Proving God's Plan is Impossible



This video uses the Christian pop culture phenomenon The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2002) rather than the Bible to make the point that everything is planned by God. This is important to the entire argument of the video. Unfortunately, the video--as is typical of the WWGHA/GII group of sites--doesn't think deeply enough about the implications.

There is little to disagree with in the statement that God plans everything. The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to this as God's eternal decree, and says this about God's plan:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Chapter III.1)
What this means is that God decrees what will happen on earth, but doesn't take away the free will choice of the contingent cause. God is the prime mover, but he still holds us morally responsible for the decisions made and the resulting fallout of those decisions.

Let's look at three biblical examples. First, Joseph, the youngest son of the patriarch Jacob, was hated by his older brothers. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, and lied to Jacob, telling the patriarch that Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal.

Years later, Joseph was made prime minister of Egypt and his own brothers came before him, afflicted by the famine and asking for a government bail out as if they were a giant automobile manufacturing firm. After some hoopla probably aimed at getting revenge on his brothers for what they did, Joseph revealed his identity and forgave his brothers.

When he did forgive his brothers, Joseph said, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones" (Gen 50:19-21). This theme will be repeated in the next two examples, so take note of it now. When Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, they meant evil toward him. But God had an entirely different purpose for this very same action: to save the lives of the Israelites.

Second, the Pharaoh of Moses' time, who held the Israelites as slave labor in Egypt. God told Moses to request that Pharaoh set the people free, assured Moses that mighty signs and wonders will be shown to Pharaoh, but informed Moses that "I [God] will harden his [Pharaoh's] heart, so that he will not let the people go" (Ex 4:21).

Once the plagues had struck Egypt, God said to Pharaoh, "But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (Ex 9:16). Again, like Joseph's story, we see that Pharaoh has a purpose in hardening his heart to Moses' plea (maintaining political power over a slave people) and God also has a purpose (to show his might in a spectacular way to the world) for the same action. God having a purpose in that action does not abdicate Pharaoh of his own moral responsibility to choose the right course of action, e.g. obedience to God by letting the Israelites have their freedom.

Finally, we have the crucifixion death of Jesus Christ. While on the cross, in a model of Christian forgiveness and humility, Jesus prays to his Father, "[F]orgive them, they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). This indicates two things. First, that they have an evil purpose in their actions: Ridding the earth of Jesus, a "blasphemer" who is stirring up a serious challenge to the religious rulers of the first century. Second, that they bear moral responsibility for this same action.

God had a different purpose in mind for this very same event, and Peter revealed it in his first sermon:
Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)
These three examples serve to illustrate that the Bible teaches God is the primary mover behind each action taken by human beings, but men--though only contingent causes--still bear moral responsibility for the decisions that are made. In all senses, there is the high and noble purpose that God has for a given action or moral decision, but there is also that person's own ignoble desire attached to the same action. The high and noble purpose that God intends for an action never overshadows the evil intent held by the person who actually performed the action, and cannot be used to justify that same action.

Adding these caveats to God's sovereignty, the difference between God's sovereignty and the philosophical belief in fatalism become crystal clear. Fatalism, embraced by the classical Greek school of stoicism, teaches that the Fates act in spite of human effort, moral choices, or exercises of free will. What happens is what is going to happen, and there is nothing left to do but grin and bear it. By contrast, the Christian view of God's sovereignty claims that God acts not in spite of what we do, but because of what we do. In other words, whatever outcome God has planned for our free moral decision cannot remove our own moral consequences of having made the decision in the first place.

Now let's examine the four ramifications of God's sovereignty that the narrator sets down. With the caveats in place, the video ends up looking pretty silly to even try to make these points.

The first assertion is that God plans every abortion in advance. The woman seeking the abortion and the doctor performing the abortion are innocent; they are only puppets in God's overall plan. The narrator asserts that pro-life Christians are completely clueless--they are actually the ones fighting against God's will. Second, God plans all murders. Murderers are blameless; they are only puppets doing God's will. Third, God plans many rapes. Since God plans all births, rapes resulting in a pregnancy are part of God's plan. To the narrator, this means that rapists should be rewarded for fulfilling God's plan.

These first three can be taken care of simply by reminding the reader that no moral responsibility is removed from the secondary agent, even if God has higher and nobler purpose for the action. Regardless of how despicable the act itself is, God has a good reason for it to happen. Since God is in control of all that happens, he allows no senseless evil to take place on his watch. It all has a purpose, whether it is an abortion, a murder, or a rape.

From the human perspective, the abortion may be sought because the mother is too young and not ready to be a mother, while the doctor is ending the innocent lives of children for profit under the guise of "helping" or "empowering" women. In the next example, the murderer might want revenge, insurance money, or be trying to silence a potential witness to a more serious crime. In the final example, the rapist seeks satisfaction by subjugating an innocent woman and takes from her what was never his to enjoy. These are truly disgusting and selfish motives for doing these acts of sin. Despite God purposing a truly good outcome for each sin, the motive of the agent sinning cannot be overlooked or excused. They did something awful, whether or not it served a definite purpose in a greater scheme.

It is for this reason that the Bible talks quite extensively about matters of matters of the heart. Many critics accuse the Bible of playing "thought police;" i.e. telling adherents how to think. The Sermon on the Mount forbids adulterous thoughts, holding grudges, and retaliating against people who commit personal atrocities against you. Paul tells the Corinthians to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:5) and he wrote to the Phillippians "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (4:7).

Long before Paul wrote those lines, King Solomon weighed in on issues of keeping the heart pure:
  • Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prv 4:23)
  • The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. (Prv 14:14)
  • Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Prv 16:5)
  • Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. (Prv 21:2)
  • Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. (Prv 26:24-26)
  • As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. (Prv 27:19)
God isn't playing "thought police" for nothing. If, as Jesus contends, "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Mt 12:34), the ramifications of this are obvious. God may be able to use both sinful actions and faithful actions to achieve his ultimate goal, but he wants us to want to perform good. It seems that good actions are preferable for God to use, but his ends can still be reached through evil.

Finally, the narrator says that the sum of all this is that humans have no free will. Since our children are preplanned by God, as are the times, places, and locations of all births, we have no choice in spouse, number of children, or location of domicile. This can be reconciled by remembering that the Christian view of sovereignty is not fatalism. God doesn't act in spite of what we do, but because of what we do. What God is ultimately doing is using our free will for his own end (see Prv 21:1). He is not removing our free will, but he is using it.

The narrator finally concludes that God's plan is ridiculous and impossible. However, in order to draw this conclusion, one would have to be in a position to understand what good comes out of each action and why each action was necessary in the grand scheme of things. The good results of Joseph's sale into slavery took decades to come to fruition. Job was struck by more than a few calamities in a short order, but said, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face" (Job 13:15). Those who remained faithful to God were rewarded richly. And, in some cases (such as Joseph's brothers) the ones who were sinful also received the benefits of the good God purposed for the sinful action.

In other words, to judge God's plan ridiculous, you'd have to be God and know everything that he does. No human being has the right to answer back to God (Rom 9:20) for that reason alone. In our limited view and understanding of the world, there are some things that we can't fathom.

In The Case for Faith (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2000), philosopher Peter Kreeft confronts this very issue with a modern parable about a bear in a trap. Let's say a hunter happens upon a bear in one of the steel-jawed traps that Wile E. Coyote was fond of using in his contraptions to catch the Road Runner. The hunter sees that the bear is in pain and takes pity on the bear, deciding to free it. The only way he can do this will actually cause the bear a few moments of intense and agonizing pain, much more than the bear is experiencing right now.

The hunter, being a human being with a fully-operational frontal lobe capable of complex reasoning, understands that the additional bout of suffering above and beyond what the bear is already going through is necessary to free the bear. It is not, however, likely that the bear will understand this and it is even less likely that the hunter can explain this in a way that the bear will understand. It won't be a huge surprise if the bear actively resists the hunter and tries to stop the torture.

And this is exactly what we see here with this video. God deems the suffering and evil that we see, no matter how widespread or gratuitous, somehow necessary to his overall plan. As limited human beings, we can't understand the particulars, nor can we see a forthcoming reason for much of it. Therefore, we actively rebel against it and make YouTube videos showcasing the rebellion and encouraging others to join.
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