12 Oct 2014

You Can’t Ruin God’s Plan

Religious 21 Comments

Because I was raised Catholic (and thus lack detailed knowledge of the various Protestant sects), I am not confident in describing my current Protestant views with quick labels. A lot of what people mean by “Calvinist” applies to me, but then again on certain doctrinal issues I think that both the Calvinists and their opponents are making correct statements, but erroneously believe that their positions are mutually exclusive.

In any event, one of the hardest things for me to come to grips with, is the fact that in a certain sense God causes evil people to do what they do. This jumped out at me many years ago when I read the (familiar) story of Moses and the 10 plagues and (for the first time) realized that God was NOT up in heaven, really hoping that that stubborn Pharaoh would capitulate and let the Israelites go, without having to “force God’s hand” and make Him continue to up the ante.

What destroyed my original, childhood view of the story was this simple line: “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.”

Now there is a lifetime (and then some) of theology and philosophy packed into that line; I’m not even going to bother trying to dip into it here. (I highly recommend GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday in this vein.)

What I do want to point out is something that is very reassuring, rather than perplexing, that comes from this perspective. Specifically, when you recognize that God is in complete control–even over “the bad guys”–then you can relax. YOU CAN’T RUIN GOD’S PLAN. I know everybody (who believes in the God of the Bible) knows this, but I bet most of you are like me and occasionally slip and start worrying over your personal shortcomings, and how you’re letting everybody down. But to repeat: Stop worrying. YOU CAN’T RUIN GOD’S PLAN. You lack the power to do so.

It’s not merely that it is incorrect to worry in this way. It’s impudent to do so. If you are at all worried about the fact that you freely chose to sin this morning, because of the negative consequences of your free choice, then you are saying God wasn’t smart or powerful enough to do something to offset it.

Don’t misunderstand me; you should still try to stop sinning, and to freely choose to obey God’s commands. But the point of doing so (it seems to me) is not that this will promote earthly happiness; God is in total control and already designed every moment in the universe’s history. Rather, the point of you obeying God is so that your relationship with Him can blossom. Deep down, you know that if you constantly reject His viewpoint and make a mockery of all He holds dear, then you and He can’t be very close friends (if you’re thinking of Jesus) or you can’t feel like a good son/daughter (if you’re thinking of God the Father).

21 Responses to “You Can’t Ruin God’s Plan”

  1. Major.Freedom says:

    If God is in total control of everything I will do, then it makes no sense to then call on me to make certain choices over other possible choices.

    Why do you insist that such an obvious contradiction can be made good?

    • Gamble says:

      Hi Major,

      The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people he was not real, apparently Bob fell for it.

      • Major.Freedom says:

        The greatest trick certain people have ever pulled was convincing others the devil is real.

        Apparently you fell for it.

  2. knoxharrington says:

    What is the point of prayer then, exactly? Is there freewill? “[A]lready designed every moment in the universe’s history.” If that is the case then prayer is useless because the outcome is already determined. Likewise, freewill takes it in the shorts. If I’m an atheist did god know that I would be one? If that is the case did he create me knowing that I was going to suffer eternal torment by being separated from him? To what end?

  3. Bob Murphy says:

    MF and knoxharrington, every week you come on here and do the analog of, “But who would build the roads?” Maybe my position is indeed untenable, but you’re acting like no theist ever grappled with reconciling God’s sovereignty and free will.

    • Major.Freedom says:

      I don’t know where or how I gave the impression that theists have never grappled with the question. I’ve read the fathers.

      What I say is the analogue of “But who will build the roads?” Really? Pointing out a contradiction is akin to making an ignorant rhetorical question that we all already know the answer to? Well I see the discord is not just one way. Do I say “Every week I see the analogue of “But God must have built the roads!””? I could say that, couldn’t I?

      You say the position of “God controls everyone’s thoughts and actions” and “Everyone should choose X instead of Y” may not be tenable? It flat out is untenable, no ifs ands or buts. One statement is equivalent to absence of free will in man, while the other is equivalent to the presence of free will in man.

      I am not claiming to be a know it all. Pointing out this simple contradiction is something I can just do. You yourself can do it. Anyone here can do it.

      I am going to ban myself on Sundays. I am just adding discord. I am unable to communicate this and not come off as an @$$hole. I cannot be classy and I cannot sound respectful and understanding.

      • S.C. says:

        I cannot be classy and I cannot sound respectful and understanding.

        He admits it!

  4. knoxharrington says:

    They have attempted to square that circle – I don’t think your lack of ability to square it is reflective on you personally – It is reflective of an untenable position on the part of the theist.

    I’m still waiting for the proof that the miracle stories in the Bible took place from non-Biblical sources. That must be another “who will build the roads” type question which appears to be the “get out of jail free” response to tough questions.

    Also, why pray if every moment in the universe is already designed?

  5. Ivan Jankovic says:

    Bob, this ‘discovery’ only shows your parochial, American-progressive-radical Protestant perspective: all orthodox, conventional forms of Christianity already know that you should not obey God in order “to promote earthy happiness” because human nature is rotten and there is no true ‘earthy happiness’. St Augustine had already known this and the Catholic and Orthodox Churches always knew (and still know) this.

    • khodge says:

      This is the same Catholic Church that condemned Jansenism for teaching the the depravity of human nature?

  6. Yosef says:

    Bob you write: “But to repeat: Stop worrying. YOU CAN’T RUIN GOD’S PLAN. You lack the power to do so.”

    Why would that make us stop worrying? What if runing God’s plan is what needs to be done? You’re taking it for granted that God’s plan is a good one, but where is your evidence?

    if the government has a plan, you fret and worry, but if God has a plan it’s cause to stop worrying? I guess you know what they say: power corrupts, and absolute power is fine, totally fine, because it’s God.

  7. Gamble says:

    Gods plan is freewill. You can choose His path to salvation ( Jesus) or you can deny ( anti-Christ). Either way you don’t destroy Gods plan but if you deny Jesus you can sure make a mess of things. Even if you do choose Jesus, your still trapped on this elevator with all the anti-Christ. So in a sense, life will always be messy.

    Seems like somebody is yearning for utopia and trying to convince themselves its all good. It is not all good.

    On a side note: Read 1 Corinthians. Sectarianisms is a very bad thing. We are suppose to be of 1 mind, Christ mind. Salvation. It is really simple. Only ignoramus’s who seek to self glorify make this walk overly complicated. Protestants being major offenders. Oohh look, I know more than you. Look what I read into Gods’ simple message. I am so special, follow ME.

    • Major.Freedom says:

      So…follow your interpretation, and thus follow you?

  8. Innocent says:


    Here in lies one of the fundamental issues with history, linguistics, and various other problems when it comes to translation of language specially a language that was oral in tradition before it was written down.

    The line should not be God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but rather God knew Pharaoh would harden his heart.

    Which was why God had prepared the plagues.

    This is the cool thing about it, you do not have to take my word for it. Go and ask God if the line is incorrect and see if he will tell you Himself. I know many people say that God does not speak to people any longer. This is of course bunk. What else is the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, or whatever you call it but a method of communication between us and God?

    Anyway, sorry to ruin a most excellent post otherwise. But God understands people and may even move through time in a way we do not understand yet to see the multiplicity of events. He has no reason to make people do something, though he may tell people different things in order to accomplish different goals. But he does not make people bad, or evil, he did not make Satan, rather Satan chose the course that he is on for his own purposes.

    • knoxharrington says:


      Innocent can rewrite the Bible because he god told him that he could. Any Christians want to stand up for their faith and refute this nonsense? Bueller? Anyone?

      Innocent, please quote the Bible verse(s) which back up any of the claims you make above. For example, cite the Bible verse where god says “I did not make Satan, he chose his course for his own purposes” or anything remotely resembling that. God, according to the Bible, created everything and therefore created Satan whom, given the claimed powers of god, knew that Satan would rebel, etc. Seriously, your interpretation of the Bible is, being charitable, bizarre.

    • Lawrence says:

      This confusion comes from the inadequacies of translators and relying on a single translation of the work. The referenced verse in the King James translations says, “And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.” It is unclear exactly who the “he” is.
      However, a look at other translations can lead to other conclusions. Several translations that I have looked at, including in Spanish and Italian, state that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which makes more sense if you believe in a benevolent god who has given people agency to act and choose for themselves. God doesn’t make people do things, he encourages them to choose wisely and requires them to face the consequences of those choices. Unfortunately the consequences also affect other people.

  9. John Becker says:

    What if you’re the pharoah and don’t know you’re doing anything wrong? That’s not very comforting.

  10. Teegeecee says:

    As a staunch Calvinist, I am happy to defend the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man without attempting to recomcile them (because scripture also does the former without attempting the latter). Axioms to consider: there is no molecule in the universe outside of God’s control; there is nothing that ever catches God “off guard”, including decisions of man; man is free to make decisions in keeping with his nature; Though God ordains all, including actions of man, He is not the author of sin. Considering Pharaoh, another way to read the account is that God removed His restraint on Pharaoh’s sin, which led to even more sin and hard ending of Pharaoh’s heart. He had determined to use Pharaoh’s sin to accomplish His plan since before the beginning of time. He ordained it to happen and it did, and yet Pharaoh is/ still accountable for his sin. While the analogy breaks down at some point, this is much like an author if a story. When we read a work of fiction we often talk about the decisions and actions of characters as if they were autonomous beings, even though all of their actions, words, and thoughts were planned and written by an author who used them to accomplish the outcome of his story. Same with us who are being used to accomplish His story.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I’m happy with your take here. Incidentally I’ve often used the author analogy. History is His story.

      • John says:

        On this note, I think the translation concerning Pharoah’s heart is believed to be essentially accurate, that God actually hardened Pharoah’s heart. As for what precisely that means, well, that’s well above my pay grade.

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