What is God’s plan? Many times, in some of the darkest moments of our lives, people (well-meaning people) tell us that God has a plan for our pain, that what has happened to us makes sense in a grand scheme, that we are not hurting in vain. Yet think about what that says about God: that God uses pain as a means to an end, to bring us where God wants us to be? That there is a long-range plan, full of illnesses and pains, which is how God is bringing the kin-dom into fruition? That the forces that oppose God, including cancer, chaos, and criminal actions, do not really have any power- though we go through the motions of renouncing them at baptism.
If God’s plan for the world is down to the tiny details, what’s our part in it? Do we play a role? Are the encouragements in the creation story, the relationship that we see there between God, humans, and the rest of creation, is that a real relationship or just a backdrop while God moves us around according to a plan?
If we take a look at Abraham’s story, we can see two things: one is God has a plan and two, people are participants in that plan. God’s plan for Abraham is no less than God’s plan for anyone of us- a future, hopes fulfilled, abundant life. God draws Abram out into the dark of the night and promises that, though currently childless, he will be a father to many generations. God has a plan for Abram’s future… including a name change, but God’s plan requires trust and faithful action on Abram’s part.
See chart above:
The chart moves from the idea that God has an over-arching plan, but we are called to respond, through the gifts of faith and free will. Consider the choices Abram/Abraham made.
God helps those who help themselves: Hagar and Ishmael
Expedient Choice (ending up badly): Passing Sarah off as his sister
Faithful action: leaving homeland, creating Isaac, arguing on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, near-sacrifice
Each of this situations arise from choices that Abraham makes, just like each of us find ourselves in situations because of our own choices. Occasionally, we find ourselves in situations, good or bad, because of someone else’s choices. As participants in God’s work in the world, as co-creators and communicators of God’s blessings (just like Abraham), we are continually called to think through who we are as people, as families, as a faith community, as a city/state/nation.
The idea that God is micro-managing us and everything else leads to a kind of carelessness- a disregard for ourselves, for others, and for creation. The idea that God helps those who help themselves inevitably leaves someone out in the cold and, eventually, leaves many people feeling separated from God.
Faithful living, on the other hand, is hard work. It comes from trust. Trust can only be based on a foundation of fulfilled promises, consistent action, and a reasonable expectation of future care. The Abraham story lets us see that we can only expect those things from God and not because of God’s reign in minutiae, but because God is the details of care, of peace, of justice, of community relationships.
Because we see through scripture and through experience that we can trust God and that trust makes the foundation of our faith, which God graciously counts to us as righteousness. We get credit for the right response because of God’s history of faithful action to God’s people and through Jesus.
God’s plan is always for creation in the way he explained it to Abraham- a plan for generations, a plan for descendants, a plan for a future hope and a fulfilled promise. God also graciously invites us into that plan, gives us the solid foundation of faith, and allows us the freedom of choice in how to respond. Do we deserve this? No. Did Abram deserve a special promise? Did Mary deserve to be chosen by God? It’s not about what we do, any of us, it is always about what God does. God’s plan always included the curious, the stubborn, the little, the lost, the least, you, and me. And that plan, into which you and I are invited, is always for hope, for justice, for blessing, for creation, for relationship, and for peace.