Posted by: dacalu | 16 September 2009

The Divine Plan

“It is God’s will.”

An often cited and mildly troublesome comment. I tend to be a fan of divine omnipotence; I think God has the power to do anything, so in some grand sense, I really do think that God has set up the world and continues to encourage the world in a way that all things will come out for the good.

This sense of Divine power presents some real and nearly insoluble problems. For instance, if God is all good and all powerful, why do people suffer? Or, more personally, if this is God’s will, why does my life suck so much. And here, I would like to suggest a very important distinction–you are the goal of the plan.

When people say it’s God’s will, I always get the sense that they mean God’s will will work itself out in the end. Your suffering will bring things to a good end eventually. In the meantime, some nasty stuff has to happen. That suggests two real challenges for me. First, if God wants an apple, He doesn’t have to plant a seed and wait for the tree to grow and fruit–omnipotence again. He can simply MAKE an apple. So God shouldn’t have to labor as humans labor in order for something to come to be. God doesn’t follow the rules, because there isn’t anyone higher up on the totem pole to enforce the rules. If God wants to bring humanity to perfection, she could simply MAKE humans perfect; end of story.

Second, I object to the idea of being some cog in a giant machine grinding toward salvation at the end of time. It suggests a certain callousness on God’s part. God makes me suffer so that others may be blessed in the future? That doesn’t seem just. Then you start doing calculus. “Let’s see, one dead baby now is worth three saved lives later. That sounds about right.” No. It doesn’t. While it may satisfy the philosophers, I find it hard to imagine it satisfying the mother of the baby–or really anyone who wants a relationship with God. I am not drawn to the notion of being a pawn in a great ineffable chess game–especially not if God is playing both sides of the board.

So where does this leave us. Let me suggest that you are not the means to God’s ends, but the ends of God’s plan. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). As uncomfortable and strange as it may seem, I really do think that we were created for this moment (and this one as well…and this). God turns out to be more subtle than we could have imagined in arranging for us life in eternity–life outside of time, but intimately available at every moment in time. This moment is the moment of salvation. This moment is the moment of truth. And, when I can remind myself of that, I can handle not knowing what comes next. I can handle my lack of control. And I can begin to understand what it means that Jesus will return in my lifetime.

It’s counter-intuitive and a bit zany, but it works for me. I invite you to consider what it might mean. God’s plan results in the here and now, in the you. We are the fruition of the plan. It does not mean we are perfect, but it does mean that, with Christ in us, we may realize God’s grace in the moment.
God is with you.

[Theological jargon for those who follow such things: I believe in the doctrine called Providence–God looks after creation. (I do not believe in the corollary–that those who are doing well must be favored by God. This strikes me as anti-biblical.) I also believe in the doctrine called Predestination–God knows all things before they occur. (Once again, I do not believe in the corollary–that we have no free will.)]

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Responses

  1. A standard opening word at the gravesite during funerals used to be: “It hath pleased Almighty God to take to himself our departed sister/brother N.N.” Sometimes that sentence was more than mildly troubling.

    I still think the thought of omnipotence needs more differentiation and subtlety. (God making a tomato without first having to make its seed seems to me too plump and crass, even as I know you mean it humorously.)

    The concepts of kenosis (Philippians) and tzimtzim (kabbalah) both bring in the notion of a freely chosen self-limitation of divine omnipotence. (Tzimtzum: “the act whereby God ‘contracted’ his infinite light, leaving a “void” into which the light of existence was poured.) I think we need a sense of the irony of divine power, which is a power unlike any other, power which may not seem like power at all from some perspectives.

    I do agree with you though about providence. The “moral” of the Joseph novella in Genesis might be seen as the Gospel in a nutshell: “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

    John Calvin, whose 500th birthday was recently celebrated, would love your musings and would, I think, see you as a true supporter of the Calvinist insistence on the absolute and utter sovereignty of God. For Calvin predestination et al. were really only about that sovereignty.

  2. Hi Lucas! I’m browsing your old blogs and I see your point that predestination does not preclude free will. Perhaps I have misunderstood the term. Is predestination equal to the term “forknowledge” and not equal to “predetermination”? I am not comfortable with (meaning I reject the possibility of) predestination because (as has been explained to me) it implies God as made all the choices for us, rather that just knowing all the choices that we will make. If it is the latter rather than the former, perhaps I will reconsider my position. It seems unlikely that God would put a soul on this earth with its fate as an unrepentant sinner already determined. And by extension, it seems unlikely that He would have created us in the first place if we were to eventually be anything other than successful.

    • Dear Scott,

      Great questions. “Predestination” has baggage in Christianity, so mostly I don’t advocate using it unless you find it helpful. The common definition and the dictionary definition are both Fatalist and deny individual will.

      I am using it in the sense that God has Free Will and total “agency.” Nothing happens except by God’s will. I don’t see the concept of “God” working any other way. As soon as we allow the possibility of things against God’s will, we introduce cosmic competition. God becomes at best a bully and at worst a loser. So I think God must be omnipotent. God must predestine all that happens. More appropriately, God simple wills all that happens, because I don’t think God has a pre- or post-. God simply IS throughout eternity.

      I don’t see this as contrary to individual will. I think God wills that I will. I other words, God both enables and allows my willing. God, being outside of time does not open a door through which I may or may not subsequently walk. God and I, in willing in the moment, create the moment. Mind you, God could do it without me as I could not do it without God. Nonetheless, it all happens non-sequentially and by God’s power.

      We have trouble wrapping our heads around this. We want to make it either/or. Either God-directed or human-directed. Sometimes, I think we must hold to one and sometimes to the other, despite recognizing that both are – in some sense – true. I usually emphasize omnipotence and predestination – to fend off the idea that we are in charge. I occasionally emphasize free will – to fend off despair and apathy.

      I have an essay on this, but it is in a book whose publication is out of my hands. If you keep reading, you’ll see this theme arises multiple times in my blog.

      Hope that helps. It’s a thorny subject.

  3. And I must admit I am curious about your use of the feminine pronoun here: “If God wants to bring humanity to perfection, she could simply MAKE humans perfect; end of story.” I only ask because masculine pronouns become a kind of invisible bookism, and the use of “she” is usually meant to be visible for some reason. Reason?

    • Perhaps because feminine images of God are considered out of the ordinary. I wrote it 6 years ago, so I cannot say for certain, but I suspect it was because I was at a loss for a gender neutral way of writing the sentence and decided to go with the feminine, which I believe should be used more often.


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