by Paul George
Jesus warned about “straining gnats and swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24). By this, He was referring to a fixation on particular details of the Law, while losing sight of the purposes of the Law. Many of us get “lost in the details of Scripture,” and lose sight of what God is doing in this world. The question,” What in the World is Happening” is answered in God’s eternal plan for the creation of the universe and humanity which He is carrying out in history.
We have all asked the question, “What in the world is going on?” We ask this question when we perceive that what is happening does not seem to square with our understanding of how things are supposed to be. When Job’s life seemed to crumble, his family, flocks and wealth suddenly snatched from him he asked God for an explanation of what was going on in his world. Habakkuk also questioned what God was doing when God informed him that He was about to chastise Judah by means of the cruel and wicked Chaldeans.
Job and Habakkuk needed to learn the lesson we need to learn in this trying age. God’s plan for creation is a good plan. It is good in a functional sense, because the plan is certain to work, producing the ends for which it was ordained. Ultimately, it is good because it is God’s plan.
When Jesus came to earth, Mary pondered many things in her heart that she did not understand concerning the coming of the Messiah. In the beginning, the disciple’s hearts were filled with joy and excitement, when Jesus began to speak of His rejection, suffering, and death, the disciples were baffled. They probably asked themselves, “What in the world is going on?” How could the Messiah possibly speak of His own death? They did not understand God’s plan. As the time of His crucifixion drew near, Jesus began to spell out more clearly details of the divine plan for creation. He drew their attention to the Old Testament prophecies, explaining how His rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection were a necessary part of God’s eternal plan. The disciples still did not understand. After His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Jesus finally opened their eyes to understand the plan of God, especially concerning His sacrificial death. On the road to Emmaus Jesus called the two disciples, “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken.” He asked them, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27).
The foundation for God’s plan for the universe and humanity.
Because God is the Creator, He is the rightful owner of all creation. As the rightful owner, God has the right to do with His creation as He wishes. As Creator God also has the freedom to design and fashion His creation in a way that would best serve His purposes. God, the Creator, is also the Sustainer of His creation. He is not distant and uninvolved with His creation; He is deeply involved in every aspect of its existence. He knows each of us intimately, including the number of hairs on our head and the thoughts of our hearts. He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29-30). He knows not only what will happen, but also what could happen. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:17). Human plans change, and they change frequently because of imperfection. Our imperfection causes changes to occur. God alone is perfect, and thus there is no need for Him to change.
Since God’s plans are perfect as well, they will not change either. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation (Psalm 33:11). Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand (Proverbs 19:21). “This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).
God’s plan is trustworthy
The statements of the Second Person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ, are consistent with the words of Scripture concerning God’s plan. Repeatedly Jesus indicated He was not pursuing His own plan but fulfilling the plan of the Father:
And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them (Luke 2:46-50).
Jesus told the disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).
God’s plan reflects the will of God
When our Lord spoke of the Father’s plan for all eternity, He spoke of it as the Father’s will. Likewise, when we speak of “God’s plan for creation” or of “God’s plan for the ages” we often refer to this as God’s will, and rightly so. However, this “will” of God must be distinguished from God’s eternal decree, God’s desire, God’s standard for humanity, and the permissive will of God. The eternal decree of God will surely happen and encompasses God’s desire, God’s standard for humanity and God’s permissive will. God’s desire refers to what is closest to God’s heart such as He is not willing that any one should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God’s standard for humanity is God’s will set down in the Scriptures as commands, standards, or principles which govern what we do or do not do. God’s permissive will include those events or actions of men that are, in and of themselves, sinful. They are contrary to God’s decree and to His standard for humanity. God used the sinful actions of Joseph’s brothers to bring the entire family of Jacob to Egypt (Genesis 15:12-16). He used the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, the treachery of Judas, and the political cowardice of Herod and Pilate to bring about the sacrificial death of our Lord.
God’s plan is eternal
God’s plan for the universe and humanity was established in eternity past, long before God created the heavens and the earth. It extends to eternity future when God’s kingdom will be established on the earth, and men will enjoy the eternal blessings of being in His presence, or the agony of eternal separation. The revelation of God’s plan in the Bible begins in the Garden of Eden. Because the Bible is addressed to men, the story of creation is the starting point.
God’s plan is infallible
The plans of humans generally fail because we have overlooked some detail. Something unforeseen arises, and our plans collapse. This is because not every detail was taken into account. God’s plan is all-inclusive. It is based on God’s omniscience so that everything past, present, and future is taken into account. God’s omniscience includes all things that will actually occur, as well as all things that could possibly occur. God’s plan includes seemingly insignificant details. It excludes “good luck” or coincidences.
God’s plan also includes the creation of life, the design, and the destiny of men (Psalm 127; 139). It includes the calling of individuals to specific service (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15). The plan has precise timing as well (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Daniel 9:2, 24-27; 12:11-12; Mark 1:15; 13:32-33; Luke 1:20; John 7:6).
The goal of God’s plan
The goal of God’s plan is to bring glory to Him. To the Christian, the glory of God is our hope, “Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2).
God’s plan does not change
“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (Hebrews 6:17-19).
The plan of God is certain:
“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:11).
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
“This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).
The assuring truth that God’s plan is certain is because it is God’s plan. This is based on the truth that God is all- knowing and all-powerful, that He is faithful to His promises, and that His glory is at stake. It is also based on the fact that God’s plan is eternal and all-inclusive.
The plan of God is complete, fully developed, and as good as done, from God’s point of view: “His works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). From a human point of view, the plan is being revealed progressively through history and is only partially revealed. The Old Testament Law contains the outline of God’s plan. God’s plan could be seen in its initial phrase through the history of Israel. The Old Testament prophets persisted in calling Israel’s attention to God’s plan in the Law. They also added more detail to the plan that God had outlined in the Law. If the Law foretold of a Savior through the “seed” of Eve (Genesis 3:15), it was later revealed that this seed would be the offspring of David (2 Samuel 7) and also of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The suffering of the Messiah is hinted at in Genesis 3;15 and is foreshadowed in the offering up of Isaac (Genesis 22) and in the rejection and suffering of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), as well as in the Passover (Exodus 12). It is further explained in the Psalms (16, 22) and Isaiah 53. The coming Messiah, who was at first understood to be a “son of man” is later described as the “Son of God” (Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2). When the Lord Jesus came to the earth, suffered, died, and rose again, God’s plan for the Messiah’s first coming was fulfilled. The Gospels, along with the Epistles, thoroughly explain the plan of God for Messiah’s first coming.
God’s plan is a mystery
God’s plan is a mystery because it is the product of the divine mind of God and not the finite mind of man. God’s plan is a mystery because of the mysterious way in which God works, using sin to accomplish His good will, suffering to produce glory, death to bring about life, a mystery which fallen man cannot fathom apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
The outcome of God’s plan
God’s plan is not only for His glory, but for the good of “those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). His plan is not for the “good” of those who rebel against Him and reject His plan. God’s plan has a purpose for both the saved and the lost, but the destiny of each is vastly different:
While the outcome of God’s plan is certain to be for the good of the Christian, the process that God uses may appear otherwise. God allows sin to be committed when it produces the good He has purposed. It is very difficult in the midst of the process to see the “good” God is producing as the final product. God’s children must therefore live by faith, trusting in God’s promises even when present circumstances seem to contradict them. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us this was the case with all of the Old Testament saints:
“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We must come to see suffering not just as the result of sin but the process for producing saints:
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:5-11).
God’s plan for creation is to rule over His creation in a way that demonstrates His glory. Until that day, when our hope of glory is realized, we must live in a world that suffers the effects of man’s fall, a world in which there is suffering and groaning. We shall find that we ourselves groan, waiting for His perfect rule (Romans 8:18-25). The Messiah came to save men from their sins, and He will come again to establish His rule over a fallen world. When we repent and turn to Christ in faith, we should understand that we receive Him as Savior and Lord. Throughout human history, men have demonstrated their faith in God by submitting to His rule. They understood that one must trust and obey. If we love Him, our Lord Jesus said, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). This is why Moses set the law before the people of Israel as a matter of life and death (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). It is not because law keeping saves us, but because reverence for God will be reflected by respect for His laws.
As Christians, our plans ought to be subordinate to and guided by God’s plan. God has not revealed His entire plan to us, and thus we do not know the specific dates and timing of promised future events (Matthew 24:34-36). Because God’s plan is a mystery, understood fully only after its fulfillment, we dare not be presumptuous in our plans for the future. All of our plans must be subordinate to God’s plan and must take into account God’s rearranging of our plans. We should heed the words of James:
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil’” (James 4:13-16).
We must not take our plans too seriously. In the Book of Acts, the apostles devised a plan to replace Judas (Acts 1:12-26). From what we can tell, the action taken by the apostles did not have much of an impact on the church. When, on the other hand, God raised up Paul as an apostle, completely independent of the apostles, the world was turned upside-down. The apostolic church had not planned to evangelize the world and probably would have opposed it (Acts 10 and 11). Nevertheless, God sovereignty sent out witnesses (Acts 8:1; 11:19-21) so that churches began to spring up in the Gentile world.
The Apostle Paul’s plans serve as a model for our plans. They were inspired by and consistent with God’s plan for him and for his ministry, as well as for the world (Acts 9:15-16; Romans 1:1-15). Because God’s plan included the salvation of all nations, Paul kept pressing toward those places which were unevangelized (Romans 15:18-21). He drew tentative conclusions concerning God’s plan for his life, and then set himself to carrying out God’s purpose (Philippians 1:19-26; 2:19-24). His plans were often modified by divine intervention. Sometimes human and or satanic opposition played a part in the changes in Paul’s plans, but all of this was in the providence of God (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18).
The important lesson for us to learn is that we should plan for the future. Our plans should be governed and guided by what we know of God’s overall plan for His creation. Our plans should also be tentative, knowing that God often accomplishes His will in ways that we would never have imagined and for which we would never have planned. In these cases, our plans must change as the hand of God becomes evident.
God’s plan has not been revealed to suppress our sense of responsibility but to reinforce our sense of responsibility. The expression, “What will be, will be” does not go far enough. The Bible teaches, “Whatever God wills, will be.” This truth is taught in the Bible to encourage and motivate us to live godly lives. It is not intended to cause us to become careless as though nothing we do matter. God’s kingdom is certain, but whether His purposes are realized through a Moses, who obeyed God or a Pharaoh who opposed Him, God’s plan will be completed.
Let us pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.