Cortana: “Now what do we do?”
John-117: “Plan B.”
It was really great catching up with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago; we hadn’t seen each other in close to a year. Pubs are always good places to have deep conversations about theology and philosophy over a couple of drinks. During our catch up, she talked to me about how she’s been asking questions about her faith, her relationship with God, the evidence for it, but she raised a question that she’s been looking at. What if you miss your calling from God? Having a purpose in this world is what many, if not all people seek. Having a part in God’s plan is what every Christian wants. So the thought that you might not have one can make a Christian quite anxious. This is the situation that my friend is facing.
She was called to go on mission in a foreign country, and it was a brutal experience for her (she’s given me permission to share this, but has asked for specifics to be left out) It left her emotionally battered, insecure and unable to trust anyone. She’s not been back on mission since. Going out to do missionary work is hard. I was looking to do some in China, but the organization I spoke to didn’t think I was ready. There are several ways to look at the issue; Was it her calling? Did she misread the signs? Did God need her to learn something and it’s all part of the plan? Did God change his mind? Has God reverted to a back up plan? Is she now no longer of any use to God? All of these raise their own set of issues and questions and to fully look at all of them would result in a stupidly long blog post.
To start with the basic question of whether it was actually her calling, I’m not entirely sure there is any way of determining that for sure. There’s a popular saying that says “if God leads you to it, he’ll lead you through it”. Now, it could be said that since she wasn’t led through it, it wasn’t her calling. Nowhere in the Bible though, does it say that if God leads us to something it will be easy. Jesus seems quite categoric in saying that it won’t be easy when he talks about denying ourselves and taking up crosses, but it’s something else entirely to say God intends it to be tough. If it wasn’t her calling, it’s very easy to say “Oh yeah, God has a purpose for you, just hang in there”, but it’s not easy to do when you don’t see anything to hang on to, but I will come back to this.
If God did call her, then we’re left with either God sending her out, knowing that she would suffer, sending her to learn some kind of lesson through the suffering, or sending her without knowing what would happen. With all of these, they’re similar questions that come up when talking about the problem of suffering. The difference here though is that we’re more talking about God sending someone and suffering for it (other than his Son of course), rather than just allowing something to happen. These seem to raise bigger hurdles for the “now what?” question as we’re really into the character of God. I’m reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac at the Lords command only for an angel to step in at the last minute. Peter Enns puts forward an interpretation that God wanted to see if Abraham would carry out his instructions whilst trusting him when he said he would establish a covenant with him . Abraham showed that he was obedient and God was pleased.
If God did send my friend, it was his purpose that she was there, so one possible answer is that he wanted to see if she could handle it and what would happen. If He needed to send her elsewhere, she would have had an experience that she could draw on. She went, but the experience has left her not wanting to go again, and any hint of suggestion that she is being called back, is likely to be resisted. This does raise the question of how we determine whether it’s God doing the calling, but I touched on that elsewhere . If any kind of test was involved, it doesn’t seem to be a pass or fail. This does seem to call into question the nature of God, his omnipotence and omniscience.
An idea put forward by Keith Ward is that God knows every single possible future, every consequence of every decision but because we are beings of free will, he can’t know what we choose to do. He can adapt and be creative and indeed it is good that he does . Some will point to passages about God knowing us before we were born. I think God knows us so well that he can predict with 100% accuracy what we will do but hasn’t seen the precise future, he’s seen all of them. God has a habit though of using past and present sufferings and getting good out of them, using them for his purpose. This is not the same as saying God caused these to happen, just getting good out of bad situation (isn’t this what pretty much happened with the cross?). There have been many attempts to explain omnipotence and omniscience throughout history, especially in light of the problem of suffering, and it’s a discussion that’s still on-going today.
So, is God still on plan A or has he moved onto plan B? Like the question about calling, I’m not sure this can be answered (or at least I can’t answer it as my ramblings above show) and whilst on one level it doesn’t matter, on another it matters a great deal. All the discussions over what properties make up omnipotence are philosophical and make great conversations with friends over a pint. It can matter a great deal though if you’re struggling to work out whether God has got plans for you or not. If you’re wrestling with the nature of God, what may be comforting to another person may not work for you. This can be said for most questions in life really, but sometimes we need to work through those struggles to get answers that make sense to us and sometimes revisiting them in necessary. Answers can give us something to hold onto whilst dealing with other storms. For me, it doesn’t matter whether God is using plan A, B, or something from a completely different alphabet, he knows what he’s doing. But there are other views regarding the nature of Gods control; one view is that God is in control, not because God is pulling all those strings in the background to make everything work, but because God endowed us with the capacity to create our experience of life . Either way, God has not just thrown his hands up in desperation going “that’s it, I’m out of here!”
It’s not in God’s nature to simply abandon people; he shares in our struggles and pain. He hurts like Jesus wept over Lazarus’s grave with Mary and Martha. He comforts even in the face of questions that remain unanswered for now. The fact that God doesn’t abandon people rules out my friend not having a purpose. It also rules out the aftermath being a punishment for disobeying God . God also did not create people who only have the capacity to perform one task. She played a major part in me coming to Christ, and for the 6 months we shared a house, that was her task, and then God moved her on. When we think of callings, we think of big grand things but often they can be small things. Often it’s the small things that make a big impact; sometimes the calling is to just be who we are. Not everyone gets to make the big dramatic statement or get a Ph. D in theology, but we all have skills that God can put to use, most are part of who we are. The great thing about God is that he keeps giving you chances to use them.
Have you ever done something because God called you to but it ended badly? How did you deal with the aftermath? Have you ever questioned whether God has a purpose, and what do you make of the various explanations of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Please comment below, but please be respectful to those who you disagree with
 Dr Enns, Peter (2005) Inspiration and Incarnation; Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament Baker Academic
 Ward, Kevin (2008) Why There Almost Certainly Is a God; Doubting Dawkins Lion Hudson