Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Does God have a specific plan for our lives? Part 1

Suit Up

I wanted to take a few moments and give a fuller explanation of something that I mentioned in passing on Sunday. Here is what I wrote in my manuscript but it will be slightly different on the video because I don't preach directly from the manuscript:

"We are faced with decisions that we frame in terms of right and wrong. Is she the right girl to marry? Which college is the right college to attend? Should I take this job or should I quit my job? Should the church do this or do that? Should I have Wheaties or a donut for breakfast? (You laugh at that last one and I put it in there as a somewhat extreme example. But let's be honest, we do ask God these types of questions.) At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I don't think that God really cares what we do in these situations unless there is a Biblical or moral reason involved. That is not to say that some of these decisions may or may not contain good and poor choices. When you are trying to lose weight consistently choosing to eat donuts for breakfast might not be your best option."

What I was getting at is that we may have this expectation that God has a specific plan for our lives that is planned out to the very last detail. It is what we could call the Jeremiah 29:11 doctrine:

"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)

From that I have heard a number of people go in this direction: "This passage is telling us that God has a good plan for your life. This means that you need to pray and ask for guidance so you can determine what that plan is." The idea is that God has a specific plan for your life and we just need to figure it all out. Then we start to pray and ask God to lead us to the right girl to marry. We ask God to tell us which is the right college to go to. Then we ask God to show us the perfect job for us. And so on and so on and taken to the extreme we are asking God if we should have Wheaties or a donut for breakfast. This Jeremiah 29:11 plan might sound familiar if you have worked through Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God book.

But is this the way that God actually works?

There are a number of things that I would like to cover in answering this question and it will need to happen over a number of postings. This means that my view of this topic will not be completely revealed until the end. The first thing that needs to be examined is whether or not Jeremiah 29:11 actually teaches us that God has a plan for us. No, it does not. "But it says so right there. Didn't you just read the verse you posted in your own blog?" you protest. Yes I did just read the verse but I read much more than just the verse. I read the whole passage. In fact I have read the chapter and the whole book of Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah was not written to us. God was not speaking through Jeremiah to us. This does not mean that we cannot learn certain truths about God from this book but it does mean that we need to be very careful about how we are applying this book to our lives. This verse is part of a letter that God had Jeremiah send to the captives in Babylon. The whole letter runs from Jeremiah 29:10-23. So why is it that we pick just verse 11 and apply that to our lives? Why not verse 10:

"For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place."

If we did then we must also say that God is planning on having us sent to Babylon for seventy years before bringing us back to this place. But which place is this place? We start to get that from verse 14:

"...I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile."

So if we are going to claim this passage as speaking directly to us we must also say that God will send us into exile in Babylon for seventy years and then bring us back to the place from which he sent us. And as we read further into the letter we see that God will send the "sword, famine and pestilence" on the king who sits on David's throne and all our fellow kinsmen that did not go with us into exile (vv. 16-17).

Then we get to verse 20 which says:

"Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon..."

Obviously this passage is not speaking directly to us. It is speaking to a particular group of Israelites at a particular point in time. There are promises and curses in the book of Jeremiah that are not made directly to us and to claim them as ours is not the right way to interpret the Bible.

This doesn't mean that we cannot learn something from this. We can learn that while it might seem like it at times, God does not forget his people. We can learn that God will fulfill all of his promises but in his own time. We can also learn that God does have an ultimate plan and that plan is meant for the good of his people. But this particular verse does not teach us that God has a particular plan to prosper us in this lifetime. This verse does not teach us that God has a plan that we need to figure out.

But just because this verse does not teach us that God has a plan for us does that mean that God doesn't have a plan for us? I will cover that in the next installment.


Scripture quotations (unless otherwise noted) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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