College life, Intramural sports, really important stuff like that! But every now and then, someone would come in with a deeper concern. I realized that as a 28-year-old Bible professor, that also made me a counselor!
He was only 24 years old. He had married right out of high school; his high school sweetheart. They had no money. He was working his way through school trying to make ends meet. His young wife was ready to start a family, but he wasn’t ready. In fact, she didn’t realize just how unready he was!
He sat across from me that day, late in the afternoon, and said: “I’ve been praying a lot about this lately. This is not how I envisioned my life. I believe God is calling me to leave my wife, to give both of us a fresh start. God has a plan for me, and this is not it.”
The year was 2004. The world was horrified to see the images on our televisions from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. The worst tsunami in recorded history. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami registered 9.3 on the Richter scale. It created waves up to 98 feet tall! The waves plummeted the coast only 15 minutes after the earthquake and continued for over 7 hours! When it was all said and done, 230,000 people were dead. On the Wednesday evening following those tsunamis, a group of folks huddled in a circle at a Lubbock church. They were talking about the events of the week before their class started. Discussing the images they’d seen, sharing their shock and sympathy for the people who had died and those who were still there picking up the pieces. Several minutes into the conversation, one gentleman said these words: "Did you notice none of those tsunamis hit any Christian nations? I believe this was God’s judgment on those people. It was God’s plan all along.”
What is God’s will? Does God have a plan for this world? And if God does have a plan for this world, what does that mean, really? Is God in heaven pulling the strings like a puppet master? Has God designed a specific plan for each of us? Is it our responsibility to figure out God’s specific plan for us and follow those blueprints to the best of our ability? Have you ever asked those questions? Our world is filled with discussions of God’s plan and God’s will. And it should come as no surprise, because the Bible is filled with those same ideas. Consider these passages:
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Lord of hosts has sworn: "As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand" (Isaiah 14:24)Scripture seems to support the idea that God has some kind of master plan for the universe. When I read about God’s plan in the Bible, I get a sense of hope. God is in charge! As chaotic as this world seems to be, God is in control! Our world desperately needs to hear that message, doesn’t it? Last week I told you about an effort among the earliest Christians. They set out to define the most important elements of the Christian faith. There is so much stuff pertaining to religion, there is so much disagreement. So, what is most important? What is the unalterable core of the Christian faith? They wrote this core in the form of “I believe statements.” “These are the things we believe. These are the things that matter most.” And the very first line of their “I believe statement” was this:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…Now, you might not realize it, but that statement was a bold pronouncement in its time. There were Christians who we now call Gnostics. They were trying to make sense of evil in the world. “Why does evil exist? How do we make sense of sin and death in a world where God is supposed to be all-powerful?”
Here was their idea. In the beginning there was a Great Being, a god they called “the Source.” This Source emanated all created beings. Imagine an enormous source of light and energy and smaller pieces of light randomly popping out of that one great source of light. They believed that each of these smaller sources of light was a piece of creation. Toward the beginning of this process, wonderful, powerful, and beautiful things like angels emanated. But as the process moved along, the smaller pieces of light became less and less like their Source. They became less and less perfect. Our world, they believed, was created late in the process. And that is why there is so much imperfection and evil in our world. But chief among their idea was this principle of randomness. God had little control over what happened. Because they couldn’t fathom the idea that God could possibly be in control of a fallen world like ours.
Against this backdrop, some early Christian leaders said:
No, that is not correct. God is powerful, all-powerful. God is in control of the world and God deliberately and intentionally created an ordered heaven and earth. At the center of the Christian faith are these principles:
God is Almighty—in control of everything.
God is Creator of the world—all of this is not random.
God is Creator of us—we are not a byproduct of a flawed process.
And one of the greatest gifts our Creator God gave to us is free will. And sometimes, in our free will, we choose to move away from God. And sometimes, because of the fallen nature of our world, bad things happen. And sometimes, because we live in a world where creation is fallen too, natural disasters occur. But that does not mean God planned for those tragedies to happen.I love the way Theophilus of Antioch (a second century church leader) put it:
The whole reality is a symphony composed by the divine musician. He is a genius as he joined all created visible and invisible elements in concord of one choir. Of course there are some voices who do not sing the same melody as the rest of creation, but still, in its final act everything will be brought to the original harmony and glory.God does have a plan, but what is it?
Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory. (Ephesians 1:3–14 CEB)At the heart of God’s plan is reconciliation. God set in motion a plan to bring all things back together. Or, to put it another way, to help creation sing in harmony again. He does not call us to find that individual specific plan for our individual lives. He does not want you to worry about not stepping in the right spot. He does not have one narrow path for you to follow—and if you take a misstep, well, there went your life! God invites you to participate in His master plan—the redemption of the world. That is has been God’s plan from the beginning.
Entertainer Garrison Keilor recalls the childhood pain of being chosen last for the baseball teams. The captains are down to their last grudging choices: A slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it. They choose the last ones two at a time, "you and you", because it makes no difference. And the remaining kids, the scrubs, the excess, they deal for us as handicaps. "If I take him, then you gotta take him," they say. Sometimes I go as high as sixth, usually lower. But just once I'd like Darrel to pick me first and say: "Him! I want him! The skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes. You, c'mon!” But I've never been chosen with much enthusiasm. Did you ever think about the fact that you are so valuable to God he chose you early (before Creation)—with enthusiasm?
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. The God who is all-powerful. The God who Created everything! The God who set in motion a plan from the very beginning to choose me, even when I didn’t deserve it. And don’t forget: He chose you too.