God Does Not Have a plan for Your Life

Jason Micheli —  October 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

In Sunday’s sermon on Job, I made the claim that “God does not have a plan for your life.” I said it clearly and without qualification so my listeners would hear me.

Apparently I succeeded, as all week I’ve been bombarded by pushback. Allow me to flesh it out a bit so you don’t think I’m a heretic or that your life is nothing but a chaotic nightmare.

The best exposition of this question comes from St Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica; in fact, all other thinking about God’s plan- what theologians call providence- owes to Aquinas.

Aquinas tackles the issue in Question #22, Answer #3:

God provides for everything but does God provide directly for everything?

Were God to do so, it might seem to remove all causality from created things- none of us would be responsible for our choices and actions- and would also seem, for example, to make God directly responsible for evil.

To answer this, Aquinas distinguishes between providence and governance. Providence involves the “idea or planned purpose” for things, governance involves the execution of this planned purpose.

Aquinas argues that God’s providence is universally direct but that his governance is executed indirectly through intermediaries (that is, the beings that God has created).

Think of Genesis 1. God creates us so that we might enjoy God as Father, Son and Spirit enjoy one another. God is the primary, first cause of creation and intends us towards an ultimate goal, the Kingdom. As part of that goal or ‘plan,’ God gives dominion of creation to Adam and Eve.

Aquinas’ idea is that God acts as universal cause, laying out the plan for all creation to one day share fellowship with God in God’s Kingdom. As part of that creation, God creates true secondary agents who execute- or sometimes not- that plan.

For Aquinas this is what ‘predestination’ means. God creates us with an End (destination) in mind before (pre) he creates us. 

This could not be more different from the notion that God has determined all our choices and moments of our lives prior to our birth.

Aquinas uses the image of an arrow being shot at a target. The arrow clearly has been shot by someone (God) and is obviously intended towards a target (the Kingdom). However the archer’s intent and the natural trajectory of the arrow are not the only things acting upon the arrow. A sudden gust of wind, someone knocking into the arrow, can frustrate the arrow’s journey. 

God, in other words, is the first cause of each of us and all that is, but the freedom God sows into creation and the agency God gives us over creation also means that there are ‘secondary causes’ impacting our lives for good and bad all the time.

Think of Jesus in the Garden praying to discern the Father’s will. God clearly intends an outcome to Jesus’ life. At the same time, for Jesus’ act of obedience to be freely offered the outcome is not a foregone conclusion. It’s not predetermined. Jesus could have chosen a fate other than the cross and so do we, all the time. In a very real sense our entire lives are lived in that Gesthemane moment.

We like to speak of ‘God having a plan’ for each us and typically what we mean is that every moment, every triumph and tragedy, coheres to an elaborate, divinely ordered script for our lives. It either makes our lives seem more interesting or it soothes us to know that our lives aren’t as contingent as they feel.

But even though the ‘God has a plan’ thinking has seeped into Christian speech, it is not Christian.

God doesn’t have a plan for each of our lives because God has a Plan- with a capital P- for our lives.

God’s Plan is for us to love God as Jesus loved the Father.

To so love requires our lives, our choices, our actions to be free and contingent.

Maybe that sounds scarier (it was for Jesus) but it’s also potentially more beautiful (it was for Jesus).

 

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4 responses to God Does Not Have a plan for Your Life

  1. I’m trying to think about this. I think for the purposes of meaning-making, I tend to narrate my past as pure providence, and regarding my future, I feel like I’m supposed to ask and discover where God is directing me to go. I would contrast this with using the general gifts and faculties God has given me as part of a general plan for humanity to make rational decisions and carve out my life path independently of God. I’m very big on prevenient grace. I recognize that this is a narrative choice I’m making as opposed to being an a priori given.

    So Aquinas’ metaphor sounds a little too absentee watchmaker for me. I would want to affirm that God is constantly breathing His Word over all creation. The arrow isn’t shot once. It’s shot repeatedly with adjustments made for crosswinds and so forth until it hits the target. I wrote some reflections somewhat related to this topic last night in the middle of my piece on Richard Mourdock’s bad theology: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/richard-mourdock-misogyny-poor-taste-or-bad-theology/. Because I’m trying to make a distinction between a Calvinism that respects mystery and a theology of absolute determinism, I basically defined myself as an “inconsistent Calvinist” at least in the sense that Wesley has been accused of being. I’m interested in how this squares or clashes with what you’re saying:

    “When I talk about my long journey of ‘converting’ to Christianity (which is still in process), I don’t think I could say with integrity that I had any choice in the matter; God’s grace has indeed been irresistible to me. The closer I grow to God, the more petty and false it seems to call my life a result of my decision-making rather than an amazing gift and adventure providentially offered to me every day by God. And yet, I cannot imagine how the God I know would withhold His grace from anybody for the sake of creating a cosmic drama by which His elect can have lives with the meaningful adversity that the predestined damned provide for them (a view which Augustine who originally invented the doctrine of predestination did not have a problem with).”

    • I think, though we’d probably have to talk it out, that I agree with you completely. I DO think prevenient grace is best thought of aesthetically, in terms of narrating our lives via hindsight.

      I agree the simplicity of Aquinas’ arrow/archer image is both helpful and unhelpful at the same time; however, I don’t think it necessarily means Aquinas’ view of God is too remote. I think he gets at your concern when he writes about God acting upon our wills to steer us towards his End without overwhelming our wills; so that, God is involved in creation but that the primary arena in which God displays his glory is still us, his creatures. This is why, for Aquinas, miracles (and the incarnation I’d argue) are so important and distinct because they’re those rarer occassions when God supercedes secondary causes to act directly in our lives.

      I think rather than saying the arrow gets shot over and over again, I’d say the archer of Aquinas’ thinking makes sure, by hook or crook, that the arrow lands on target…eventually. A better analogy is probably Jesus’ own- parenting. I influence and act upon my sons’ wills all the time, steering them towards a given choice or outcome, without making those choices for them or simply picking them up and putting them where they need to be. It’s true that they’re free to make right and wrong choices but it’s also true that I’m present in their lives, impacting their actions all along the way.

      I’ve no patience for an understanding of predestination that seems to make God a prisoner to our logic or in which God is more defined by his sovereignty than by his love, a move you would think would be untenable in light of the incarnation.

      M’s bad theology, not to mention a general lack of empathy or political intuition, is exactly the sort of stupid determinism I hear bandied about all the time that I think Aquinas provides a helpful antidote for. The one thing I realized from my sermon Sunday is that nearly everyone has been the victim at some point of someone’s (often not even a Christian) stupid unthinking theology.

  2. Robert Johnson May 30, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    God indeed has a plan for each one of our lives. That plan is written down in the writings of the inspired word of God. God’s plan is that every one of us is to be saved and go to heaven. While there are some that believe that God has a preconceived plan that is to guide us , guard us ,, and direct us through life , this is not taught in the word of God. Oh someone will pick out a few scriptures in the Old Testament to show that these things apply to us today while in fact those things in the Old Testament have been fulfilled and brought to pass in the New Testament.
    Does God have a plan for our lives, YES. We are to believe that Jesus is the Christ, repent of out sins, confess him before men and be baptized into Christ for the remission of our sins. Then after being born again we are to live our lives according to the New Testament , faithfully . Rev. 2:10

  3. God IS directly responsible for evil. Consider the following verses:

    Isaiah 45:7King James Version (KJV)

    7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.

    Exodus 9:12
    And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.

    One of the first pages I read when I became a Christian as in God gives me exactly what I need, not always what I want, and even may trick me at times for the greater good.

    http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/otkillergod.htm
    http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/freewill2.htm

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