Study Guide: The Chairman’s Plan

Sunday August 7, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In the movie, The Adjustment Bureau, there is a chairman who has the master plan for the world and his agents adjust the world to make sure this plan happens. God works differently. In this sermon, Greg talks about God’s will and how we play a role in the creativity of this world.

Extended Summary:

As we’ve been studying the will of God, we’ve seen many different ways to understand God’s will. Today, we’re going to investigate one of the more prevalent and most misused ideas. When it comes to God’s will, many think that if it happens, it must have been God’s will. God controls everything, and nothing is outside of God’s will. He either controls or allows things to happen. God’s will is what happens.

This idea came from the very early church and St. Augustine. It carried through into Constantine’s era, when Christianity was made the Roman religion and was given the power of this world. In America, we used this idea for Manifest Destiny and to reinforce the idea of slavery. Because these things worked out for those in power, it must have been God’s will.

This idea also comes out in personal venues. When a basketball game is lost when a ref makes a bad call, it must have been God’s will (even though we might have let the ref think it was his fault.) When a child dies, it can be easy to say that it was God’s will to take the child at that time. We begin to accept whatever happens as God’s will, and it begins to feel like fate is God’s will. This picture of God’s will can be damaging to people, and it can also be problematic when compared to Jesus.

We don’t see Jesus killing children or causing basketball games to be lost. We don’t see him accepting the powers of the world to advance his kingdom. We don’t see him enslaving anyone or conquering territory at the cost of millions of lives. In fact, Jesus prayed that God’s will would come to earth as it is in heaven. This assumes that God’s will hasn’t arrived yet! Jesus is the face of the unseen God. God has a plan and a will for certain things to happen, but that might not always happen because there are other factors in this world that affect what happens.

Another problem with this thinking is that it can lead people to want God’s opinion on *everything*. When we ask God what socks we should buy or what breakfast we should eat, it can quickly become disabling to living a life. In fact, it feels like an over-controlling parent who decides everything for their child. Eventually, the child will react to this level of control and explode. Or, the child never becomes their own person. Yet, to be human, and how God created us, is to be free to make decisions on our own. Certainly, we should seek his will on most issues or for more general ideas (like eating healthy). However, we have a free will and God delights in our finding ownership in our own decisions. Sometimes he does have ideas for us, and we should be attentive to that, but most of the time he delights in seeing us live our lives and make decisions for ourselves. There is flexibility in his plan for co-creators and co-artists with God.

We should always be open to God’s will. Whether it is a gentle nudge in a specific situation, like talking to someone that we normally wouldn’t talk to, or praying when making big decisions, we should have a listening attitude towards God. However, just because God doesn’t answer doesn’t mean we can’t make a decision. Some people want to wait for the “green light” when they pray for a decision. Unless God says “yes” assume that he means “no” is the mantra of this thinking. While it can be good to wait upon the lord, eventually a decision has to be made (and not making a choice is making a decision). We have a good idea of what God wants for our lives in the person of Jesus. If we live in love, we should move forward in that general idea unless God tells us otherwise. Waiting for the “green light” on everything can easily lead to missed opportunities. Life is like riding a bicycle, if you’re not moving forward, you fall over.

Love God and do what you like. St. Augustine told this to a monk that constantly worried what he should do. When we love God and we have our heart pointed towards him, we can live life in the footsteps of Jesus. We should always be listening for God, but if we don’t hear anything from him, carry on in love. In this way, we can make a difference in this world without needing to be controlled or disabled waiting for an answer. God has a plan for this world, and it involves our work, but it doesn’t involve him making every decision for us. Trust that God trusts you and live your life listening for God.

During the sermon, Greg read Thomas Merton’s Prayer of Abandonment. Below is the text for that prayer.

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain

where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and that I think I am following your will

does not mean I am actually doing so.

But I believe

the desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire

in all I am doing.

I hope

I will never do anything

apart from that desire.

And I know if I do this

you will lead me by the right road

though I may know nothing about it.

I will trust you always

though I may seem to be lost

and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear,

for you will never leave me

to face my perils alone.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
    How have you thought about God’s will in the past? Has this been helpful for hurtful?
    Do you agree with Greg’s ideas on God’s will? Why or why not?
    It can be easy to fall back on “it’s just God’s will” when bad things happen. What kinds of problems might this type of thinking create?
    Seeking God’s will for every decision can be debilitating. What are the ways in which you live life while attentively listening to God? Are there ways you can improve? If yes, how?