A lot of Christians talk continually about ‘God’s plan for our lives’. I have the following problems with this idea: It does not really seem to be a concept that the Bible endorses that much. Sure, you can dig up the odd verse here are there which says that God has a plan for someone’s…
A lot of Christians talk continually about ‘God’s plan for our lives’.
I have the following problems with this idea:
- It does not really seem to be a concept that the Bible endorses that much. Sure, you can dig up the odd verse here are there which says that God has a plan for someone’s life, but they mostly seem to me to be talking in very general terms. That God has a plan for each specific person’s life does not seem to me to be an emphasis in the Bible.
- It is all nice and lovely to talk about God’s plan when it involves good things happening, but what when it involves bad things happening? This seems to me to make God into an unkind being who plans bad things for people.
- Where do you draw the line between the events that are part of the plan and the ones that are not? How about insignificant details, such as the space you will park your car in today?
- What happens if you ‘wander off the pathway’ and do something that isn’t part of the plan? Is there a plan B and a plan C and so on? If there are an infinite number of alternative plans then the concept of there being a plan A in the first place becomes nonsensical as being imperfect none of us will ever follow it.
I’m fully aware that questions about predestination, free will etc have been unsolved by theologians for hundreds of years, so the likelihood of sorting it all out in a Cartoon Blog comments thread is not that great. But let’s try anyway – if you have any thoughts please post them below.
I used to think, many years ago, that God had a Plan A and any slight deviation, whilst not necessarily technically meaning that I was doomed for eternity, would mean that I had missed God’s Very Best for my life. Now I think that, rather than having us walk along a tightrope (like in my previous view), he prefers us to wander round a bit – I always imagine a field (probably Psalm 23 has something to do with that, walking in green pastures etc, and a couple of other psalms (18 and 31 I think) talk about God setting our feet in a spacious place) – and it doesn’t matter so much if I’m walking along the edge by the stream or in the middle where all the daisies are (or whatever).
I haven’t quite made up my mind on the potential theological significance of cowpats though (as if there are no cowpats in God’s field but there are in all the others, then that isn’t all that different from the whole Plan A thing). Would stepping in a cowpat be part of God’s plan to enable me to grow? Maybe it is a sign that I’m walking along dangerous ways? Or maybe it’s just crap.
I like W H Vanstone’s* take on this – he talks about an artist making a mistake, and then summoning up an extra burst of creativity in order to turn the mistake into an even better picture.
So when we put a foot wrong, God gets extra creative and makes something good out of it.
I see great hope for your mistake at the top of the page, Dave – great things could come from this.
*Not to be confused with W H Smith. One is a newsagent, the other…um…isn’t.
If you take a page from quantum physics, we could all be simultaneously engaged in plans A, B, C, etc, all at precisely the same time. This may not be particularly helpful theologically (sorry) but does give your brain a nice Monday morning stretch.
Liked the field image, Jack the Lass, with or w/o cowpats.
I like Jack the Lass’s idea of cowpats along the way.
In my view, considering that God has A plan rather than plan A means that when something goes wrong it must be MY/OUR fault and although I’m sure we often do things which make life worse for ourselves, quite often life throws someting at us which really isn’t to do with anything we’ve done to “deserve” it.
I have always found it difficult when people caught up in a natural disaster say that they were saved by God. This surely implies the opposite was true for others. Or could it be that God spoke in some way to all people caught up in a disaster; maybe a warning (heard or unheard) or a word of comfort to those with apparently no hope of escape.
I find that in life God’s way of having plans for us is to have hopes for us. God guides and leads and when we listen and obey we follow. When we don’t follow he still finds a way, maybe a different way but sometimes with a similar result. I have friends who I might have met before had my life been sightly different who I met later in life through a different path and that has always made me feel God wanted certain things to happen.
How could it be any other way for a God who give allows us knowledge of god and evil and the freedom to choose and still forgives us if we repent?
You are all so wise.
About this ‘field’ idea, which I have used myself whilst talking to youthgroups and anyone who will listen. It is all very well but if it is the way we are supposed to think about life then I wonder why it was not a part of the Sermon on the Mount or perhaps in one of the letters of St Paul. I like to be able to look things up in the Bible. I am old fashioned in that respect. Perhaps that is my undoing.
Whilst there are huge problems thinking that God is in control of every detail there are bigger problems if he is not. He certainly knows what is going on.. Matthew… hairs on head, birds dropping to ground etc. and I think he can do something about everything. A friend of mine does pray for parking spaces and usually gets them. A quote from an Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan….”You may say that what happens to me is a coincidence but the more I pray the more coincidences happen”
I think the problem is that if there were a plan, everyone is inevitably far from it. A little like the butterfly causing a hurricane, one little bad choice might end up with life in a totally different direction.
And sometimes really bad experiences can end up being useful. For example, I heard a sermon on Sunday by an alcoholic who found God during treatment and went on to help start a residential service for recovering alcoholics in my city.
I can’t imagine God sitting down and thinking ‘right, what we really need is someone to give their lives in service of [insert terrible disease/situation/calamity]. Freddy is a top bloke, so we’ll just bring him down to size with a dash of [insert disease/situation/calamity] so he’ll be ideally qualified for that job.’
This is not the God of love, but the God who places dice and gambles with people’s lives.
What I can imagine is the God who takes all the messes and redeems them into something good. Someone who already knows the cock-ups and has already budgetted for them.
I don’t accept that God much cares about the colour of underwear chosen in the morning. Maybe it is just me, but I suspect he has better things to be getting on with.
In the Old Testament there were noooo secondary factors. Everything was from God. Bad, good, life, death.
However, they managed not to fall into the trap of a ‘plan’ in the sense of a deterministic route for everyone. In Jeremiah 11:29 (the worst abused verse in modern Xianity!) the word ‘plan’ means ‘thoughts’ more than ‘roadmap’. According to Israel Yahweh’s ‘thoughts’ for them were in a general sense thoughts and plans for blessings, goodness and life! Jeremiah was affirming this in the middle of exile. Israel seem to allow the affirmation of Yahweh as faithful and loving together with the lament of saying ‘but our circumstances are not bearing this out at the moment’ (or better said by JtheL, cowpats might just be crap)
There Dave, I’m sure you can look that up in the Bible :-).
Sorry to get all ‘preachy’, but this is one thing I get a bit hot under the collar about.
We had an interesting discussion about this whole thing when I was on a theology course a few years ago. Picking up from what Chris said, about more “coincidences” happening when you pray. We had a lot of discussion about “what is happening when you pray?” and some of us had a view of prayer was aligning yourself to God. If anyone saw that programme last nigh called “The Search” there was a point where they were looking for an entire circle and there were part cirlces drawn all over this ruined abbey and only from ONE point could you see the complete circle. I think prayer is the process of getting into the right place to see things the way God wants you to see them.
Dave wanted some biblical bits. There’s the passage where one son says he won’t serve his father but later changes his mind and serves and the other son says he will serve his father then doesn’t. Who trully serves? Or we might be like the ground in the parable of ths sower… (hey Dave there’s a field for you which IS in the bible).
Ok I really should put something on my own blog not just on Dave’s!
Jody’s getting hot under the collar so I think this thread needs a short musical interlude until everyone calms down a bit.
Joe said “What I can imagine is the God who takes all the messes and redeems them into something good” and that reminded me of a dreadful chorus from the early 1980’s. All together now:
“Something beatiful, something good,
All my confusion – he understood.
All I had to offer him was broken-ness and strife
but he made something beatiful out of my life.”
If you’re thinking that it isn’t really that dreadful and that the sentiments are really quite nice (if a bit twee) – you really needed to hear the tune to get the full effect.
Funnily enough, our services yesterday were on Jeremiah 29:11. It seems that the new year and post-christmas crash inevitably leaves people in need of some reassurance that they’re not just thrashing around without any sort of direction.
Not that this helps with the plan question at all …
Isn’t one of the issues that we usually mean by “plan” things like where we live, what job we do, who we marry. About which the bible says pretty much zilch – not least because until very recently almost no-one had any say in those things. You lived where you were born (or got chased to), did what your family did, married who your family said… The bible says a lot about how we should live within these givens….
Unfortunately that doesn’t help us immediately with the question Dave raises: given that we do nowadays have such choices and can’t avoid making them – what is the faithful, following-Jesus way to make them?
And re parking: I have no idea if God provides spaces in answer to prayer. I though he had one lunchtime when I nipped out from the school where I taught. But then I locked my keys in the car in my hurry to get to the shop, and ended up having to ring to get my classes covered while I broke into the car… But on the other hand I know that there is a fairly reliable correlation between my spiritual health and what I do when looking to park – praying is a good sign and swearing isn’t!
The Bible quite explicitly shows human mistakes worked into God’s plan. In Genesis 3, in the process of chucking Adam and Eve out of Eden, God says that the descendent of Adam will crush the serpents head – seen as a prophecy about Jesus. Already God becoming human (the greatest event ever) is worked around human weakness.
Example 2: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, which leads to his crucifixion, death and resurrection.
I don’t think any of our mistakes catch God out, and the more we mess up the more we learn. I’m not really with the ‘plan A’ crowd, but I think God does have some kind of plan for us, or maybe it’s more like hopes and dreams. He’s not just put us here and said ‘oh just get on with it and do what you like, I’m not fussed either way’. Because He knows us, He knows what our full potential looks like, and He’s thrilled when we reach it, and probably tries to help us to get there.
I don’t think there is “a plan” — for me it is about choosing to “come and see” – as in experiencing life loving God and neighbor as a result of my choice – and repenting when I fall short of following that path.
OK. Here’s an interesting take on the ‘prayer makes coincidences happen’ issue. (Sorry – we’re straying to the edge of the field named ‘on-topic’ here.)
Check out The Dilbert Blog – Affirmations
The Dilbert-guy (who has no sort of faith whatsoever) is basically saying that by writing something down 15 times a day he can make it happen. So – is prayer a sort of spiritualised version of that? Or are ‘affirmations’ a form of non-spiritual prayer?
(PS: The Dilbert-guy also believes there is no such thing as free-will which will please the predestinationalists.)
Sorry about the unusual hyperlink above!
I’ll write out “I will become better at using HTML” 15 times a day until I do.
This is brilliant – really sums up for me the kind of dumb stuff we get into. I like the ‘green pastures’ idea – for a while it has seemed to me that God’s plan consists of giving us a field of opportunity and our job is to cultivate it not keep asking what he wants us to do with it!
OK and I forget as one sititing in a calvinist context that most people are armininian (even if they only think its near Azerbijan). But there IS a lot about plan in the bible – to have a people that will express his person and nature is a pretty consistent part of it. Not sure how well
He rates progress on that…
There most definitely IS a plan!
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path in the way in which I walk”
“He tells you to acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (see Prov. 3:6).
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
I think God has an overall plan for our lives–kind of like a Mapquest map when zoomed out at the city level. The problems arise when we zoom in at the street level, and find one-way streets that weren’t there before, construction roadblocks, and other obstacles. The overall map hasn’t changed, but how we act on it and respond has.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this: up until a few years ago I thought (and was told by a lot of Christians whose views I respected) that I knew what God’s plan was for me in terms of career/ministry. Then I did some stuff which was explicitly not God’s plan, on account of it being fairly thoroughly condemned in the Bible, and those career/ministry options seem to have been closed off. I had a problem then with the fact that I’d been sure about what God wanted me to do, which left me wondering: can I ever trust what I think God wants (or what other Christians prayerfully consider to be God’s will for me)? And worse, why did God let me think those things? Was he fooling me? Lying to me? Testing me? And why?
So far there are two answers that work for me, one a bit more Biblical than the other. The first is the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Because we know how the story ends, we can get a bit complacent about Abraham’s obedience. But if we’d stopped Abraham on his way to the mountain, and asked him what God’s plan was for his life, what kind of answer would he have given? The second point of view, which actually is kind of Biblical in that you can get there by reading Job, is that it’s a question of perspective. We see things as cause and effect because we’re inside time. God is in eternity, and we can have no idea what a plan/hope/will for our lives looks like from his point of view. Maybe the difference between a tightrope and a field is trifling compared to the difference between our point of view and God’s. So at the moment I’m just kind of working on the assumption that God is good and that he loves me; I respond to this by being the kind of person he wants me to be (using the Bible as a guide) and then I trust him to make a better job of sorting out my life than I have.
Sorry, long comment!
I’ve said it elsewhere, but Steve’s post just then reminded me that I’ve found thinking in terms of principles rather than concrete black and white roadmaps (is that metaphor mixed enough? :D) really helpful in trying to discern where God is in it all. In particular, I reckon if I’m loving God* and loving my neighbour as myself* then the exact job I’m in or the exact town I live in or whatever isn’t so important – it’s what I’m doing and being in my current context which is important and which will open (or shut) doors for the future.
* obviously considerable work still needed on both counts. And they wonder what’s so amazing about grace?!
Some splendid responses here, some of which I need to sit down and read at a time which is not Tuesday morning when I should be getting on with drawings. Thank you.
You mean this isn’t just an underhand ploy to get some more cartoon ideas? :p
Steve – don’t be disheartened. The Bible is full of people who know what Gods plan is for their lives, mess it up by going off at a tangent and are then brought back to the original plan/promise later on.
EG 1: Israel wandering around for 40 years before getting into the promised land.
EG 2: Jonah got to Ninevah eventually, despite the fishy detour.
You may well get back on track for the promised ministry later on.
Lots of people have said what I might consider saying but in the theme of cowpats, check out:
‘The path of my life is strewn with cowpats from the devils own satanic herd!’, Blackadder season 2
Commented on by a fellow ordinand here.
I Believe strongly that there is God’s perfect will and God’s permisive will. I believe that God has the perfect plan for all of us in everything but that by our own mistakes God will allow “all things work for good TO THEM WHO ARE CALLED…” God’s permisive will or God’s best available choice. To those who haven’t received Salvation by accepting the free gift available to all then there is no “second best plan” but to accept Christ. I Believe that it wasn’t God’s perfect plan for Adam and Eve to sin and therefore by their own repentence God making available the second best plan. If you need additional exaplaination I will be glad to give it. For simplistity and time this was the best I could come up with but I probably did a disservice in exaplaining what I Believe on this issue. If someone needs a clarification for better accuracy from my part I will be open to those questions.
How much better of a plan that God knew would be better if people made better choices if:
Jonah would have obeyed God in the first place
Adam and Eve wouldn’t have sinned
Israel would have Believed God would provide them the land by believing the two witness rather than the 12
While they got to experience some of the blessing they never got to fully experience ALL that God had for them if they chose the more perfect choices. We all know we won’t always choose the “perfect choices” all of the time but it doesn’t change our responsibility to strive under the Holy Spirit to make as many perfect choices as we can under God’s power and not our own.
Yes, Dave, this is an excellent discussion.
I have to admit that on going to a funeral today I did pray about parking as I had an elderly lady to take back afterwards. There was a space, right by the church! But I didn’t see it in time and when I came round again it was filled. So if it was reserved for me, I missed it! I had to park quite a way away, but it all worked out in spite of my mistake!
Everyone is so wise, except me, he he he, so my comment may seem a little erm, naive.
Anywaaay, I don’t know that God make plans like ours, you know with schedules and lists n’ suchlike. I don’t think God has a diary for each of us with each happening pencilled in at the correct moment. We do know that it rains on the good and the bad; so things are going to happen to us that we don’t much like. I guess we just keep our eyes happily on Jesus, not worry about it, and just try not to fall off the narrow road wherever it may meander. ‘Cos we know what’s at the end of the road – that IS what He has planned for us and the sooner we start celebrating our freedom and redemption the better.
True we do know the rain falls on the good and the bad but that is seperate from “plans” and perfect will. Who knows maybe the rain on the bad is because God is seeking repentence from those who are bad and therefore His ways are greater than our ways? When we look beyond our little humaness and life and look at all of the posibilities of God’s purposes it helps to understand how truly God is and how are understanding of “good and bad” get so messed up. Sometimes on the surface things are actually bad when they appear humannly good and vice versa. The point is looking at the big picture outside of our own reality and onto God’s reality which is truly greater than our own.
However Sarah, I do appreciate this and your attitude so stay close to Jesus 🙂 “I guess we just keep our eyes happily on Jesus, not worry about it, and just try not to fall off the narrow road wherever it may meander.” That is so true. 🙂
Of course part of what we’re wrestling with here is the theodicy problem — why do bad things happen to good people? Is it part of God’s plan? If so, what kind of god is this God?
Part of this stems from the notion that God is omnipotent, and therefore God, for example, chooses not to act to save the drowning child. We rationalize this by saying “this must be part of God’s plan”.
C.S. Lewis approaches this a little differently (in “The Problem of Pain”), by saying that God’s gift to humankind of free will means that God can’t do a thing and its opposite at the same time — it is our original Fall that creates suffering in the world, and it is through the possibility of choice that we can be redeemed. If God were to nullify the potential for negative consequences moment by moment then our free will would be meaningless. So there’s suffering in the world, but the possibility of hope and transformation.
Much of this resonates for me. My sense is that God is, in the words of my pastor, “short on protection and long on support”.
Brian – I’m more struggling with ‘why do things happen’ and is there a specific meaning to my individual life and if so do I have anything to do with creating it (I think yes).
Sarah – keeping eyes on Jesus – yes. In terms of bibilical principles fine, but I kind of think I hear a voice sometimes and that’s actually been, like for Steve, quite confusing at times yet its central to what I think of a Jesus being alive.
Brian, I see your post here and I agree. However, I tend to focus on the “bad things happen to good people” on our limited understanding of what actually is “good and bad”. God is omnipotent and we have free will at the same time. I know in the natural this seems strange but in God’s diminision and understanding it isn’t.
This I wrote earlier was a restatemnet of an encouragement for me “True we do know the rain falls on the good and the bad but that is seperate from “plans” and perfect will. Who knows maybe the rain on the bad is because God is seeking repentence from those who are bad and therefore His ways are greater than our ways? When we look beyond our little humaness and life and look at all of the posibilities of God’s purposes it helps to understand how truly God is and how are understanding of “good and bad” get so messed up. Sometimes on the surface things are actually bad when they appear humannly good and vice versa. The point is looking at the big picture outside of our own reality and onto God’s reality which is truly greater than our own.”
January 10th, 2007 at 5:23 pm
dh, thanks for your thoughtful response.
I guess my point is that I don’t see God as “doing” bad things to us as part of a big plan. God does not want to see us suffer, any more than she wanted to see Jesus suffer. It is our choices that cause suffering.
I simply cannot believe in a God who acts “ex machina” to fulfill some divine project, causing floods and famines along the way. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. But you are certainly correct in that our understanding of good and bad is so hopelessly muddled by our sin (separation) from God. God’s ways are not our own, for sure.
God suffers when we suffer, God suffers _because_ we suffer. And the God of Jesus is with us in our suffering.
Suffering certainly can be redemptive. Parents often have to see their children suffer (or even inflict suffering on them) in order to help them mature, or for their own good. We are of course like children to the Creator.
I’m not quite sure what I’m saying here, other than blessings to you.
“I guess my point is that I don’t see God as “doing” bad things to us as part of a big plan.” You acknowledge that our understanding of “good and bad” is not able to be understood in “But you are certainly correct in that our understanding of good and bad is so hopelessly muddled by our sin (separation) from God. God’s ways are not our own, for sure.” So some, not all, could be part of a greater plan; judgement for sin while we are on earth, for those who are alive to see the power of God and receive Christ by the Fear of God, etc. However, you are correct “God suffers when we suffer, God suffers _because_ we suffer. And the God of Jesus is with us in our suffering.” I guess my point that we somewhat agree on is not all suffering is bad and not all suffering is good. It is when we project what appears to bad when in all reality it is good and say it is bad that we sometimes “miss the point” of what God is truly doing in the world.
You say this “I guess my point is that I don’t see God as “doing” bad things to us as part of a big plan.” I agree but do we truly understand what is “bad and good” from God’s perspective? That is the long and the short of this response which is way too long and could have been written with much less words. 🙂
Perhaps there is absolutely no protection from God on ‘accidents’ but on the other hand what he’s provided is a vast canvas of possibility AND he made us so we could contrue this as possibly good despite evidence that its just random and thus bring meaning to creation. Maybe he made us to create the meaning? So its no coincidence if I choose it to be meaningful and in chosing that maybe I push with the grain of creation.
You can tell some of liked this cartooon Dave – can’t leave it alone!
I guess I don’t believe God created “random events”. I also don’t believe He left it up to us to figure out the meaning. I believe God has the answer and sometimes it is not for us to figure out 100%. We can get vert close like 90% which gives us a pretty good idea and for me that is enough. All I know is God is good and that all events are part of God’s plan except when sin is involved (We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against pricipalities and power and rulers of this dark and present evil age.) I guess for me a bigger question on bad things to good people is 1) do we understand fully what, who, etc. are “good or bad 2) Is this action caused by God, by sin and thus being under the covering of God, satan, judgement for sin by God, redemption for those who are not facing directly the tough situation (survivors), etc. (I might have left out other questions from the bigger picture.)
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