Plan, Or … ?

Today’s question comes from Yvette.  She asks: “Is our life based on fate, or uncharted waters?? Can we change the inevitable? Or was it changed because it was inevitable? I ask this because I have cut myself off of most news — local and World — because of the fear factor involved. They instill a fear, and I wonder with or without this fear, could anything be changed? And if it is changed, was it already predetermined that it would be changed? Is our life already mapped out? Or are we in charge of our own destiny?”

Thanks for the question.  You raise a delicate point that I encounter often in the context of providing pastoral care to folks.  There are many folks out there whose lives are held together by the belief that God has a plan for our lives.  This belief gives them a sense of guidance and comfort – especially as they face the uncertainties in life.

There are a lot of others out there who completely reject the notion that God has a plan for our lives.  “If so,” they counter, “then are you suggesting that God’s plan includes horrors such as a young child being killed in an accident or atrocities of the Holocaust?”

It can certainly be tricky speaking to groups of individuals who hold such strong and competing beliefs.

How do I do that?

In order to explain different ways of thinking about “plan”, I use the analogy of parenting.  If you were to ask most parents if they have a plan for their children lives, many would say yes.

What do they mean by plan?

Most parents would say their plan would be that their child grows up to be as happy, as healthy, and as whole as possible.

How do they live into that plan?

It depends on the personality of the parent.  Some parents interpret plan literally – and try to control their child’s choice of education, spouse, and career.  Some think of God’s plan in a similar way.  They assume God directly intervenes in individuals’ lives in order to guarantee a particular outcome.

Another way of parenting is to encourage and empower a child to make choices for her or himself.  So while the parent may desire the child to lead a happy, healthy, and whole life – at certain junctures the parent gives the child the space to make decisions that might jeopardize her or his happiness, health, or wholeness in the short run.  Similarly, I believe God gives us human beings the same space.

The focus for me as a person of faith and pastor, then, is to encourage and equip individuals to lead lives that are most likely to lead to wholeness.  This way of being has helped me move toward a sense of balance in my life that is reflected by a quote from one of my least favorite saints – St. Augustine.  St. Augustine is credited with a quote that reads: “Pray as though everything depended upon God.  Work as though everything depended upon you.”

I can certainly relate to your decision to limit your consumption of the news.  I have made the same decision myself.  I am very cognizant of the biases certain news outlets have in their presentation of the issues.  I try to avoid those news outlets from any extreme whose goal is to inflame folks or set one group against another.  I find ways of getting involved in the issues I care most about in ways that cultivate within me a sense of hope rather than despair.

So what about you?  What is your take on these matters?

goal is to inflame folks or set one group against another.  I find ways of getting involved in the issues I care most about in ways that cultivate within me a sense of hope rather than despair.

So what about you?  What is your take on these important matters?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to Plan, Or … ?

  1. Stevie says:

    The very best book I’ve read on this subject is “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” by Harold Kushner. He discusses the balance between God’s Plan and Free Will. And Craig, you do a great job of respecting people of different views and helping both. I admire that.

  2. Bob Merkle says:

    A great exploration of this idea is the “Forest Gump” movie. It poses the question, “Do we have a destiny, or are we like a feather floating in the wind?” One way of looking at the answer the movie suggests is that perhaps it is neither–perhaps when we are uncertain or when in trouble our responsibility is to “Run Forest, Run”. By running we are “in the flow” where good things are made possible. By neither waiting and hoping for good things to happen, nor trying to make good things happen, we can make good things welcome and possible by “running”–by being fully alive, active, awake, and aware.

  3. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    As an atheist, I don’t believe in any kind of supernaturally ordained plan or destiny. But I also don’t believe that humans are either helpless leaves on the wind of chance or all-powerful agents who can do anything they want if only they want it badly enough or work hard enough.

    Nature operates by its own rules, and those rules set hard limits on what we can do. Human nature also has rules, which set soft limits—boundaries that can sometimes be pushed through, but only with extraordinary effort and resources. And the circumstances into which we are born—demographics like race and economic status, genetic predispositions toward certain traits, and also stuff like whether we are born into strong families or troubled ones—come with limits both hard and soft.

    All those things together mean some paths will be easier for us, some will be difficult but possible, and others will not be possible at all. Our job is to look for possible paths that will allow us to live sustainable, meaningful lives that make the most of our gifts, minimize the effects of our flaws, and generally make our presence in the world a net positive instead of a negative. For people who start out with lots of gifts, more difficult and rewarding paths are possible. For those who start out with so many challenges that survival is already plenty difficult, easier paths must be chosen. Which is why part of our responsibility as people with gifts is to create easier paths for those with challenges.

  4. Stevie says:

    One of the interesting things about “knocking on 70’s door” is to look back on your life and just see what an intricate puzzle it is. The pieces fit even when you weren’t trying. I just have to believe there is a plan of some kind. And I believe that when I listened to God the most, the puzzle pieces fit better. Just my thought. Love your analogy, Bob.

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