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.