“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns
Do they ever.
That’s all I kept thinking about when I was in the our church membership class on Sunday. We’ve been attending a new church for about a year and a half, and recently we have gone through the membership process. Sunday was our last class, the one where shared our testimonies about how we each came to faith in Christ.
As I listened, what struck me was how some in the group found Christ – or found their way back to Chrisst – often on the heels of a poor decision. And I don’t mean little mistakes, but some really bad decisions – some committed in ignorance of God’s laws and standards and some committed with full knowledge of their willful sin.
But what I kept thinking was this: was it a poor decision if it ultimately led them to Jesus? Not trying to open a theological can of worms, I didn’t voice my question aloud, but I have been pondering it all week long.
And I began to contemplate that tenuous line between our free will and God’s sovereignty and plans. I admit that I have always struggled with this question. But the more I hear the stories of others, the more I have to conclude that God is still sovereign, even in the midst of us exercising our free will. I don’t fully understand the relationship between the two, but I am consistently confounded by the realization that our poor use of free will still does not thwart God’s plans for us – or maybe I should say,’does not have to’ thwart God’s plans for us.
Now I can already hear the protest: won’t that give license to people to make stupid choices because God will just clean up their messes? Well, sure, I guess people could pre-suppose that, but that is not what I am suggesting. What I’m thinking is that God’s plans for us were pre-ordained with foreknowledge of our free will, not without it. Knowing the choices we would make, God had a plan for us within those choices, to bring ultimate good from it, bringing glory to Himself in the process. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a ‘perfect’ will of God for someone, should someone have the ability to choose perfectly, every single time. But God, knowing that no human being was ever going to hit the bull’s eye 100% of the time, knew that and planned for it. I heard Beth Moore once say, “You can’t separate God’s sovereignty from His foreknowlege,” and I think that is a good way of trying to understand it.
I’m not saying that this is a blank check to just do whatever you want because that must be God’s plan and that everything that happens is what God wanted. And honestly, I don’t have an explanation as to how it works. But for the believer, the person who has placed his trust in Christ, this has to be the reality: somehow, even in our poor, sinful, and weak choices, God, in His foreknowledge of those choices, has a plan to use those choices for our good.
Now I do think we have a responsibility to repent of our poor choices and ask for God’s intervention. And I don’t think it automatically happens all the time for everyone. But I think the offer is there. I heard my former pastor explain it this way: God’s ability to redeem a Plan B is so comprehensive, so awe-inspiring, that it almost seems like Plan B was Plan A.
God is the master-revisionist; He is able to ‘re-write’ a bad choice and still create a positive ending, in line with the plans He has for us.
God is the master-GPS; He is able to take every wrong turn and re-calibrate our course so we still get to the planned destination.
God is the master-McGyver; He is able to take the dregs of any poor choice we make and create something that is custom-made for the plans He has for us.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience delays in the plot or messy resolutions to the conflict; it doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences or unneeded drama. It doesn’t mean that our route was ideal – the shortest, the one without traffic, delays, accidents; maybe our choices caused us to take the long way around – with lots of wrong turns, wasted time, dull scenery, and endless miles to no-where. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t squander time, opportunities, and resources – and possibly damage others in the fall-out.
But it does mean that He can somehow right our wrongs. I can’t explain how He does it, but I can’t deny that He does.
I don’t want to go so far as to say that there is no bad choice, but I think I can safely say that there is no choice that has to be permanently bad; every choice is redeemable, if we are willing. That, I believe. And that bring a tremendous amount of comfort to this indecisive perfectionist who fears making decisions, both big and small, for this very reason.
While the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, the plans of God do not. Ever.