June 22nd, 2007 by Sonja

Then there’s this.  I/We are walking with some friends who are preparing to move to another state.  There are some potential pitfalls and ups and downs involved with this move.  They hit a snag, a snafu (that’s Army for Situation Normal, All Fucked Up) as it were, this past week.  Up to now they were very happy with the house they’d found, gleeful in fact.  They felt that it was “in God’s plan,” for them.  This snag, this snafu, caused them to begin to doubt the rightness of the house for them.  Just for a moment.  They have continued ahead with the move because the house really is a good place for them.  It really is a good decision.  But the conversations and prayers have gotten me thinking.  I’ve been thinking about how we perceive and communicate God’s plan in our lives.

It’s quite common in the evangelical/institutional church to discuss “God’s plan” for one’s life as if it’s a blue print that may be discerned by a variety of means.  Some of those means are almost magical and require spiritual gifts and talents that merge with those of a nature that I liken to tarot card reading, looking into a crystal ball, or prophesying/divining (and I don’t mean in God’s name).  People wonder if they’re going to the “right” college (i.e. the one that is in “God’s” plan for their lives), or if they’re marrying the “right” person, or taking the “right” job, or purchasing the “right” house or the “right” car and so they look around for signs and symbols that they are making the “right” decision.  That is, the decision that puts them on the path that is in “God’s Plan” for their lives.

Increasingly, I am having a hard time with that line of thinking.  I used to think like that.  I used to think that there was a “right” decision to make and a “wrong” one about things like jobs and colleges and cars and such.  (I still think there might be a right and wrong mate, but that has nothing to do with God’s plan and everything to do with personalities and character and traits and things).   I’m not sure that God really cares about which college I go to.  Okay, well, I’m not going to college.  I don’t think S/He cares about which car I drive, other than the fact that cars degrade creation.  So in my decision to purchase a car, I ought to take that into account.  I need to take my income into account when I’m purchasing a home so that I can continue to be obedient to God’s call in my life after purchasing a home … but I’m pretty certain that God doesn’t particularly care which house I choose.  It’s just a house.  And any cover over our head is a blessing.

I think that something very uncomfortable has happened in Western evangelicalism.  We’ve taken a verse out of context and made it mean something completely adverse to its original purpose.  Big surprise there.  In these times of decision people often quote Jeremiah 29:11.  Some people have even co-opted it as their “life” verse.  So I went to the chapter and re-read the whole thing this morning.  Here’s the verse all by itself.  Actually, I’m just going to quote the part that people usually say all alone:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, … “  Then they put that with a bit about the sparrows and the lillies in the field (parables in Matthew) and come up with an idea that God has put together an individualized blue print for each of our lives.  If we could just divine that blueprint and live accordingly, we’d have a perfect happy life.

I have a lot of problems with the picture that paints of God.  What kind of God is it that has a perfect plan for Her children, but keeps it secret?  Which of us, as parents, has plans for our children, but dangles only enough details for them to get in trouble and then holds them accountable?  Even we humans are not that evil.  That paints a picture of a mean, stingy God who is waiting for His children to get into trouble.  The God I read about in scripture loves us.  Loves us enough to give us free will.  But having a closely held blueprint and a free will I think are somewhat oxymoronish.  If my path to sanctification lies through that blueprint, but I cannot know the details.  And I have a free will to do what I choose.  Then do I have a free will at all?  If my path is already chosen, do I actually have free will?  I know that some would say that free will lies in my choice to be obedient to the path, the blueprint, or not.  But I don’t quite believe that.  Here’s why.

I went to Jeremiah chapter 29 and read the whole thing.  The first verse stunned me.  Chapter 29 of Jeremiah is a letter!  It is a letter from God to the exiled Hebrews in Babylon.  The first four verses are the bona fides.  But verse five gets into the meat of what God wants the Israelites to hear from him.  So read with me now:

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. [b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

15 You may say, “The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,” 16 but this is what the LORD says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your countrymen who did not go with you into exile- 17 yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says: “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. 19 For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.

20 Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon. 21 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you in my name: “I will hand them over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your very eyes. 22 Because of them, all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse: ‘The LORD treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned in the fire.’ 23 For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it,” declares the LORD.

When I read this letter, I hear the words of a parent speaking peace and calm to a troubled child.  I hear myself saying to my children things such as, “Yes, you really screwed up this time.  Here are the consequences of your bad behavior.  But you’re going to live.  You’ll survive and thrive.  I still love you and want what is best for you.  When you calm down, you can join us again at the dinner table.”  Okay … I know that’s the human version and God has much more stringent standards of behavior than I do.  But I think you get the picture.  What this verse does NOT say is that God has a plan for our lives that involves which college to choose, which car, which house, which mate … that’s why S/He gave us free will and good brains.

I believe that generally S/He wishes to bless us, to bring good into our lives (whether or not we can recognize it).  Generally, we ought to (because of our love response) desire to spread that love around to others using our gifts and talents.  In that way, we are living within Her plan for our lives.  But I’m beginning to think that where and how and when we do it, is kind of up to us.  We’re grown ups, after all.  Praying about those decisions, I’m increasingly thinking, is like praying for a good parking space.  It just might be a little trivial.  What do you think?

8 Responses  
  • Erin writes:
    June 22nd, 200712:43 pmat

    Great thoughts, Sonja. I do agree with you, but I also think we do have an early warning system. I know I have been most gravely mistaken when I have prayed and tried to discern “God’s will” for any given situation – I just don’t think we can use our brains to discern.

    However, when I follow what I call “Spirit” – an instinctive feeling or that small voice or nudge or leaning inside which is so often contrary to logic, that is when I usually am spot on.

    Does that make any sense?

  • doug writes:
    June 22nd, 20073:03 pmat

    Interesting – and very good thoughts… does God have “any call” on our lives? Do you think “calling” has a place in our vocabulary as in, “I am finding or fulfilling God’s call on my life?” If so is this specific? (ie. my call is unique from your call).

    What about this whole sticky situation, “Not my will, but thine be done.” You know in Jesus’ life – his whole emphasis, especially throughout John’s Gospel – where he get’s all, “I only say what I hear my Father saying” and “I only do what I see the Father doing…” – it seems so much like God had a specific plan and role for Jesus to play – and Jesus did “His will.”

    Then there is that line in the Prayer Jesus taught us to pray… “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

    So how does this “Will of the Father” integrate into some of your observations in this post.?

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    June 22nd, 20074:00 pmat

    Hmmm … yep … I\’d agree that there is a divine \”Will\” or calling on our lives. But that\’s not really what I\’m addressing in this post. I think the Divine Will is more general. The idea that I\’m getting at is the idea that seems to be expressed that each of us a very specific plan for us. One that is only ours. That includes specific homes, jobs, colleges, doctors, you name it … and I don\’t think that the Divine Will for each of us gets that specific. I think that borders on the sorts of spirituality that are forbidden.

    I do believe that we each have a calling on our lives. But that calling can be lived out almost anywhere, in a variety of circumstances … using the gifts and talents that are God-given. That calling is not limited by time and space. So where we live, what car we drive, etc. isn\’t effected by calling or Will. Does that make sense?

    I guess what I\’m saying is that I believe that we are free to make the best use possible of the gifts we\’ve been given in order to spread the Love of the Father to others. Those gifts may be physical (e.g. money, food, shelter, hospitality) or they may be temporal (e.g. abilities, talents, skills). I think that God\’s will for us is best is expressed in the Jesus Creed … The first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. The second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). I think that Jesus\’ whole life, death and resurrection were in accordance with those two sentences; thus fulfilling God\’s will for him. That is the example we follow. Again, it\’s not about the car, house, or college, but about our heart\’s motivation in the place where we are when we\’re there. We can live in penury and have a stingy black heart which does nothing to love God or love our neighbors. Or we can live in a mansion with open hands glorifying God and sharing our gifts. It is not the place that makes it \”right,\” it is the direction that our heart is pointing.

  • kievasfargo writes:
    June 22nd, 20075:18 pmat

    Interesting post…I’ve been struggling with this issue as well. I think that God does give each of us a grand dream that is unique to our personality and talent. But we have to make our own choices along the way, and he will be there to help no matter what.

  • David writes:
    June 23rd, 20073:57 pmat

    Good post.
    I’ll play both sides of fence here and say that you are completely correct – my move to Hollywood to pursue acting example, or my decision to attend college.

    But there are times when God directs specifically in our lives…like my wife for example.

    Our responsibility is to live the best we can according to what we know, often stumbling, sometimes falling, and on rare sweet occasions absolutely knowing.

    It is our primary responsibility to seek and love God, and not demote our creator to ‘busboy’ asking and wishing for things to be done in the way we desire it.

  • Lydia Schoch writes:
    June 26th, 200710:37 amat

    Sonja, this is Lydia from the Emerging Women blog. Would you be interested in having this post reprinted at The Ooze?

  • kate writes:
    June 26th, 20075:05 pmat

    I’m about 98.5 percent with you on this, Sonja. Which is to say, really with you! I think the only part where I fall off — and maybe you do, too, who knows. Maybe I’m misinterpreting — is in that these things can vary from person to person. I have thought a lot about the fact that I might not have as specific a ‘calling’ as other people I know or have heard of. I do think there are some people for whom God has a dead-on plan — if they’d choose to listen, and then choose to obey. But I think there are lots of other people who — well, what you said. God’s concerned about the state of our/their hearts, not as much which house or car, or even mate, they choose. And God can redeem so, SO much when we make what we feel is a ‘wrong’ decision, or beat our own little rabbit trail for awhile.
    I do still pray for dumb, little stuff. ‘please let traffic be not so bad today,’ or for that close parking space. But I sure don’t blame God if it doesn’t happen! I’m just grateful when it does.
    There have been times that I prayed for God’s help to make a decision, and I feel He helped me make it. There have been a few times that I felt, rather frustratingly, that He openly said, “Whatever you want. Both paths are good.” I think it honors Him to at least ask. To give Him the option of speaking into the situation.
    Good stuff. Great, great topic.

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    June 27th, 20074:31 pmat

    Kate … I do agree with you that these things vary from person to person … and from season to season in any given person’s life. Except for parking spaces 😉 … even tho I’ve been known to pray for good ones on occasion as well!!

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