(Is this your experience? Do you agree?)
One of leading Christian dichotomies is that of "planned freedom". On the one side "planned" seems to be about a predetermined life, while "freedom" implies a self-driven, anarchistic, beautiful and creative expression. One is boring, the other is exciting.
No wonder people rebel against the perception that Christians who "follow the rules" are boring people. Yet, like most of the many apparent paradoxes in Christianity, it's really only a false dichotomy, one that has been poorly communicated, poorly understood, and misses the deeper and joyful insight that is to be found in true planned freedom.
Yet this remains a problem for many Christians and they wrestle incessantly with the notion that they must hear from God about every decision, lest they possibly miss his "plan". Many a time one hears Jeremiah quoted "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Often you hear this when someone is wrestling with difficulties and one hopes to comfort them, the implication being that God will sort out the affairs of your life - colleagues, friends, finances, work, marriage, whatever - and so one should take comfort in this assurance. But the reality is that our material life does not always fall into place no matter how close we walk to God, stuff still happens! And then the feelings of condemnation start; "I must be a bad person", "God doesn't love me", "What am I doing wrong", or even "God is nowhere near me."
The blame for this I place squarely at the foot of neo-Calvinism: the truth of the sovereignty of God has been blindly layered onto thoughtful orthodoxy and left a distorted understanding in it's wake.
This idea that God has mapped out your life for you in glorious detail - where you'll live, what job you'll have, who you'll love, etc., etc., is a dangerous and irrational approach. For it infers that your free will is only the freedom to choose against what God has pre-ordained. It says you have no choice in the good things because God has planned them already. But that is not free will, that is only giving you the option of rebellion. And so when things go wrong the thought "I must have made a bad choice" comes quickly following.
Part of this problem is because people don't think. Really think. About the deep meaning of what they are saying.
Part of the problem is that this treats the Bible as a recipe book; do this, do that, and it'll all make for a happy life.
But the story of God is just that, a recount of experiences woven around a deep reality. The Bible is simply (!) the leading and reference compilation of this story. And the story is unique among all religions, and it's theme is about restoration and rescue from our alienation. This is what our life is about, what God's plan is about, an opportunity of reconciliation for a changed future.
Thus God's plans are first and foremost, above all else, about restoring our relationship. Everything else is for that purpose. And if we know him already, then his plan continues on perfecting that relationship to release us to be what we were created to be; creatures of free will, creative and innovative, expressive, inquisitive and thirsty to know, designed for relationship with the ultimate in creativity, empowered by his presence - that's Grace!
The plans are to let us exercise our free will all the more creatively, and moreover all the more joyfully. I can choose this job, or that one. I can decide to go on holiday or not. I have options to pursue love with one person or another. But behind all these choices is the real plan of God, the plan to dive deeper into intimacy, the plan to be who we were created to be, and this plan is the backdrop to all our choices.
When I choose, I can choose paths which take me further from God, or towards God. That is the real choice, the only fundamental choice. In the same way that a young couple make choices to deepen their relationship toward intimate love, choosing from many paths of pursuit how the way one will chase the other. It could be through roses and fine wine dinners, picnics at the top of a mountain, long distance emails and calls over Skype, but they choose options and use these to grow their relationship. A boy may make a choice to teach his girlfriend how to surf so they can share this together. Or she may introduce him to hiking so they can do that together. Surfing or hiking: is only one "planned" by God? There's no right and wrong in surfing or hiking, only how they are used in the relationship.
For many choices, perhaps even most of our choices, these choices are neutral. The key issue is only whether those choices detract from or contribute to God's plan for our deepening relationship with him.
This is freedom; the freedom to choose from a dazzling array of opportunities and to live these choices for the betterment of our relationship with God.
[PS: Of course, the deeper the relationship, the more the natural inclinations of our choices will align with God's greater purposes]
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