Last week some of my family attended the funeral of a friend who had died at the age of 51 years old from a heart attack. Was it in God’s plan? I don’t believe that God planned for his life to be cut short. I don’t believe that God wanted that. I don’t believe that his premature death was a punishment in any way.
- Does God plan that every 3/4 seconds, a child dies of preventable diseases?
- Did God plan for half a million people die in an earthquake in Haiti?
- Did God condemn 400,000 Vietnamese boat people to drown at sea whilst seeking a new life in a better country?
- Did God plan for me to have a stroke 10 years ago?
Some might say that as God is sovereign, and in control of everything, and that therefore everything that happens is all in God’s plan. My heart and my mind are sickened by such a thought. The sort of God who could minutely plan bad things for the people he created, simply does not exist!
We all hear platitudes such as:
“It was all in God’s plan for our lives.”
“God is in control.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“God wanted another angel”
Yes, for God to be God, he is all-powerful and could do anything, but that doesn’t mean he DOES everything. If he planned out our lives in minute detail, we would be mere robots, helplessly doing what we were meant to be doing and having no control over our own lives.
As human beings, we have free wills. We can make choices, some small, some profound. It is not just me that has free will, but every other person in the world. And I am affected, not just my own choices, but by other people’s choices as well.
Things which happen to me are determined by one, or a combination of, the following:
- Random events of nature which I am unable to predict or control.
- Choices I make, either consciously or unconsciously, resulting in actions which affect my life.
- Choices other people make, which may result in actions which affect my life.
- Possible miraculous intervention from God which might prevent or cause things to happen which affect my life.
Atoms cannot make choices. The are bounced around randomly by other atoms, and have absolutely no choices to make. If a different kind of atom comes along, they may combine to form a molecule according to the laws of chemistry. A hydrogen atom cannot say I would rather be a part of life-giving water, and not a part of a death-creating hydrogen bomb. They have absolutely no choices to make.
Most natural events are random and unpredictable. We do not know when a volcano will erupt, though scientists are trying to understand and make the timings a little more predictable. A family living in a fishing village in Sri Lanka had no way of knowing that a movement in the earth’s crust over a thousand miles away in Indonesia would cause a Tsunami which would destroy their lives, homes and livelihoods.
But we do have some choices to make when it comes to natural events. A volcano eventually produces very productive soil. Living on a volcano’s slopes can be very profitable, or disastrous. If we build our house on a flood plain of a river, we can take advantage of the soils deposited by previous floods, until the next big flood ruins what we have built.
There might be economic choices to make. An earthquake in Japan may not result in great losses because many buildings are earthquake-proof, whereas in Haiti an earthquake caused enormous loss of lives and homes.
We have some control over our own health. A fatal disease might be unpredictable and unavoidable but might have been prevented if we looked after our health and immune-system.
When God created all things he gave humankind a special ‘gift’ of free will. In nature, this makes us unique. An animal has some, but very little free will. They are mostly controlled by basic instincts. Material objects have no free will but act according to the laws of physics.
We have genuine choices to make. I am not just a product of my DNA or my upbringing. For example, my parents, although terrific parents, did not demonstrate their love with physical affection. I can choose to do the same, or I can choose to do the opposite. I have the power to make that choice and implement it.
But having a free will has its costs. If we accept that God gives us free choices, we have to accept that he cannot then interfere with those choices. It also means that he doesn’t interfere with other people’s choices either. That means that if someone drives carelessly, we might be involved in an accident through no fault of our own!
The choices we make may be good choices, bad choices or neutral. But even a neutral choice can turn out to hurt us. We may decide to take the scenic route home, rather than the fast route. That is not a bad choice, or a good choice – but either could result in disaster or blessing.
We make hundreds of tiny choices every day. Most have no noticeable effect, but we have no way of knowing that. If we were to agonise over every tiny decision, then our lives would be unbearable. That is where faith come in. Faith is an assurance that whatever happens in our lives, that God will guide our choices and cause all to ‘work together for good’.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
God intervention through miracles
Can we expect God to intervene and override the free will of other people? I think not. Miracles do happen, but I do not feel too qualified to say how often. Events occur, and people fall ill, and there is no doubt that faith can result in a miraculous intervention. The trap is that we dare not say to the person, for who there is no miracle, that that person lacked faith.
To me, the greatest miracle is that I can know God at work within my life and that, no matter what happens, in the end God’s love will win.
God and our choices
God does not control our choices but he can, and does guide us in our choices. Some choices need little, or no guidance. We all know that murder is a bad choice. Not that we can go through life asking about every little thing: “Is it your will that I have a cup of tea”. As I said before, that’s where faith comes in.
When we give up our lives to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within us and help us in our choices. Making the right choices can benefit us – and those around us whose lives are impacted by our actions.
God does have a plan for the life of every man and women. His plan involves reconciliation, restoration and love. His plan is to make us all complete. He made us all in the image of God. That means that he has a free will too (!) and freely gives of himself to the human race in love.
If we do not have free will, we cannot love.
God loves us. He put us in a world which is seemingly random but can be overcome if man’s efforts go into making the world a better place. He gave us free wills knowing we would often abuse free will by making the wrong choices. But God also revealed himself in Jesus Christ and invites us to:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)