Good Questions: God has a plan for my life?  

Reflections from Dr. Howell

People often speak to me about “God’s plan for my life,” or they ask me “How does this fit into God’s plan for my life?” Does God have a “plan” for your life?

Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life (which has sold more than 50 million copies!) wrote “You are not an accident. God prescribed every single detail of your body. He chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair, he determined your natural talents, he decided when you would be born and how long you would live. Traumas happen to shape your heart.” I totally get how very appealing this is – and yet can you agree with me that it’s just so very wrong, and even hurtful?

Would God plan for you to endure chronic pain, or a lethal cancer in a young child? Did God prescribe that a suicide or a murder should occur on some preordained date? I don’t disagree that traumas can shape your heart. But is God shaping the heart of a Ukrainian mom who’s lost her husband, her daughter and her home to Russian shelling? Was God shaping the heart of my friend whose husband told her, while she was battling Stage 4 cancer, that he’d never loved her and had a longtime girlfriend? So much talk about life and God, even when millions of copies are scooped up, panders to the comfortable with the luxury of problems that are heart-shaping.

I don’t mind being a little bit accidental. Couples joke about trying, or being surprised by a pregnancy. There’s a biological roll of the dice – which doesn’t mean I’m not God’s or that I have no purpose. And accidents really do happen all around us, all the time.

I suppose it would be nice for me if God had a script called “James’s life,” and God continually stepped in to keep the plan in place, to shape my heart with some challenges but make it all come out happily over time. And I may be very wrong – but I don’t believe there is such a “plan” in God’s mind for me, or you.

It’s not in the Bible. People love to point to Jeremiah 29:11, where God says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you.” Sounds like the American dream! But the “you” in this verse is plural – y’all. And Jeremiah is speaking to the nation of Israel, as a nation recently devastated, crushed beyond hope of ever being a nation again. Jeremiah assures them God still has plans for this nation – although in the same chapter he assures the individuals to whom he’s speaking that they are in for a hard road and will not themselves live to see God’s plan for the nation realized.

We can also weigh the nuances of the word “plan.” I have plans for our vacation, meaning an itinerary, where we’ll go when – and Voila! It happens. A little different from when, as a young dad, I had “plans” for my children. “Dreams” or “hopes” or “basic ideas of what would be good” might be better. God does have dreams for us, God does hope we’ll take good roads, and assume faithful habits – but God leaves how it all unfolds up to us, and happenstances around us.

While we never in Scripture see God laying out or managing a “plan” for an individual’s life, what we see constantly is God “calling” people to huge tasks, lives of courage and service. Instead of divining God’s plan, I’d be wiser to discern God’s call: not What do I want to do? or What do I hope God will help me do? or even What do I want to do for God? but What does God want me to do? People see happiness and comfort as signs that God’s “plan” is unfolding. The saints through history followed God’s “call,” and many suffered much after great sacrifice for God.

Don’t you know people whose lives, if they indeed were planned and orchestrated by God, would make God seem foolish or mean? We rightly believe God brings good out of evil – but not always, and not always in obvious ways. We rightly strive to learn from traumas – but God isn’t causing trauma to teach you a lesson, and some traumas just so horrid that there’s no neat lesson tucked inside.,,

…which leads us to our next Good Questions: is there such a thing as evil? Hell and the Devil?