I attended an event where the audience was told that we were not there by accident, it was God’s plan for us to be there that evening. If by that they meant that God had given us the freedom to choose and we had chosen to be there, I would have agreed. But that’s not what was meant. What was meant was that God had somehow arranged for us to be there so that we (effectively) didn’t have a choice. I wanted to get up and walk out to make a point but I thought I’d just write about it instead. : )
They had the same thing in mind that one author did when he wrote in the forward of his book, This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. Well, I suppose that’s a fairly effective (and manipulative) way to sell a book (it made me put it right back on the shelf).
Still, is that the way it works—God has planned each moment of our life out from attending fund raisers to picking out books? If so, how does this mesh with free will? Or, is it even accurate to speak of free will if everything in our life is planned to such a degree?
There are those who speak and think of God’s will in this way. They believe that God has an exact plan for anything and everything in our life. Whenever they are confronted with a decision of any kind, they always talk about finding out what God’s will in the matter is.
Is that how it works?
Paul didn’t think so. Listen to what he had to say in regard to some of the decisions he made (emphasis mine):
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. (Philippians 2:25);
If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (1 Corinthians 16:4).
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. (1 Thessalonians 3:1);
It’s clear Paul understood God’s plan for his life in regard to these things was to weigh his options and make a decision!
I don’t mean to suggest that it is this way with everything—I think the Scripture makes it clear that there are some things inherently right (loving God and others) and wrong (lying, stealing, adultery). But with many things (choosing where to live, who to marry, what school to attend, etc.), God wants us to use the guidelines He has given in His word and make our own decisions— that’s His plan! We don’t honor it by abdicating our responsibility.
In the Scriptures above, Paul was making decisions about missionary work, sending someone home, and financial aid to others. All of us would agree that these were significant matters. But Paul explicitly tells us that he (or they), made the decision as opposed to God intervening to show what He wanted done (see Acts 16:6-10). Does it make sense to you that God would allow Paul to make his own decisions on these matters yet have an exact plan for what you or I should be doing next Tuesday night?
And why does all of this matter?