(I regularly receive and respond to questions from readers or parishioners. It struck me this week as I was responding to several questions from a parishioner that there may be others who struggle with the same questions she was asking. That got me thinking that maybe it would be helpful to, at times, post these questions and my responses. With the permission of the one asking, here’s a question and my response.)
When I was a young person I believe I missed doing God’s will. I’ve apologized many times since.
Here’s my question: If we screw up God’s first plan for us, what comes next? Do we ever get to experience again the fullness of his original gift/plan?
Or, if not, is that the consequence we have to live with for the rest of our lives?
Hi! Great questions.
In the third chapter of my little book, Why? I deal with this question. I’ll offer here a brief summary of the chapter.
We all regularly miss God's "plan A"—myself included. All of the biblical figures, apart from Jesus, misunderstood, misheard, or chose to ignore God's will at multiple points in their lives. Sometimes we misunderstand. Sometimes we're determined to do what we want. The good news is that God is a specialist in "plan B"! God has to be since we humans are great at missing "plan A."
But let me offer another perspective I’ve found helpful. You have children. What is your will for them? Is it very specific—that they will marry this person, that they will go to that college, that they will have this career and live in that city. Or is your will for them that they would love God and others, that they would seek to live lives worthy of the gospel, that they would do justice and love kindness?
Here's my point: the plans God has for us may be quite specific at times. I think I was supposed to be a pastor, and that I was supposed to start the Church of the Resurrection and even that I was supposed to marry LaVon. But had I decided to be a lawyer, I think God would have found some way to use me there. And had the bishop not sent me to start Resurrection, God would have used me with some other flock. And had I not married LaVon, she would have married another man who would have loved her, and I would have married another woman and would have loved her. Don't dwell too much on what you think, in hindsight, was "plan A"—unless it is something you feel God is now calling you to pursue.
Mostly, I want you to know that you are not powerful enough to truly screw up God's plans! :-) God has you in his sights. He loves you and delights in you. And though at some point you surely have missed God's plan A (as we all have), he still has plans to prosper and bless you and to give you a future with hope.
Recently I was reading the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis. I love this story for the picture it paints of divine providence. You remember it, no doubt. Joseph was young and a bit full of himself. He was also his father's favorite child and his father unwisely showed this. These two facts led to great resentment on the part of his brothers. Was Joseph's ego God's will? Was his father's dysfunctional way of showing his preference for Joseph God’s will? Was it God’s will that his brother's grew to hate Joseph? No, none of these were God's will.
Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, they tell their father he was killed, and they think they are finished with Joseph. Were these actions God's "plan A"? Of course not; this was immoral. Joseph goes to Egypt, is thrown in prison when he refuses to sleep with his master's wife, and she lies and accuses him of attempted rape. Joseph does the right thing, and he ends up in prison. Was that God's "plan A"?
But remember that while in prison he becomes known for interpreting dreams, and when Pharaoh has terrible dreams, Joseph is taken out of prison to help interpret them. And soon Joseph is running the country's agriculture program. The story ends with the brothers needing grain during the famine, and it just so happens that Joseph is in a position to save them and does (after a bit of trickery on his part). It is in the context of this story that the word "forgiveness" first appears in the Bible as Joseph forgives his brothers. Finally, then, there is that wonderful verse where Joseph tells his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Here's the point of that story for you, I think: You may or may not have missed God's "plan A"—but God's plan B is your new plan A. God uses our mishaps and mistakes to accomplish his purposes. You're right where he wants you today. And it may feel to you, at the moment, like the years Joseph spent in prison because you can't yet see how it's all going to work out yet.
But trust him, keep seeking to do his will, know that the tough stuff will not last, and that even this period of existential angst is being used by God. Picture him before the potter's wheel, forming and shaping you for purposes you cannot yet see.