“We plan and God plans.”
This aphorism is the mantra for the believer. It is the crux of our relationship with destiny, and the last thread we hang onto as we attempt to understand why our own plans are not unfolding in the way we had mapped them out. Our calendars are set, our timelines are laid out, and our flights are booked. But sometimes, it doesn’t “work out,” and we are put on a life detour. This is when we are forced to confront our relationship with God’s hidden wisdom.
While we plan out our lives based on what we believe is best for us, we know that it is God Who truly knows best. But of course, it is hard to accept for ourselves what we do not understand. God mentions this reality in verse 216 of Chapter 2:
“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”
Until we can accept God’s decree for us, we are searching and searching for the answer to why our plans didn’t work.
In our struggle to accept the alternative, we naturally try to seek closure with that wisdom and wait for the “aha!” moment of acceptance.
“This is why it worked out differently! SubhanAllah. This was better for me all along.”
And truly, this is always a beautiful moment, a gift bestowed by the Planner in which we taste the sweetness of His wisdom after we have already been taken on a potential bitter detour from the one we originally meant to cross. Finally, we know why it was best for us. We now can happily accept that everything happens for a reason, and as ʿIzz Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām offers, that after patience and contentment with His decree, this is to be followed by gratitude. This leads us to the eventual joy we may experience in recognition of the better course of paths for us. This moment of understanding, when the veil is removed to reveal the wisdom behind the plan, can take months, years, or perhaps even into the afterlife, to come to us.
But in the meantime, we search frantically.
“Why didn’t I get accepted to this school?”
“Why did I have to go through this divorce?”
“Why was this flight canceled?”
“Why didn’t I get to marry this person?”
“Why and why not, ya Allah?”
Everything happens for a reason… and that is true whether that reason remains veiled for a month, a year, or during this lifetime. Until we accept this, we endlessly seek the closure, the wisdom, the “why it was better for me all along.”
True closure comes in appreciation of God’s infinite wisdom whether or not it is hidden from us—not only in our own material and worldly understanding.
This lesson is revealed for us in the story of our Prophet Musā (peace & blessings be upon him) when he embarks on his journey with Al-Khidr, a sage who was granted divine wisdom beyond the knowledge of most on the earth. Al-Khidr, by command of Allah, damages the boat in which a needy group of people is sailing, causing them great distress–until later, they pass by a king who would have taken their boat had it not been damaged. There was seeming chaos until it was discovered that the “chaos” was actually protection from a looming catastrophe they hadn’t even seen coming… and then there was closure.
But later on their journey, Al Khidr kills an innocent boy, leaving Musā (peace & blessings be upon him) confused until Al-Khidr later reveals to him that, had this boy lived, he would have driven himself and his parents to kufr, disbelief. The boy, slain by Al Khidr, is replaced by a new one who would bring his family happiness and keep them on the Straight Path. As we learn the story from beginning to end, we discover the protection from the greater evil that Al Khidr gave the parents, and we feel a sense of acceptance for the seemingly horrible crime that was committed.
However, his parents never received that same closure of the story.
To the parents of this boy, their son was killed in vain. He is later replaced, but why was their first son, an innocent boy, slaughtered? They will never know until the Afterlife. It was actually a protection for them from the greatest form of torment, the Hellfire. The wisdom behind this “injustice” would forever remain outside of his parents’ scope of knowledge, behind a veil.
While we all essentially believe in the ultimate wisdom of God, we still often tend to seek the wisdom to reveal itself to us, before our own eyes, in order for us to find rest and acceptance. Of course, this is because knowledge of the wisdom is the easiest way to gratify our need for comfort and assurance due to the uneasiness of the unknown. This is the first piece of knowledge Al-Khidr shares with Musā (peace & blessings be upon him), even before beginning their journey:
“How could you be patient in matters beyond your knowledge?” (18:68)
But the greater level of trust is when one lets go of endeavoring to seek answers about everything that doesn’t go one’s way. It is difficult to let go of one’s ego and traverse the detour while remaining blind to the destination. Ibn al-Qayyim illustrates the ease that comes with the trust of what is behind the veil:
“Had Allah lifted the veil for his slave and shown him how He handles his affairs for him, and how Allah is keener for the benefit of the slave than his own self, his heart would have melted out of the love for Allah and would have been torn to pieces out of thankfulness to Allah. Therefore if the pains of this world tire you, do not grieve. For it may be that Allah wishes to hear your voice by way of duaa. So pour out your desires in prostration and forget about it and know; that verily Allah does not forget it.”
The fact that we may never decipher the wisdom behind the detours may initially strike us as worrisome– however, this actually brings ease because it allows us to let go of our constant, difficult search for closure. It is meant to remove the burden, due to the relief in knowing that the One who created wisdom itself has planned for us our journeys. It is humility with God, submitting our logic to His logic, performing intellectual prostration.