Tough Questions Answered

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Can We Mess Up God’s Plans?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Hardly, yet many Christians seem to forget this fact.  God gives us the privilege of participating in the cosmic drama that is unfolding under his direction, but his script leaves nothing to chance.  We don’t need to fret over whether His plans will succeed; we already know the end of the story.

Theologian Robert L. Hubbard Jr. captures this well in his Joshua commentary.  Speaking of Joshua’s farewell speech in Josh. 23, Hubbard says the following:

The genre of farewell speech reminds readers that God’s plan outlives all of us.  It was in full swing long before we were born and will remain so long after we are gone.  It outlived Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, David, Elijah, Ezra, Esther, Mary, Peter, Paul, John, Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Jonathan Edwards, D. L. Moody, Mary Slessor, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr.

This blunt reality is both humbling and liberating.  It humbles by reminding us that, however large a swath we cut through history, the kingdom advances without us – and, at times, in spite of us.  It liberates us by reminding us that ultimately its success does not depend on our efforts – that we do not have to get everything done in our lifetime.

Rather, we sow seeds whose harvest others will gather, lay foundations on which others will build, and open doors that others will enter.  We are among the cast of players in the drama of history, but the entire company is huge.  And, of course, the starring roles ultimately belong to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Well said, Dr. Hubbard.

 


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Comments

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Bill, I agree with the thought, but as I think it through, it is hard to not go eventually to “limited atonement” which I find a v. troubling doctrine.
    Your thoughts?

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Good post Billy. How God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom interact is one of those questions that is continually pondered and is unanswerable by our feeble human minds.

    We as Christians sometimes get so caught up in making sure we are living in “God’s will,” and we always tie His will to events, i.e., whether we do “x” or “y”. Does His will concern whether I go to the grocery store at 8 PM tonight? How about whether I take job “x” or job “y”? I am not so sure “events” are the best way to look at God’s will. Personally, I have begun to lean more towards God’s will being one thing… total unity of the human race with each other and God (John 17). He wants us to become one with each other and one with Him. When God’s will is looked at this way, His sovereignty interacting with mankind’s freedom becomes less troublesome.

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Darrell, that is as far as I can get, as well. I am no longer totally convinced that God has a “will” concerning whether I work for x inc. or the Y corp. But in terms of how the idea of God’s will not being thwarted intersects with the idea that not everyone will be saved gets a bit more troublesome.

    The best I can do is to leave it in tension, any “resolution” that limits the efficacy of God’s plan is unacceptable. There may be answers other than Limited Atonement, but I may not be able to understand them.

    It is a mystery to me.

  • Darrell

    Yes, it is defintely a mystery.

    Personally, I don’t hold to Limited Atonement or any of the other 5 Points *at all*. God is in control, but I don’t think that means that He pre-ordained or chose some people for salvation and others for hell. He respects our freedom and allows us to choose Him or not choose Him.

  • http://thegospeloferik.wordpress.com/ Erik

    Hmm…long time reader, first time commenter. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    If we say we can’t mess up God’s plans, then the Pastor who leaves his congregation and runs off with the secretary was acting according to God’s will. The mother who drives her four children in the river, killing herself and her kids is acting according to God’s will. God is infinitely wise and I think he knows every possibility as if it had to happen, but I think people thwart God’s best for their lives all the time. If we say otherwise, it seems we make God the author of sin.

    Moreover, it explicitly says that the Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for themselves, having not been baptized by John (the Baptist) Lk 7:30. It’s not that God cannot and will not win out in the end, but in a world in where he in his sovereignty has determined that free creatures truly are free, things work against God’s plans all the time. I think presenting this kind of God that micromanages every last detail, we undercut our apologetic to the world.

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Erik,

    Your objection is heard loud and clear and I see where you are coming from. Does God micro-manage? Did God weave an ornate tapestry that covers all choices people will make throughout all time before He created us? If Arcady “yes” to those, than inherently we do make God the author of sin, for we take free-will out of the picture. However, if we allow a God who is big enough to allow free-will while knowing what choices people are going to make and still organize life in a manner to provide a path of complete unity with Him for all mankind who want it, how great is that!? That is a big God!

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    I meant, “If we *say* yes to those…”. iPhone typo!

  • Brad

    Billy, where, in your mind, does the idea of us not being able to “mess up God’s plans”, fit in with the whole sovereign election vs. free will scenario? Does it mean one vs. the other? Does it fit, somehow, with both, although we can’t fully understand it? Curious your thoughts, in light of this post.

    Erik/Darrell, for things to be in God’s will, why does that necessarily mean that EVERY single detail need be ordained by God? I don’t think it does, yet I don’t see how that undermines God’s sovereign will, either. No, we know that God’s will will ultimately be accomplished, but where does that mean that EVERY single detail will be “preordained”? I don’t believe we can understand HOW it works…only THAT it works.

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    Erik/Darrell, for things to be in God’s will, why does that necessarily mean that EVERY single detail need be ordained by God? I don’t think it does, yet I don’t see how that undermines God’s sovereign will, either. No, we know that God’s will will ultimately be accomplished, but where does that mean that EVERY single detail will be “preordained”? I don’t believe we can understand HOW it works…only THAT it works.

    This is interesting, because in quantum physics, the idea of alternate histories basically says something similar — it may even be true that every single detail can’t be precisely “ordained” or “predicted,” because details (at the atomic level, anyway) can only be pinpointed at a specific point in time by an observer. And the uncertainty principle assures us that, at least for practical purposes, details which are not being directly observed are sort of “objectively uncertain,” for lack of a better term — which is to say, any history for a given particle which does not contradict actually observed details that were recorded at a specific point is technically possible — leading some to coin the saying, “it’s as true as it needs to be.”

    Whether any actual given history is “objectively true” or not is really irrelevant at this point; similar to the Schroedinger’s Cat phenomenon, you might say it’s both true and untrue until the truth or falsehood of it contradicts something observed.

  • http://www.rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Tim, since you introduced quantum physics, esp. that the uncertainty principle is not just a problem of technology, it is that some things are fundamentally unknowable, there is a perhaps more primitive thought that comes to my mind…

    I’m no physicist. But as I understand Newtonian physics, the future is directed very precisely by the past, through the present. Understand all the forces acting on an object, where it was and where it is, and you can tell with certainty where it will be. It is very deterministic.

    In quantum mechanics, it is not so. All is probability. Things are not, finally, knowable, in the same sense we thought before. And yet, Newton is not overthrown. Why not? Chance should beget chance. But it doesn’t. The aggregate of quantum probabilities combines into Newtonian determinism.

    I would not suggest this as an analogue for the efficacy of God’s plans v. our power of free will. But there is a hint here that such things can be both true at the same time, and are not as contradictory as I might think at first sight.

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    In quantum mechanics, it is not so. All is probability. Things are not, finally, knowable, in the same sense we thought before. And yet, Newton is not overthrown. Why not? Chance should beget chance. But it doesn’t. The aggregate of quantum probabilities combines into Newtonian determinism.

    That’s…..a surprisingly accurate description of quantum physics :o

    I would not suggest this as an analogue for the efficacy of God’s plans v. our power of free will. But there is a hint here that such things can be both true at the same time, and are not as contradictory as I might think at first sight.

    I mostly just thought it correlated well on a metaphorical level :)

  • http://graceandmiracles.blogspot.com Anette Acker

    I think quantum physics is an excellent analogy for the relationship between God’s will and human free will. In the same way that quantum particles are unpredictable, humans have free will and don’t always act according to God’s will. However, God still works in human choices, including the acts of rebellion, to accomplish His preordained plans for humanity. The Bible analogizes this to the certainty of the (Newtonian) laws of physics: “His going forth is as certain as the dawn” (Hosea 6:3).

    In fact, physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne has written a book called Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, in which he explores more parallels between the two.

    And in his contribution to God is Great, God is Good, he discusses the interplay between God’s will and creaturely will in natural selection: “The theist has no need to be worried by the widespread role of evolutionary process. God is the ordainer of nature, and God acts as much through natural processes as in any other way. Commenting on Charles Darwin’s great discovery of biological evolution, his contemporary Charles Kingsley said that we had been shown that God had not made a ready-made world but had done something cleverer than that, making a world in which creatures ‘could make themselves.’ Chance is simply creation’s shuffling exploration of divinely given fertility, by means of which potentiality is made actual. The theist will see the twin roles of chance and necessity as the gifts to creation of both independence and reliability, by a God who is both loving and faithful.”

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Anette, thank you for the tip on Dr. Polkinghorne. Sounds like a book I would enjoy. All my formal education ran to the sciences. I’m afraid my current standard runs more toward “Discover” than “Scientific American,” still, good science well done is an avenue to truth that captures my heart. (How is THAT for mixing genres?)

  • http://thegospeloferik.wordpress.com/ Erik

    Thanks Darrell and Tim for the replies. I think I’m with Tim. I do think there are alternative histories that can take place.

    Darrell, just quoting you here for so I don’t have to scroll back and forth :)

    “However, if we allow a God who is big enough to allow free-will while knowing what choices people are going to make and still organize life in a manner to provide a path of complete unity with Him for all mankind who want it, how great is that!? That is a big God!”

    For some, but for those who he foreknew would not want it, then it seems almost unkind of God of creating those who he foreknew were going to reject him and spend an eternity in hell. I’ve heard the defenses against the objection offered by Dr. Craig (whose apologetics work of course I greatly admire!) and I get his answers, but it seems like there has to be a better answer out there.

    I just don’t see how exhaustive, definite foreknowledge can be compatible with libertarian freedom. Consider this. If it has always been true and known by God that I would sin if I were in y circumstances, then do I truly have the ability to bring it about that this fact that I had never sinned, or this sin had never been known by God? Do I have counterfactual power over this past truth and God’s past knowledge of it? I mean, it would seem that I’d have to in order to be really free.

    It seems to me that if God is love, then that involves some sort of risk on his part…that in his providence he has given us options and he knows these options and their outcomes. He can bring good out of all evil, but that also depends on the person’s response. I think his overarching goals of creation will be achieved, as he is infinitely intelligent, obviously, but I don’t think God gets what he wants 100% of the time. If we say that, then we have to say that for some mysterious reason God’s will is for some of us to have their children die prematurely, or our parents get in a car crash, or for our children to be abused.

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Erik,

    I understand where you are coming from; however, for a couple of reasons, I don’t see a contradiction between God knowing what our free choices will be and our having the ability to freely choose them.

    First, since God is outside of time, He doesn’t view everything in a linear fashion. Therefore, He doesn’t see it as something we *will* do, but rather as something that is fully present to Him – in the one eternal now. Therefore, it is not truly determined in linear time.

    Second, God’s knowledge of our future free acts is contingent knowledge. God has absolutely decreed that we are free to choose, and since he decrees and knows everything perfectly, our freedom *has* to be perfect. Therefore, His knowledge of what our free choices will be is *contigent knowledge* based upon our free choice. It is not absolute knowedge.

    That’s just my humble two cents. I can understand why someone might not agree with me, for all of this stuff is so deep and beyond our capacity to understand that all I am doing is grasping at straws anayway! But, grasping is a whole lot of fun!! :-)

    Christ is risen!!

    Darrell

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