God makes himself look glorious whenever I trust him with my disappointments. Far from tarnishing his good name, my smile in my wheelchair turns up the wattage on his glory for others to see.
“Your broken neck is no accident, Joni. God has an amazing plan for your life.”
Christian friends said something like this often when they came to visit me in the hospital after my diving accident. They longed to encourage their paralyzed friend, and they succeeded. To a point. Having been raised in the Reformed Episcopal church, God’s sovereignty was not a strange concept. But now, it raised sticky questions.
I kept pushing the replay button on my dive off the raft, trying to imagine what was happening in the heavenlies. Did God take a hands-off approach and allow me to do something stupid of my own free will? Or did Satan go before God with the playbook he used with Job, asking for permission to shove me off the raft? Was God reluctant? Did the devil then twist his arm until God cried uncle? Or maybe God himself pushed me off the raft as he held back protecting angels.
The sovereignty of God felt scary. If he does foreordain all things to come to pass — not just my salvation, but my catastrophic accident — what in heaven’s name could be his good intention for quadriplegia? Then again, if his sovereignty was of the Arminian brand, meaning that he had general plans for the world, but not specific ones, did I simply get the wrong toss of the dice? I didn’t know which view frightened me more.
Blue Book with Gold Letters
Looking back, I’m amazed that a broken, depressed teenager would mull over such lofty things, but then again, we are all theologians. And I knew that not only my happiness but my faith rested on the outcome. So, after I left the hospital to live on our Maryland farm, I stayed connected with friends who seemed to know more than I did.
Our farmhouse became a gathering place for young people who brought pizza, guitars, and Bibles. They brought questions too. The tragedy of my accident was inspiring others to dig deeper into these mysteries. Around our farm table, we discussed everything from Calvinism to dispensationalism, and although I leaned toward my Calvinist roots, I was terribly conflicted.
One night, a high schooler from a local Reformed Presbyterian church gave me a blue hardback book with gold lettering that read, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. “My pastor is a fan of Dr. Loraine Boettner,” he said. “Maybe it’ll help.”
My Steps, God’s Plan
The next day I parked my wheelchair in front of a music stand that held the book with the intriguing title. My sister inserted a long dowel with an eraser tip end into my mouth. Clenching it, I was able to flip pages. She also placed a cassette recorder next to me so I could push the “record” and “pause” buttons with the same mouth stick — it was the most efficient way I could take notes.
Out of the chute, Boettner explained that the reason so many people are quick to reject the doctrine of predestination is because of “pure ignorance of what the doctrine really is and what the Bible teaches in regard to it” (5). He was talking to me. Soon I found myself asking, Let me get this straight: when I made plans to go to the beach that day, God wasn’t looking the other way, interested in the lives of more obedient Christians? Boettner pointed to Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”