July 23, 2007

God's plan and that "one person"

A few weeks ago, a reader named "Elaine" came across one of my entries in my occasional series about knowing and doing the will of God. She said, in the comments:

Hey, I don't know you, I just stumbled across your site looking for things on God's will. I have to say, though I'm far from an expert on the subject, that I believe absolutely that God has a specific plan for the lives of all his people. A specific vocation, spouse, ministry, location, etc. I don't think that "messing up" one of those would throw off the whole human race either, that's kind of limiting God, isn't it? Just because you, (to use your example) don't marry Alice, when that's what God had for you, doesn't mean that Alice's life is now thrown off from God's will and she will now recieve only God's "second best." God is bigger than that, it may not make sense to a finite mind, but I believe if Alice is listening to the Lord and following with all her heart, your decisions and actions aren't going to thwart God's plans for her.

I think many christians spend their whole lives going off track from what God wanted them to do, I think we constantly fall down on the job of evangelising and serving this world, but in the end, God's will will be done, regardless of what we did or didn't do in our lives. And if one person is truly following and obeying there's no fear of them falling out of his will by theirs or anyone elses mess ups.

That's just a thought, a long one I guess, kind of interested to know what your response is.

My original plan was to move on to application later, including marriage. So rather than "scoop" myself (and present part of my overall argument out of order), I'll touch on this one thing now, and maybe repeat it later if the situation warrants it.

Let me start, by the way, with a little aside. I despise trite, pious catchphrases such as "You're limiting God," "God is beyond logic," or "God is much bigger than our finite minds." That may be true; but be that as it may, as often as not the person saying it isn't trying to express any thought about God. Quite the opposite: he's trying to avoid dealing with any categorical statements about God.1

Suppose that it is true, as you say, that "God has a specific plan for the lives of all his people. A specific vocation, spouse, ministry, location, etc." If it is the case that God's "specific plan" is for me to marry my "specific spouse," Alice, then conversely it must be his plan for Alice to marry me, and for Betty not to marry me. So it only stands to reason that if I ignore Alice in favour of Betty, the following are also true:

  • I am missing God's plan for my life.
  • Betty is missing God's plan for her life.
  • Betty and I have caused Alice to miss God's plan for her life.

The same would hold true for vocation. If you refuse the "specific vocation" God intended, then not only you, but your potential employer, the guy he hired in your place, the employer whose offer you did accept, and the guy he should have hired instead of you, are all hosed.

In his book Finding the Will of God in a Crazy, Mixed-Up World, Tim LaHaye admits as much (answering the question, "Is it possible for others to cause me to miss God's perfect will?"):

That's a tough one! I'm inclined to think so, particularly for a married person. Your spouse may resist God's call on your life. Usually, however, God will change the person's mind in time for you to conform to His will. . . .

On the other hand, I know of two great Bible teachers whose wives fought them in every phase of their spiritual occupation. . . . It's difficult to judge whether these women kept their godly husbands from doing more than God's acceptable will. That's for Him to reveal at the Judgment.2

Decisions, particularly big, important decisions that involve other people, aren't made in isolation. Their effects ripple outward and involve other people in ways we might not have anticipated or intended. I think that LaHaye glosses over this implication of his theology, because he hasn't really thought through the logic of it.

The only alternative I can see is that for some people, God simply has no plan. He doesn't intend, or even care, that Alice marries me or someone else. And I don't think that squares with any orthodox Christian's theology.

So I don't find the idea that God has reserved just one person (job, location, etc.) for each of us, to be theologically tenable. It's not biblical: it's romantic sentimentality. At the very least, when Paul talks (in 1 Cor. 7) about the reasons and benefits of singleness and marriage, don't you think he might have mentioned this important fact?

Naturally I don't believe God has no plans for our lives. As I have written before, God's providential care extends throughout all creation, from the placement of the galaxies to each person's private thoughts and everything in between. And so married or not, if someone asks me if I'm right where God wants me to be, I can honestly - and confidently - say "Yes, I'm exactly where he put me."


1 Limited footnote: Indeed, little aggravates me more than being told I'm "limiting God," when as a Calvinist I am defending God's absolute freedom to do whatever he wants. It's evident these clich├ęs just pour out of the mouth without first engaging the brain.

2 Tim LaHaye, Finding the Will of God in a Crazy, Mixed-Up World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) 67-68.

July 01, 2007

Canada Day 2007

Once again, it's Canada Day, that day of the year when Canadians shed their normally reserved patriotism1, scour their wardrobes for something red, and overtly celebrate all things hoserish. (Surprisingly I have not a single article of red clothing, so I settled for showing my love of my country by having a large Timmy's double-double and listening to Rush.)

Today is Canada's 140th birthday. Like most Canada Days in Ottawa, it looked all day like it was on the verge of dumping a foot of rain. Unlike most, it didn't.

I believe this is the first time I have been in Ottawa on Canada Day on a Sunday. The last time July started on Sunday was 2001, but I think I was out of town that weekend. So it has been a fairly low-key day for me: I attended church, spent a little while downtown to take in the sights, watched some TV, and wrote this blog.

But the day started with a bang. Wanting to avoid heavy downtown traffic, crowds, and overfull buses, I decided to attend church at our satellite campus. Unfortunately, I discovered too late that the only short route to my bus stop had become a crime scene - it was blocked off with police tape thanks to a triple homicide. So I had to go well out of my way to get around it: what should have been a 5-minute walk took more than 10. Naturally, I missed the bus. So I opted to brave downtown and go to a later service, since I could at least get to it on time.

Every Canada Day, I like to write up a brief sketch of a Canadian patriotic song. I've been through our national anthem, a song that almost became it, and a song from Nova Scotia, where my family comes from. This year I've decided to do something a little closer to home.

In 1967, the government of Ontario wanted a catchy jingle to promote the province at Expo '67's Ontario Pavilion. They commissioned Richard Morris and Dolores Claman the lyrics and the score, respectively2. The outcome was "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow":

Give us a place to stand and a place to grow
And call this land Ontario
A place to live for you and me
With hopes as high as the tallest tree

Give us a land of lakes and a land of snow
And we will build Ontario
A place to stand, a place to grow

While the "Ontari-ari-ari-o" chorus is decidedly corny, the song was surprisingly popular: as a 45 rpm record, it sold over 50,000 copies, and has been revived once or twice in recent years to promote Ontario tourism, which says something about its popularity. It has even been proposed as an official provincial anthem. Back in Grade 1, in the early 1970s, I was taught "A Place to Stand" in school. I'm sure, judging from the modified lyrics we learned, it was intended to teach a little bit of local geography as well as patriotism. The song is probably hard-wired into the mind of any Ontarian older than 35.

"A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow" was featured in the short film A Place to Stand, by Christopher Chapman. It is best known for its "multi-dynamic image technique" - a fancy word for multiple split screens all simultaneously showing different images. The film won the 1967 Oscar for Best Live Action (Short Subject). Steve McQueen was supposedly so fascinated with the technique that it was incorporated into his next film, The Thomas Crown Affair. Today the effect is an indispensible aspect of the style of 24. An excerpt from the film was used as a tourism commercial:

Previous Canada Days:


1 Overtime footnote: Apart from hockey playoff season, anyway.

2 Double overtime footnote: Claman's biggest claim to fame came later: she penned the other official Canadian anthem, the theme to Hockey Night in Canada.