My son’s Bible memory verse last week was “And I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” from Jeremiah 29:11. Remember that verse? If you’re like me, you’ve had it memorized for decades. “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.”
This verse is in the middle of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Judah when they were captives in Babylon. It is a letter of encouragement. It is an attempt to help the Israelites to not give up hope in their God. Certainly, we, too, can hear these verses as encouragement in the midst of difficult times.
This verse has also been used to tell people (especially young people) that God has a plan for their life. God has a particular spouse picked out for you. God has a particular college picked out for you. God has a particular job picked out for you. God knows everything that will happen to you, and you can trust in his plan.
While that thought is comforting to some, it is not the message of that verse. In fact, I no longer believe that God knows everything that is going to happen or predestines everything to happen. If God knows all of our choices already, we are not actually making choices. In order for us to have free will, God has to limit his own knowledge and power.
A theology major friend of mine from college once told me that God can’t be all-knowing and all-powerful and all-loving all at once. I didn’t get it at the time. But I do now.
God’s plan is for us to know and love Him, and to love people. We can do that through a variety of jobs, colleges, homes, churches, and relationships. It’s not about finding the one person that God pre-destined for you to marry; it’s about finding a person who wants to know God as much as you do. It’s not about finding that perfect college or that perfect job that God wants for you; it’s about choosing colleges and careers that are right for your mind, body, and spirit. It’s about loving God and loving others through everything we do.
We have the ability to choose our life. God gives us that freedom. And even if we make a bad choice every once in a while, that doesn’t mean that God’s “plan” is screwed up. God can work in the midst of bad situations (whether they are created by our choices or not).
I just don’t believe that God causes – or necessarily even allows – bad situations to happen. People tend to believe that even the bad stuff is part of God’s will. You have cancer? Well, God must have needed to bring you closer to him. Someone died as a teenager? Well, God must have been shielding him from something bad that was going to happen to him in the future. There’s a terribly damaging typhoon? God must need to teach us a lesson. You’re in a tough relationship? God must want you to learn to totally rely on him. BULL. SHIT.
The God I know doesn’t want people to get cancer or to die young or to lose their homes in a typhoon or suffer through terrible relationships. The God I know LOVES US. Like I said, he can work in difficult situations. But that doesn’t mean he makes or lets them happen in order to teach us a lesson or bring us to him.
We cannot keep telling our young people that God has their entire life planned out. Because they will wear themselves out searching for that plan and for that special word from God telling them what they are supposed to do. (Believe me, I lived it.) Because the second something bad happens, they’re going to blame him. They’re going to be confused. Disillusioned. Doubtful. They’re going to try to find a reason. They’re going to try to pin God down, which in my mind is when he ceases to be God. If we can explain everything about him and his work, we have tried to limit him to our human capacity for thought. We have stripped away his mystery and magnitude. The truth is that life is this unpredictable, unexplainable, mysterious thing and that’s okay.
We have to stop searching for God’s plan, and start searching for God.
(I know I should be quoting Scripture or some expert theologian here to back me up. I know both things exist, but I just don’t have them right now. It’s 5:06 AM, people. But I know I’m not the only one to have this opinion.)
Good post, Karissa. Like you, I was taught as a child that God’s plan for my life was very specific. Which is scary, ’cause what if you mess up and don’t marry the “one” person God “chose” for you, or follow the “chosen” career path, etc. I think my shift from this thinking happened as part of my journey to Orthodoxy, and I’ll always be grateful for that. You summed it up well, “We have to stop searching for God’s plan and start searching for God.” Amen.
Thanks, Susan. Glad to know you’ve been there, too.
Amen sister! I remember having an absolute fit as a senior in high school, crying to my dad about not knowing what “God’s plan” for me was and what if I went to the wrong college and stepped outside “the plan” and ruined everything. He was completely baffled. He said “God’s plan is for you to love Him and to love others. You can do that anywhere– God doesn’t care where you go to college.”
I have never forgotten those words. So glad you wrote this.
Yep – I wished someone had told me that – I really struggled with that, as well.
Oh! One more thing– I don’t think God gave my son spina bifida. Or that he caused it. Or even that He allowed it in order for me to learn a lesson. I wrote about that over the summer here: http://www.whatdoyoudodear.com/2013/06/brokeness-and-suffering-lesson-from.html
I’m digging your blog today, so I commented twice. 🙂
I agree. Thanks for linking to this post – I vaguely remember reading it before, but those are some great thoughts!