God does not have a plan for our lives, and we should stop pretending that he has
God has a wonderful plan for your life.
It's evangelical orthodoxy, on a par with belief in substitutionary atonement and the sanctity of Spurgeon. It's part of the salvation package, along with forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Christianity isn't just true, it offers the sure and certain knowledge that whatever happens to you is God's will. If you don't like it, it's because you haven't understood it.
I understand where people who think like this are coming from, I really do. They have a deep sense of the sovereignty of God. They want to affirm his power. They're dismayed by any idea that things just happen and that life, as far as we can tell, is random. We might not know why things happen, but God's working to his own agenda.
There's an anonymous poem that sums it up, comparing life as we know it now to the reverse of a tapesty, in which the pattern is obscured and barely discernible. So:
Not 'til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver's skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
In other words: the bad things that happen to you are God's doing and part of the master-work he's making of your life.
I see the attraction. But I think the idea that God deliberately weaves dark threads into our lives is theologically flawed and psychologically cruel. I think we should stop saying it and start offering people something more real, more exciting, more dangerous and more true.
Here's my problem. There are two accounts of God's sovereignty which are equally questionable. Let's call the first the 'hard' version. In this one, God's sovereignty is a deterministic philosophy in which human free will is an illusion. You have to put up with bad things happening to you because it's ultimately for your own good, just as a child has to put up with a measles vaccination. In some unspecified and incomprehensible way, we still have free will and moral agency. But ultimately, the aweful power and majesty of God overrules and overwhelms: all we can do is resign ourselves to his will. Alexander Pope put it this way in his Essay on Man:
All nature is but art unknown to thee,
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
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