In the face of disappointment, some either offer comfort or find comfort in the statement: “God has a plan for you.”
I wonder: Why?
Please note this is a big ‘why.’ A ‘why’ so big that it’s chock-full of other ‘whys’:
• Why would God divinely alter what I assume has been a previously endorsed plan? (Or, if a plan is being altered, does that mean a person has actually been on the wrong plan?)
• Why would God alter a plan without prior notice? (Is God really that spontaneous?)
• Why, if there is some form of prior notice, is it so easily missed? (Certainly God can grab a person’s attention in good and clear ways.)
• Why would God use disappointment as a way to move a child created in God's image toward a new plan? (Doesn’t that make God bad even if the plan is supposedly better?)
• Why can’t God just go with the plan currently in place and simply improve it if necessary? (After all, God IS God.)
• Why does someone else seem to know God’s plan for another person’s life while the one God’s working on seems rather oblivious? (Again, can’t God get someone’s attention whenever and wherever God wants?)
If I had to focus on only one of the whys, it would be this one: Why do we need assurance that God has a specific plan for our lives anyway?
When Mark and I married in May 1986, we chose Jeremiah 29:11 as the central verse for our marriage ceremony. It’s probably the most popular “plan” verse of the Bible: “‘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.’” (NIV)
Idealistic, young lovers with a lifetime of only good things in store, we vowed to share who we were with each other, facing any circumstance life threw our way. We clung to this promise, confident nothing could sidetrack the wonderful plan God had for us individually or as a couple. Believing in a providential plan provided reassurance that we could prevail regardless of what might come.
Then, five years into our marriage “what might” did come. And you know what? We were right about not being sidetracked or overtaken; we continued to prosper, although probably not in the way we understood the hope of prosperity then.
Truthfully, I can’t attest to what we understood then. Who were we in our 20s anyway? We certainly lacked the capacity to look into our future as we know it today. And if we could have seen or even gotten a glimpse of our future, it may have altered how we followed “the plan.” For whoever we were then, we had a much smaller concept of God. We believed there was only one correct plan, and if we missed our opportunity to stay on course, well, we didn’t want to find out what could go wrong.
God was in charge. We just needed to follow.
But you know what? In the process of trying not to misstep, we discovered a prosperity promise even more provocative regarding God’s capacity for hope and a future: The God of the universe is so expansive, it’s impossible to get lost. No matter which direction we step, God is already there. What a relief! That kind of providence is providential, indeed.
Moreover, God’s love is expansive, too, encompassing every child created in God’s image. This all-encompassing love renders God incapable of inflicting pain on those created to reflect the very image of God. This expansive, providential love is personified grace, or God in action.
After 25 years together (one courting, one engaged and 23 married), Mark and I now allow God to surprise us with displays of expansive grace – grace so huge we are able to see God in the midst of some pretty dire circumstances. It’s a grace that begs this question: “Why shy away from prosperity that can intangibly sustain even during times of want?”
Not capable of comprehending the anxiety and hopelessness of exile, we might find it easy to ignore the powerful context of Jeremiah’s words. He was writing to people banished to Babylon, encouraging them to settle down. “Go ahead and do things that might give you roots,” he told them, “Even if you are in a land that’s foreign to you, I’m right here.”
It’s truly a grow-where-you’re-planted message. So why not get comfortable with a more contemporary interpretation of this popular text: “Wherever you go, there you are. And, guess what? God is there too.”
Really. Go ahead. Enjoy life as it happens and wherever it might lead you, for God “knows the plans” not just “the plan.” God is one step ahead of you no matter the direction you’re headed.
Do you have a better plan?