Does God Ever Initiate a “Plan B?”

In a couple weeks – on Aug. 31, to be precise – my wife and I will begin facilitating our sixth semester of divorce ministry at The Crossing. While we both think quite highly of the curriculum and enjoy getting to meet and befriend new people through the class, DivorceCare is one of those ministries where you secretly (perhaps naively) wish that “customer demand” was not quite so high. Alas, separations and divorces continue along at an epidemic level – both inside and outside the church – with little to no sign of tapering off. Marriage itself may be on the wane in our culture, but certainly not divorce.

From our vantage point, it would seem that the single-hardest notion for the recently-separated to accept goes something like this: “God never has a ‘Plan B’ for your life…what you are walking through right now, hard as it may be to hear this, is ‘Plan A.’ What’s happening to you right now…today. What’s happening to your children, what’s going on with your ex, your finances…all of it is the ‘Plan A’ of a loving, faithful Creator God.” Because this is such a difficult message to deliver to anyone experiencing tragedy, we typically prefer to wait for Pastor Dave Cover to show up and lay out this hard truth, as it has so many implications for how a believer will choose to walk through heartbreak.

If what Dave is saying is true, though – and I have come to believe that it is – how can we continue to joyfully worship a God Who has allowed so much evil to infiltrate and destroy our lives? My first answer would be to point to Joseph, “faithfully rotting away” in Pharoah’s prison for several years (Genesis 39:20; 40:23) with absolutely no clue that he would one day be exalted to the position of prime minister over all of Egypt. I would probably cite the same passage used yesterday to close out The Crossing’s sermon series on the book of Genesis: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20) In short, Joseph trusted God even while in prison for a crime he did not commit; his faith enabled him to see that the evil committed by other men could be shaped and molded to God’s good purposes in the life of one faithful believer…and an entire nation of people saved from starvation.

Whether or not you believe that “there is no such thing as a Plan B in God’s economy” really comes down to your view of God Himself. If you are someone who sees God’s power in your life as necessarily limited or in any way contingent upon the response of human beings, you will tend to allow yourself to think things such as, “God would never have allowed me to marry this man if He knew that it would end in adultery,” or perhaps, “God would never have allowed this sort of suffering in the lives of my children.” This “smaller version” of God’s sovereign power in our lives allows us to place ourselves in the judgment seat and presume to tell God – rather than ask Him – what is “best” for us and for those we love. Even more dangerous, when we deny that whatever is going on in our lives is God’s merciful Plan A for us, we prevent ourselves from seeing whatever He is trying to do within that particular trial.

A few years ago, when Dave was honing in on his “No Plan B” message, I finally – for whatever reason – had my ears enabled to really hear it. For me, anyway, the issue at hand always boiled down to whether or not God was capable of “changing His mind.” Of course, I was well aware of the passage in 1 Samuel 15:11, wherein God “regretted” making Saul king over Israel, but it seemed to me that the word itself – regret – contained within it the (untrue) implication that God had not already known how Saul would turn out when he had him anointed as king. Was God somehow “surprised” by this (or any) turn of events? Here again, the ESV Study Bible notes are an excellent, accessible source of information on thorny issues such as these:

1 Samuel 15:29: The term “regret” poses a difficulty, since verses 11 and 35 say that God did regret making Saul king, while here Samuel denies that God will ever lie or have regret (cf. Numbers 23:19). The term for “have regret” (Hebrew: nakham) can be translated “relent” or “change one’s mind” (e.g. Exodus 32:12, 14; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 24:16; [1 Chronicles 21:15]; Psalm 106:45; Jeremiah 15:6, 18:8, 10, 26:3, 13, 19, 42:10; Ezekiel 24:14; Joel 2:13-14; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9-10, 4:2) or “have pity or compassion” (Deuteronomy 32:36; Judges 2:18; Psalm 90:13, Psalm 135:14) as well as “be sorry” or “have regret” (cf. Genesis 6:6-7). Thus the term as used in 1 Samuel 15:11, 35 describes God’s own feeling of sorrow or regret that Saul had turned out as he did (and does not even address the question whether God knew it beforehand), while in verse 29 God will not regret or change his mind concerning a decision once he has made it.

I suspect that for most of us, the issue of Saul’s failures as Israel’s first king and whether or not this was God’s Plan A for His people Israel does not resonate all that deeply while we are facing our own failures – like bottoming out in alcohol addiction, losing our home, being dragged into court or having our children taken from us. I do not use these examples lightly, either, as I have personally lived through all of those experiences. Doubtless, in the moment of greatest pain, I responded poorly to the idea that any of that garbage was God’s perfected Plan A for my life. Yet, in hindsight, I can say with confidence that these were all part of God’s plan to redeem my life from the pit (Psalm 56:13; 103:1-5) and refine me more and more into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 4:1, 6).

Having a large view of God’s sovereignty and all-encompassing power is really quite liberating, though (like most people) I greatly resisted the rather-obvious ideas that I am finite, frail and utterly contingent upon God’s grace in every way. To this very day I suffer through some situations that are absolutely appalling in their lack of sense or reason; I am frequently tempted to ask, “What good can possibly come of this?” In those desperate moments, as emotions swell, quickly recalling the simple words “No Plan B” allows me to take hold of the freedom to trust God, submit myself once again to His authority, and rely upon His Body, the church, to help me pull through the worst of it.

To anyone struggling through a particularly difficult season in life, I would strongly encourage you to memorize Romans 8:28 and work through whatever amount of Bible study you find necessary to accept the truckloads of sound theology supporting the idea that nothing we say, do or experience catches God off-guard. Not the sins we commit, not the sins that are committed against us, not the sinners we marry (or give birth to), not the financial mess we’ve gotten ourselves in…nothing. It can all be used for our good, and for the good of others, if we will fully and finally surrender all of it to His care.

Note: If you are currently going through a separation and/or divorce, please do not go through it alone. Sign up for DivorceCare at The Crossing by visiting our Online Registration Page or (if you would rather not attend Divorcecare at The Crossing) please visit the DivorceCare Find-a-Group page; entering your ZIP code into the quick-and-easy web form will help you find other groups operating nearby.

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