“Pilgrims in Providence”

 

Our God and Father loves us and has foreordained our paths. They will not always appear to us now as parts of a wonderful plan, but they are indeed parts of an exquisitely good and perfect plan. Our responsibility is not merely to trust God about this plan, but to trust in God himself, the living God who has gone to such great measures to bring us to himself.

Does God have a Wonderful Plan for My Life?

By A. Craig Troxel

As if it weren’t challenging enough to live by the Ten Commandments and the two Great Commandments (see Matt. 22:34-40), somewhere along the line someone decided that we also needed an additional “Four Spiritual Laws.” So now, right after “God so loved the world,” many Christians add, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But is this “spiritual law” found in Scripture? This is an important question because many—from Herodotus following the thread of fate in history through Neo attempting to understand his preprogrammed life in the Matrix—have believed there is a master plan guiding human history. People are comforted by the idea that their lives are meaningful because they are parts of a larger plan or a greater purpose than what currently meets the eye.

Some Christians may think that belief in a predetermined plan is equivalent to belief in God’s sovereignty. But belief in determinism and belief in a divine determiner are quite different. We should zealously maintain this difference, especially when we consider questions regarding God’s will for our lives and the doctrine of providence.

Bare determinism is a form of fatalism, making fate and destiny the decisive factors instead of God. In other words, bare determinism subverts the idea that God is personally and actively “preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 11; cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 27). In theological discussions of providence, we may refer to God as the “primary” or “first cause” among “secondary causes” in order to avoid pantheistically confusing God and creation. Yet this language can mislead us by tempting us to think primarily in philosophical categories and not according to biblical doctrine. Scripturally, any notion that removes or depersonalizes God or lessens his active involvement in his creation with his creatures falls short. For Christians, it is not just a matter of traveling the course set before us and simply following God’s commands. There is also the matter of our trusting our loving heavenly Father because we know that God is continuously guiding, leading, protecting, sustaining, and watching over each of us in special ways.

Yet fear, uncertainty, and confusion can often, as G. C. Berkouwer observes, “whelm up with remarkable force in the hearts of believers”—consider Job, the Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. And then we may find ourselves asking, “Does God have a plan for my life?” and “Can I know God’s will for me?” Questions like these concern God’s providence and the sovereignty of his will. We understand a portion of God’s will because God has revealed it to us in his written word. Yet we cannot apprehend a lot of his will because the Lord has chosen not to reveal it. Here theologians distinguish between God’s “revealed will” and his “secret will.” They ground this distinction in texts such as Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” In accordance with God’s revealed will “a man plans his course,” but in his secret will “the Lord determines his steps” (Prov. 16:9, niv). What Scripture reveals can be known; and all Christ’s disciples are called to obey his Word because it is what God prescribes. But the indiscernibility of God’s secret will can make it challenging to live by providence because we sometimes find ourselves in difficult situations that defy explanation or appear purposeless. Is the solution simply to resign ourselves to God’s predetermined and established plan? Is faith in God’s providence and sovereign will nothing more than confession of a predetermined plan? The book of Proverbs provides an answer.

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