God’s Perfect Plan
Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:7-8)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
God is greater than anything any of us can comprehend. What we experience in our day-to-day lives is the discovering of his prefect and eternal plan.
Since God is so much more than we can know, there are things that happen which we cannot possibly explain. In our fallen condition people try to explain things anyway. They add their foolish guesses and theories. They either reject the parts of God’s word they don’t like, or they try to explain them away by adding things from their own imaginations. This generates the confusion about God which is common today.
The Naturalist tries to explain what happens in our world by imagining that Nature itself is the mother of us all. To deal with what they would like reality to be, they deify everything, but that really means they deify nothing. If everything is God, then he isn’t anything more than everything else.
They use different versions of Evolution Theory to explain where we came from. This makes humans to be no more important than dust, rocks, beetles, or bacteria. To the Naturalist there is no plan, no certainty, no hope for the future. This lets them reject the idea that there are things that are really sinful or wrong. They condemn only what stands in the way of their personal peace and prosperity.
The Fatalist believes that everything that happens is inevitable. The religious fatalist imagines some kind of god or universal power moving all things along, but it’s all impersonal. We’re just actors following a script. Our thoughts and circumstances move us to do what’s been written out for us.
The material fatalist believes that the forces of nature and chance can only go one way. We do what the chemicals in our brains get stimulated to do by our circumstances. Our lives are simply a play written by impersonal cosmic forces.
In both types of fatalism life is meaningless. There is no morality or evil, just our wrong ideas about it all. There can be no personal responsibility. Human feelings are just hormonal reactions. There is no reason to sorrow or to be glad, except as it effects us personally.
As one Fatalist once put it, man is like a water-beetle caught in a torrent of water. He may struggle, or he may let himself be swept along in peace simply accepting his doom.
Others see God as a powerful being who’s there to the help us, but who doesn’t control everything. To them, God is big, but he is not infinite. They limit God by imagining that human choices are beyond his control. To them he is like a superhero, or the pagan deities of ancient Greece and Rome. They imagine that if we all pray hard enough, God will change his plan to grant our wishes. They must think that their wisdom about what should happen is better than God’s wisdom.
God hasn’t left us to wonder and guess about his plan with such foolish theories. In his revealed word, preserved for us in the Bible, he tells us what we need to know about his plan and our responsibilities. There God assures us that he decrees all things and isn’t surprised by anything. It also tells us that we are real persons, responsible for our own thoughts and actions.
This all fits together once we understand how God explains it. We need to let the Bible speak for itself. There is great comfort for those who trust in the True God. We can rest confidently in the things the way they really are, instead of just how we guess them to be.
In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 7 and 8 summarize what the Bible says about God’s control of all things.
Question 7. What are the decrees of God?
Answer. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
Question 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
Answer. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
First: It reminds us that God’s plan is eternal.
If God’s plan is eternal, then it had no beginning. There was never a time before his plan was formed. It’s always been there in his mind. From all eternity God’s intent and all that carries it out was complete and perfect. Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.”
That is hard for us to understand. Our plans all have a time when they are formed in our minds. We gather the information we need. We think about it. Only then a plan emerges.
With God, his plan has always been there in its complete and unchangeable form. There’s no information he didn’t always know. He didn’t need to do research to get the facts. He didn’t need to make up contingency plans. There’s no need for a “Plan B”. As we’ve seen in our earlier study, God is eternal and unchangeable. There was never a time when any part of God’s plan was uncertain or incomplete.
Before anything was created, God knew all things as they would ever be. He designed everything to show his glory in the best way possible.
Second: God’s plan is the expression of his own will.
God’s decrees are his own eternal and unchanging intentions. Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”
His plan wasn’t formed by advice or input from anything or anyone other than himself. Since the Bible says he knew all things before the foundation of the earth, nothing else existed when his plan was already and eternally fully formed. He has always known all things as they are and will ever be.
Some try to get around this by using Bible verses about God’s foreknowledge. They imagine God basing his plan upon what he saw would happen in the future. That can’t possibly be what those verses are talking about. It makes no sense to think that that the Eternal, Unchangeable God looked ahead to see what his creatures would do if he didn’t decree their actions, then decreed them from all eternity. So his decree was for what would happen if he didn’t decree it. The mind that wants to be independent of a Sovereign God can accept such self-contradictory ideas.
The word foreknowledge simply tells us that God knows with certainty before hand exactly how his plan will unfold. The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 3, section 2 explains this when it says, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, …”
God doesn’t decide what to do based on what we would do. The Creator isn’t the slave of the creatures who make up history as they decide things. The Bible says it’s the other way around: Those who move history are moved by God. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
As Jesus taught us, even our prayers are to be presented humbly. We say, “Thy will be done …” We do not say, “God, you have your plan, but please abandon it and do it my way. It’s better.”
Third: The purpose of God’s decree is to promote his own glory.
That’s the continuing purpose of all Creation in Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”
We looked at this more closely in our study of Catechism Question 1. As part of God’s creation we are each here “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
The Apostle Peter gave a warning to those who teach God’s word. In his First Peter 4:11 he wrote, ” … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, …”
Our prime duty here on earth is to carry out this purpose of our Creator. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we’re told, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Fourth: All of God’s plan, every part of it, is certain to come to pass.
God foreordained whatever comes to pass. We don’t say he Predestined it, because that word has to do with the destiny of our souls. Foreordination has to do with everything. There is nothing God didn’t include in his plan.
God’s perfect plans and infinite power come together to ensure us that all God determined to happen comes to pass exactly as he intended it. Since God is infinitely powerful, he is able to make all that he plans happen just as he wants. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:”
He is able to do whatever he decrees will happen. And that’s exactly what he does. This absolute sovereignty of God is one of the most clear and repeated teachings of the Bible.
Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.”
Job 42:1-2, “… I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”
There is nothing that can ever or will ever change or ruin God’s perfect plan for the ages. It is hard to understand the idea of a perfect and eternal plan that never changes. This is a high mystery to us finite and imperfect creatures. We can rarely accomplish our simplest of plans without having to make adjustments. With God, all he purposes to do — comes to pass without fail or amendment.
God’s decrees include everything. There is nothing in all of God’s universe that is independent from his decrees. Nothing surprises him and nothing is left out. He made all things to merge together precisely to declare his glory. Everything that takes place has been decreed by God for all eternity.
As time goes on our plans often change. We can’t possibly know in advance all the things that could derail our plans. We can’t anticipate human errors, circumstances, or natural disasters that might get in the way. We get new information and often have to admit that something can’t be done as we hoped.
Our information, and the way we make our decisions, are always imperfect and limited. We do the best we can to reduce the imperfections while knowing we can’t eliminate them all.
We need to keep in mind that knowing that God’s plan is certain isn’t the same as Fatalism. The Reformers, including John Calvin, made it clear that what the Bible teaches is nothing like Fatalism. Critics of the Bible often make the mistake of not understanding the difference.
We were created in God’s image as persons, not as machines. We act, and think, and choose. We alone are responsible for our sins. Even the good we do, our faith, repentance, and obedience are the work of God’s grace in us. He provides our abilities and opportunities. He gives life to our fallen hearts, turns us by his Holy Spirit, and gives us a new nature that impels us to want to do what he says is good.
Yet when God works in us by his grace, we come as persons made willing by Christ. We don’t repent and believe as machines or as rebels screaming and kicking against his redeeming love.
It is a wicked thing to believe that the loving work of our Sovereign God is just natural forces at work blindly.
One of the hardest things to understand
is the existence of evil in God’s perfect plan.
God did not create sin. It is not a created thing. Sin and evil do not exist on their own. They are not entities floating around somewhere in the universe. They only exist as attitudes or actions in created persons.
Sin is doing what God forbids, or failing to do what he commands. It is pure non-sense to say that God is the cause of anything against his own will and intention. Sin is not caused by God, and we should never blame him for it.
When the Bible says God caused “evil” there is a translation problem related to older forms of English. The Hebrew word translated as “evil” in some passages in the old King James Version is the Hebrew word רע (ra’) which means calamity or disaster. Sin, or moral evil uses the Hebrew word חטא (khatah) which is not said to be caused by God.
Obviously God’s plan allowed or permitted evil to exist. This is the way the Bible puts it in passages like Acts 14:16, God, “… in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.”
God allowing sin, does not make it to be good. God may decree evil, and even restrain it at times, but he is never the one who causes it. In Genesis 20:6 we see that God restrained Abimelech from sinning with Abraham’s wife Sarah. There it says, “… I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.”
When the sons of Jacob sold Joseph into slavery, it was their evil, but God had a purpose in it. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph explained how God fit into what they did. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, …” Evil condemns the rebel, but God employs it to reveal more of his glorious perfections.
One of the clearest passages that helps us understand this difficult concept is Acts 2:23. It talks about the crucifying of Jesus, which was obviously both a wicked thing and something God planned from all eternity to redeem his people. Acts 2:23 speaks of Jesus, “… being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”
On the one hand it says the crucifying of Jesus was decreed by God as part of his plan. He foresaw it as something he meant to happen. On the other hand, this verse clearly shows that it was a lawless and wicked thing to do. It leaves those who did this responsible for what they did. They did it willingly, not as machines, or as mere actors forced to play out a script.
God uses the evil he permits men to do, so that it furthers his plan. He has a purpose in those who are left in their sins, and in those who are saved by Christ. Romans 9:22-23 is very clear when it says, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,”
So evil is part of God’s plan, but it is caused by the willing rebellion of fallen persons. They sin because they want to, not because they are forced to do something they do not want to do.
Fifth: God puts his decree into action for us to see
by his works of creation and providence
In Creation God made everything he wanted to put into his universe and into our world. Everything God made serves a purpose — together they display his glory: Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.” Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things were created for God’s purposes.
All we see, all we use, all we are — everything is part of the revealing of his plan day-by-day. By his providence God directs all things toward his perfect purpose. What we call laws of science are really the principles God embedded in what he made. Colossians 1:17 says, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
The events of history, even those done in hatred toward God, turn out to further his plan. Even the deceit of Adam and Eve by Satan in Eden was use by God. The greatest attack became the greatest story ever told.
God uses sin to reveal his justice, to show us how much we need our Redeemer, to display a love so great that the greatest gift was given to overcome the worst rebellion.
The things that happen to you every day are there for the same reason: to display God’s glory. The beautiful sunrise, the friends and family who are there to comfort and love us, the children and elderly who need us to care for them, the opportunities we have to worship, they should all stir us to see God’s hand at work in and through his redeemed people. We have opportunities to practice the presence of Christ in our hearts when faced with flat tires, rude people who show disrespect for us, pathogens that make us sick, homework, bills, taxes, manipulations of politicians, and devastating storms.
The decrees of God are a great comfort to God’s people.
Nothing is out of control. Everything fits into God’s holy purpose and glorious plan. As Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
This is the symphony of God’s World made known to us in God’s Word, and made knowable to us undeserving sinners by God’s Redeeming Grace in Christ.
God’s promise is that he knows what he’s doing, even though we don’t yet understand it all. He is truly Lord over all things and over all the beings he made. That’s why even in a time of horrible tragedy and suffering, Job had the courage to say in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…”
This is the assurance we can give to our children, and can draw upon ourselves when we face the unknown. It is our comfort as we go to bed at night, and wake up to a new day in the morning. We pray to God as David did in Psalm 3:5-6, “i lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about.”
This is not just a useless intellectual exercise about large scale movements of history. It means that everything that happens day-by-day in each of our lives is the unfolding of God’s perfect plan.
Our duty is to look for our opportunities for obedience in every situation that comes along. Are you sick? Have you been in an accident? Maybe you received a good promotion at work, or your car has broken down again. Perhaps someone broke into your house and took your things. Whether you are blessed or attacked, surprised or bored: in all things you are moving through God’s plan as it unfolds.
The Bible tells us about God’s power and decrees so we can know we are safe all the time, and so we can honor him through it all. This gives us a different perspective. It is as if the lights were turned on to get rid of the darkness.
Whether you rest beside the still waters, or walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Shepherd who made all things and who upholds all things is there with you. He is not only on the path with you, he made the path, and he made you.
Trust him, even when things happen that can’t seem to be good in your limited understanding, specially then. See each challenge as your orders of the day. Learn to move dynamically, responding to what happens with godly obedience. Rest with childlike confidence in the promises of God which cannot fail.
(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)