God has a wonderful plan. But it’s not for my life.
Well, to be more precise, the primary plan and purpose of God only includes me as a footnote. And I don’t know what my part in His plan actually is. In fact, to be honest, God’s plan for me might be, by all ordinary definitions, horrendous. Maybe in order to accomplish His ultimate plan God will send me to the jungles of Brazil, where I immediately contract a painful, paralyzing disease while my wife gets kidnapped in the woods, and then I die of torture at the hands of savage tribesmen before I even get to mention Jesus. No matter how much grace comes from that when I enter eternity, that is not what anyone would call a wonderful plan under normal circumstances.
This isn’t to say that things won’t work out right someday. After I die, and even more so after I am resurrected, life will be pretty sweet. I can’t wait to see what wonders of grace God has in store for me in the new creation. Even so, I must make a point.
It is incredibly misleading to evangelize by telling people, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”
The problem with this kind of speaking is that people don’t hear from that statement, “God will save you and incorporate you into a brilliant new creation, but in the meantime there will be struggles and suffering” (which is the truth), but “God will make your earthly life easier and happier.” The happiness of the Christian life is very counter-intuitive. We receive grace in struggle, and we find strength in our weakness. We endure (supposedly) suffering and tribulation as joy for Christ. Because of this, God is more than willing to give us these good gifts. The lyrics of a Tenth Avenue North song come to mind:
You break me to bind me
You hurt me, Lord, to heal me
You cut me to touch me
You died to revive me!
This is how God works for believers. So maybe the trials of life are a “wonderful plan” in the sense that they lead us ultimately to more grace. However, when applied to evangelism, this seems deceptive, or at least unintentionally misleading.
Potential converts are not expecting trials and tribulation as part of a “wonderful plan” for their lives.
At very least, we should explain and qualify this phrase. We should also explain that this is only the case for people who eventually come to faith in Jesus Christ. There is no wonderful plan for those who reject Christ until they die. The Bible is clear that those who do not believe in Jesus are already condemned, so the only plan God has for those who do not trust in Jesus is judgment.
By the way, what I’ve just said isn’t Calvinism. It’s the case either way. Whether God sovereignly chooses your destiny or not, He knows your destiny. So if God knows infallibly that you will reject Christ (and thus neither this nor the next life will be wonderful), then any concept of a “wonderful plan” He may have for you is a sham. A plan means nothing if there is 100% chance that it won’t be realized and the planner knows it.
So, I am not sure it is credible or accurate to evangelize by telling people about how God has a wonderful plan for their lives. There are too many issues. If we are to mention “wonderful plans” at all, we should tell of God’s wonderful plan for creation as a whole. The world will not remain in death and decay, in suffering and sin. Instead God will renew it and make it into His perfect new creation, of which all who trust in Jesus may be a part. Not only can we be a part of the future kingdom, but we can anticipate and live towards that kingdom now. This is God’s wonderful plan in which He invites us to join Him through the Gospel. For though we, being ourselves allied with and corrupt by sin, do not belong in the new creation of God’s Kingdom, Jesus has made Himself the representative for all who are united with Him by faith, so that He could bear the penalty for our sin, and we could bear the blessings of His righteousness.
This, then, is the wonderful plan of God: to create a perfect and excellent creation all ordered according to His benevolent will through the Lord Jesus Christ, including centrally a people redeemed for Himself by the blood of His Son, united with Him by faith. We are invited to trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord of all and the Savior of all who believe, so that in Him we may join in on God’s work restoring the universe.
A Potential Objection:
I can already see it. “What about Jeremiah 29:11?” We all know and cherish the verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
However, this is addressed to the nation of Israel, not the world at large, and so at best could be appropriated only to the Church. Even this, though, is in general eschatological context, not referring to the life of any particular individual. So the common use of this verse is made invalid.