that flight. For many though, following God’s will is dangerous as it can lead to conflict with the world.
As individuals we need to listen for the Spirit’s prompting and obey His principles as best we can. None of us knows when death will come but we can be ready to meet it firmly within God’s will. Until then, we must strive, like Frieda said, to “witness” and to “be available to aid people in our world who need help”. That is God’s will.
Jarrod Stackelroth is associate editor of Adventist Record.