According to Plan?

Decision-making and the will of God

by Ron Powell

According to plan?

“Did you ever have to make up your mind?”

It’s the opening line of a song by The Lovin’ Spoonful. That dates me, doesn’t it? It’s also a question that leads to an interesting discussion. Have you ever been stuck between two equally excellent opportunities or two terribly painful choices and found yourself wondering: Does God want me to do one or does He want me to do the other? or Does it even matter to God? Does He have a detailed map for my life?

Some theologians suggest that God does not know everything about the future.[1] He can only know what actually exists, they say, and since the future does not exist yet, He can’t and won’t know it.[2] It would be like God imagining a round triangle. Why would God concern Himself with the irrational or absurd? It is not in His nature to do that. This view has been called the openness of God or open theism.[3] Since God doesn’t plan out every tiny detail of your life—like what colour of socks you should wear today—He doesn’t have a will concerning even some bigger things, like whom you are going to marry, where you should live, or when you should retire.

Is this the way the “will of God” operates?

Using an image I’ve borrowed from Dr. Milton Wan, I like to tell my theology students at Vanguard College that “God stands above time and sees the beginning and the end of the train from the mountaintop, whereas we can only see a few cars on the tracks that pass us at the crossing.”

Consider the story in Genesis 4 where God has a conversation with an angry man planning a murder. What God says to Cain could be said to any of us: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). God seems to know what Cain is about to do and the consequences of his actions. Since God is all-knowing, He knows all possible futures as well as the actual one. Greater than the greatest chess player, God can see an eternal number of moves ahead. And, like a master chess player, God achieves every one of His purposes even when we make wrong choices that defy His laws or His will for our lives.

But does God have a clear road map or blueprint for our lives? And if so, is He concerned only with the final destination, or is He involved at every turn of the road and with every line on the blueprint?

“Did you ever have to make up your mind?”

One aspect of God’s will that is clear is that we must love Him and the people around us (see Mark 12:30, 31). Another certainty is that God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” for us is that we “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” and that we “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:1,2). So, clearly, God’s will is that we love Him completely, surrender to Him entirely, keep our minds straight, and refuse to become a product of the culture that surrounds us.

What is not so clear is why God lets us abandon His plan. He does not will for us to sin but, strangely, He allows us to sin. God does not create evil, but He does allow those who defy Him to end up in situations from which He wanted to spare them. When God established the universe, He set in place physical and moral laws to protect and sustain life. If you have tried to fight the law of gravity lately, you probably lost—and have the bruises to prove it. In the same way, there are natural and spiritual consequences to stealing, lying or rage that don’t require God to rain down instant judgment. Sometimes we just reap what we sow.

So, if God allows us to defy His plan for our lives, does that mean He has a Plan B? If Jackie’s once godly husband lets himself be destroyed by an addiction and eventually leaves her, then is God’s will for Jackie’s life now Plan A or Plan B? Can she still experience God’s perfect blessing? I believe she can, despite the sinful choices of others. God is able to bestow “… beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3b).

Another question many people wrestle with concerning the will of God is: if God knows everything in the future, does that mean He causes everything that happens in our lives? I’ve come to believe that God does not cause everything. But I am convinced that God will accomplish His plans despite the disobedience of Abraham with a slave girl or David’s affair with Bathsheba. We may have to endure the long-term consequences of our sinful choice, but even our sin is somehow marvellously used to His advantage. Bad things—cancer, violence, betrayal and loss—happen to God’s people. Why He allows them to happen is a mystery, but even if we can’t understand His reasoning, 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). It’s not a cliché; it’s true.

Every day we must practise wisdom and fulfil our obligation to obey His Word. In moments of uncertainty we have the responsibility—as the ancients called it— to “inquire of the Lord.” He cares about the choices we make and wants us to let Him lead. Most important, we have the responsibility to be courageous, and by faith follow what we do know of God’s plan for our lives.

 

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At the time of writing, Dr. Ron Powell was a youth ministry professor and the father of two teenagers. He lived in Edmonton, AB.

This article appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of testimony, the monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2013 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

1. Richard Rice, The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980).

2. Clark Pinnock et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

3. John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, revised edition (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

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