What If There Is No Plan?

 

I know a lot of people are convinced that G-d Has A Plan. For many people, this is a core part of their faith, and it is a comforting thought: no matter what happens, somehow it will all work out in the end. Because, G-d.

But what if there is no plan? After all, the Torah tells us that G-d acts — and reacts — in response to what we do and say. The text is full of examples: Adam and Eve, by eating the fruit, force G-d to react. Cain is only branded after he chooses to kill Abel. The Flood only happens because people choose violence; if they had not done so, then the Flood surely would have been averted. Avraham argues with G-d and changes His mind. So does Moshe.

G-d acting and reacting to mankind is not consistent with some divine plan. Instead, the Torah is telling me that G-d created this world, He put himself in human beings (but not in nature), and then He limited Himself (in both time and space) to allow mankind to have free will, to give us the opportunity to independently create and grow and love and – above all – choose.

The ability to choose means that we are free agents. G-d, admittedly, only gives us a few short years on this earth, so our potential is limited. But that hardly makes it any less potent: if anything, mortality makes us much more likely to take risks. And since our choices matter, He gave us the great power along with the great responsibility.

If G-d does not actually Have A Plan, then being religious is fraught with challenges and responsibilities. This kind of religious faith is no opiate; it drives us to action, not passivity. After all, if we can change G-d’s mind, then don’t we have an obligation to try to do so, on behalf of ourselves and our loved ones? Isn’t this an aspect of prayer, as well as good deeds of all kinds?

Am I wrong? If you think G-d has a plan, how do you know?

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  1. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    The Ineffable’s ‘plan’ is to keep inviting us into more freedom and more responsibility; deeper and deeper loving relationship. He loves us enough to let us make mistakes on our way to him – or to reject him altogether. Awesome to be loved and trusted that much, innit? Yikes…

    • #1
  2. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):

    The Ineffable’s ‘plan’ is to keep inviting us into more freedom and more responsibility; deeper and deeper loving relationship. He loves us enough to let us make mistakes on our way to him – or to reject him altogether. Awesome to be loved and trusted that much, innit? Yikes…

    iWe,

    I like Nanda’s answer. However, I would have liked it if you kept going with your narrative a little farther. After The Flood, mankind improves some but then starts to fall victim to hubris. Mankind becomes very impressed with its own abilities. Now Mankind figures that it’s so good it can challenge Gd and build a tower to heaven. This is less sinful than the generation of the Flood but it is still a problem. In response, Gd confounds their language and breaks up their arrogant tyrannical obsession.

    Luckily, I don’t think we’re so bad that another Flood will happen. However, The Tower with Gd doing a little confounding seem far more likely. Just like Nanda’s comment, we will be invited to realize our mistake and start over. The next time around we won’t have quite so much hubris.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #2
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Sure, G-d gives us free will.

    But that does not mean there is no plan.

    Esther decides whether to act. Mordecai is still right that G-d plans to save His people.

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Even centuries in Egypt and judgement on Pharaoh were part of the plan from Gen. 15.

    Ex. 3 ties the Exodus and the giving of the Torah to the plan of Gen. 12, 15, and 22.

    Deut. 18 and 30 lay out some plans for G-d’s people.

    Psalm 2 tells us G-d’s plan for the nations, and Daniel fills in a few details on that plan stretching across four successive empires.

    And there’s plenty more.

    Not that I’m reliable to follow through if this turns into a theology fight.  Still have 170 students and six kids, etc., etc.

    • #4
  5. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    What a stimulating conversation! I agree with the OP and the first three comments; they are complementary. Please keep it up.

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think there is a plan in that we are built to G-d’s specifications. So the plan often writes itself.

    As a newborn, my daughter Kate’s nurses all remarked on how long her fingers were. When she was two, we realized she was extremely sensitive to sounds of any kind. It seemed like she heard the softest sounds. When she was in first grade, her teacher asked us if she was taking any kind of music lessons. She too had noticed how sensitive Kate was to sound. In third grade, Kate started playing the viola. She was very good at it, but it wasn’t quite the right instrument.

    The following year she switched to the flute. She loved it right away. When she was in fifth grade, her flute teacher nudged us to enroll Kate in private flute lessons. The private flute teacher was blown away by how quickly she learned and advanced. He wanted us to get her an open hole silver flute. It was expensive. However, he said, her fingers were long enough to cover the holes. (The nurses were right!) And her embouchure was already what it needed to be.

    When she was in tenth or eleventh grade, she tried out for the all-girls chorus. It was an acapella group, and the director was shocked that Kate not only had perfect pitch but was a true soprano.

    The point I’m trying to make here is that Kate was a complete package. She had the long fingers, the ability to read music, the desire to play classical music, she had the hearing she needed, and her soprano’s ear was tuned to very high notes. (She also played the piccolo.) Her rhythm was spot on.

    Kate, as do all of my kids, has many talent “packages.” But this one has always jumped out at me as a vivid example of “the plan.” :-)

    I think we have free will, but our will is directed by the purpose G-d created us for. With Kate, it was clear from the start. With me, I still don’t know. :-) But I think G-d enjoys creating people. I think it’s too bad we don’t look at each other with wonder and interest. If we did, civilization would probably be a lot further along than it is. :-)

    • #6
  7. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I think He created everything and then adopted a Hands-Off Management Policy.

    • #7
  8. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    There’s a plan. G-d even bargains with mankind. Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of bargaining. Perhaps the bargain involves the plan of G-d to have mankind seek Him to spare us if enough righteous men and women intercede for all of us.

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    There’s a plan. G-d even bargains with mankind. Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of bargaining. Perhaps the bargain involves the plan of G-d to have mankind seek Him to spare us if enough righteous men and women intercede for all of us.

    An infinitely wise chess player could allow me to make any chess move I like, yet still draw the game in the direction he likes.

    Analogy from my homeboy William James.

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  10. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    This type of discussion could take thousands of words. Although we cannot fathom the infinite wisdom of G-d that does not necessarily mean that G-d is detached from our pleas, and prayers. I have a feeling that I’ll be driven to reread the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    It’s really the Calvinistic question, isn’t it? How much of the life of man is predestined and how much is free will? If God is omniscient to the ending of this world, if the day and hour already chosen and we are all just acting out our roles in a play already written, then why bother?

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    EJHill (View Comment):

    It’s really the Calvinistic question, isn’t it? How much of the life of man is predestined and how much is free will? If God is omniscient to the ending of this world, if the day and hour already chosen and we are all just acting out our roles in a play already written, then why bother?

    It’s all related.  The Calvinist thesis does not depend on divine omniscience, though.  If my brother knows what my kids are doing it doesn’t mean they are not acting freely.  If I know better than their uncle, that does not impede their freedom either.  If G-d happens to know better still, even to the point of perfection, that doesn’t have to impede our freedom either.

    • #12
  13. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet
    @KnotwisethePoet

    Yes, I believe God has a plan.  He knows the end from the beginning, and I therefore believe has anticipated every single possible outcome and set the path that, while still permitting us all to freely choose, will ultimately lead to the best possible outcome for His creation.  Some stories do portray God seemingly changing His mind on something, but I think that comes down either to a more limited understanding on the part of the writer or translator, or to the way that God tests us and guides us and often only gradually reveals His true will concerning things.

    I don’t think this necessarily means that God is tinkering with every minute action and reaction in the universe.  I believe we live in a fallen world, and that God obviously does not shield us from all the imperfections and arbitrariness of such a state of nature.  But I don’t think He’s completely hands off either.  To what exact extent God is actively nudging things this way or that in both individuals’ personal lives and in the broader movements of history, I don’t know.

    As to your final question: how do I “know” that God has a plan?  I take it on faith.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s a central tenet of my faith that God does have a perfect plan, and it’s a foundation for pretty much everything else I believe.  I think if I were to reject that notion I’d be as adrift as I imagine you’d be if you were to reject the Torah.

    • #13
  14. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    The Lord is outside time. What He knows is not at all what or how I know. He knew me, this middle-aged person that I am, when I was knit in my mother’s womb, and He loved me. He didn’t look at developing embryo me and see the possibilities that I might become, He knew me.

    The Lord’s plan is a really long game. I don’t claim to understand it all, but I trust Him and I know His plan is there because He has assured me of such many times.

    I always think of Joseph. His brothers intended evil, but the Lord turned it to good, because Joseph made that possible.

    If the Lord does not have a plan, then all the prophets, especially Isaiah, are just full of hot air and poetry.

     

    • #14
  15. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Sure, G-d gives us free will.

    But that does not mean there is no plan.

    Esther decides whether to act. Mordecai is still right that G-d plans to save His people.

    This question, for me, comes down to, “Can anyone’s action or inaction thwart God’s ultimate Plan?” My answer is an unqualified No. My action or inaction determines whether I contribute to His Plan but cannot defeat it.  Because He is Omniscient and Omnipotent His working out a Plan does not depend on me though I have the opportunity to have a small part in it.

    • #15
  16. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    I think He created everything and then adopted a Hands-Off Management Policy.

    I sort of agree. I don’t think He wants to micro-manage our lives. He gifts us with talents and abilities that enable us to choose various paths in life. And I believe we are free to so choose and He delights in our choosing. We are responsible to recognize whence those abilities arise and to credit Him for them, that is one way we honor and worship Him.

    • #16
  17. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    EJHill (View Comment):

    It’s really the Calvinistic question, isn’t it? How much of the life of man is predestined and how much is free will? If God is omniscient to the ending of this world, if the day and hour already chosen we are all just acting out our roles in a play already written, then why bother?

    Omniscience does not equal predestination, they are very different things. He does know all things, including the choices we will make but that does not preclude Him enabling us to make them. Romans tells us as Christian believers we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, nothing more than that. What that process entails is as individualized as people are, I think.

    • #17
  18. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Even centuries in Egypt and judgement on Pharaoh were part of the plan from Gen. 15.

    G-d creates plans (like The Covenant Between the Parts) in RESPONSE to what man does. There is no indication at all that G-d planned it beforehand.

    More than this: the few “G-d Plans” in the Torh seem to very much be the exception, not the rule. Just because the Jews were servants in Egypt did not meant that it had to play out the way it did: that was on us.

    • #18
  19. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Kate, as do all of my kids, has many talent “packages.” But this one has always jumped out at me as a vivid example of “the plan.” :-)

    I think we have free will, but our will is directed by the purpose G-d created us for.

    I think there are many things I could have done. G-d creates possibilities in each person. Some people follow those – others do not. It does not work out the way we are made in far, far too many cases.

    Don’t we all know people who made messes of their lives? Do we really think that was G-d’s plan all along for them? I don’t.

    • #19
  20. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    There’s a plan. G-d even bargains with mankind.

    Don’t you see that these are in contradiction? If G-d planned to destroy the Jewish people and Moshe changes His mind…. then the original plan is not fixed at all. It was nothing more tha a goal.

    Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of bargaining. Perhaps the bargain involves the plan of G-d to have mankind seek Him to spare us if enough righteous men and women intercede for all of us.

    I entirely agree that G-d wants us to engage with Him and change his mind! But I do not think that is a plan – it is a direction of travel.

    There is no doubt in my mind that G-d wants mankind to choose to do good, to love Him and each other. But I don’t think of this as a plan, any more than our desire for our children to be good people is a “plan.”

     

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    EJHill (View Comment):
    If God is omniscient to the ending of this world, if the day and hour already chosen and we are all just acting out our roles in a play already written, then why bother?

    I agree. And so I do not believe that G-d is omniscient in our world, just as it is clear to me that in this world, He chooses not to be omnipotent.

    • #21
  22. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    iWe (View Comment):
    Just because the Jews were servants in Egypt did not meant that it had to play out the way it did: that was on us.

    “The Lord has a plan” and “we are predestined by Fate” are not the same thing.

    One of the things I am discussing this year with my 7th grader reading about the Greeks this year is that they believed in Fate. Oedipus can’t escape his fate. The Trojans can’t escape their fate. Fate is in the hands of capricious, petty gods whose one redeeming quality is that they condemned human sacrifice.

    The Lord’s plan includes free will. It depends on free will. The Lord’s plan is free will, in fact.

    That Lord! He’s pretty bold! Leaving it on us… Kind of fun, no?

    • #22
  23. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Knotwise the Poet (View Comment):
    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s a central tenet of my faith that God does have a perfect plan, and it’s a foundation for pretty much everything else I believe.

    Good. So we have a clear difference between the faiths. I do not believe, from the Torah, that G-d must have a plan to be G-d. And you believe, from your faith, that G-d must have a plan.

    Thank you!

    • #23
  24. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    The Lord is outside time.

    Yes – and no.

    If G-d is truly all-powerful, then can He not restrict himself? Otherwise we (and the rest of the finite, physical world), could not exist. “Man cannot see my face and live.”

    I think G-d restricts Himself in space and in time. That is how He can both be G-d, and mankind can exist.

     

    • #24
  25. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    The Lord’s plan is a really long game.

    I entirely agree that G-d is playing the long game. Which is why we are also enjoined to connect with Him “from generation to generation.”

    I always think of Joseph. His brothers intended evil, but the Lord turned it to good, because Joseph made that possible.

    No argument on this point, either.

    If the Lord does not have a plan, then all the prophets, especially Isaiah, are just full of hot air and poetry.

    Here’s the rub. If G-d’s Plan dominates no matter what we do, then why bother have prophets at all? The prophets were there to tell the people to get their acts together. Which tells me that as and when people refuse to hear, even the divine goals suffer.

    I do not believe that it was necessary, for example, for history to play out as it has. G-d has goals – but He wants us to share them and strive for them in partnership.

     

    • #25
  26. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    iWe (View Comment):
    G-d has goals – but He wants us to share them and strive for them in partnership.

    Yes, which is why He give us the prophets. To let us know that we can get in on His plan. His will be the winning team! Cooperate with Him and you’re in like Flynn!

    History is a story of horror and tragedy, of opportunities missed and lives lost. It has its transcendent moments, but much of the time we see the results of the fact that sin is real played out again and again.

    As you imply, the Lord seems willing to suffer with us, or perhaps, to suffer us, until we get it right. Keep trying! Gambatte! Courage!

    I don’t claim to know His plan, but I know He has one. 

    • #26
  27. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I don’t claim to know His plan, but I know He has one. 

    OK. We’ll disagree on this.

    I see a lot of parallels with parenting  (as well as marriage). Good parents don’t have a plan for their kids – we have hopes and dreams that they become good people and achieve good things. But show me a parent who thinks they know precisely how it will happen, and I’ll show you a parent who does not have teenagers.

    Similarly, in our marriages we know what we think we want from our spouse. But life, done well, is a continuous journey of discovery on the part of both parties.

     

    • #27
  28. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    As you imply, the Lord seems willing to suffer with us, or perhaps, to suffer us, until we get it right.

    I recoil at the word “suffer”. I know it is important for Christians. Jews see that G-d is involved, that He pushes and stresses and grows us. But the emphasis is always on the journey, not on any suffering along the way.

    For Jews, suffering is only when every other feedback mechanism has failed.

    • #28
  29. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    iWe (View Comment):
    Which tells me that as and when people refuse to hear, even the divine goals suffer.

    Sorry but you used the word “suffer” yourself with respect to the Lord.

    • #29
  30. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    iWe (View Comment):
    But the emphasis is always on the journey, not on any suffering along the way.

    I think you misunderstand the theology of Christian suffering.

    In itself, suffering is horrible.

    If it has purpose, suffering can redeem. In the theology of suffering, the emphasis is very much on the journey.

    • #30

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