There is the natural part of us that tends to speak in generalities or platitudes when we attempt to address God or our relationship to God. Unsurprisingly, after all, the core of it all is a mystery. Believers have struggled for centuries to express the ineffable, the mystery of the divine. Yet we still have hopes: “I want to have God first in my life.” So, what does that look like? Ineffable as God is, what does “first in my life” mean in concrete terms? If you don’t have an idea of what it looks like, how will you know when you have arrived? “But do you ever really arrive?” As they say, if you don’t have a destination then any road will get you there.
“I know God has a plan for me.” So, how’s that plan working out? What are the details? “God will reveal it to me and then I will know!” And what will you be doing in the meantime? What if you really don’t like God’s plan – not in the general sense – but in the details? How specific is God’s will for us?
Maybe that is what is at the bottom of lots of our questions: The will of God in our lives, in this moment! “Does God want us to put God first by being a good parent, by serving in that ministry, or…. Or what?” “Has God got something planned for me so that even the university I choose is important?” And even then are the ancillary questions surrounding academic major, career, first job, city of residence…. It can be overwhelming.
“I just don’t know what God’s will is for me.” At that point people often come and ask me. I have to discern if it is an existential crisis, a bump in the road, or if I am just the umpteenth person asked. Over the years I have developed a portfolio of questions to help people discern. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. But underneath it all there are two kinds of people: the Irish and those who want to be… wait, sorry – wrong column. There are two kinds of people: The intuitive people who have, I think, a greater tolerance for uncertainty and more likely to go with the flow. And there are those whom are more driven by knowledge and discovery. Both groups know the common phrase, “God has a plan.” It is kinda’ hard to write an intuitive column, so let me try to tap into the wisdom of the Church and all the women and men who have been discerning the meaning of “God has a plan” for millennia.
“God has a plan,” or in a slightly more technical expression, God’s Providence governs all of creation. God’s will is always done, because God is God, and divine designs cannot be thwarted. But we also know that God has made us as creatures with free will, the ability to choose between various options.
The Catechism tells us that “God guides his creation toward [its] perfection,” (CCC 302) and that “the sacred books powerfully affirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events.” (CCC 303) There is nothing that escapes God’s notice or attention. Indeed, “God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history.” (CCC 303) Does this mean that God is a cosmic micro-manager, controlling every detail of our lives? Is the divine finger reaching down into our lives to move us like pieces on the chess board?
No. For “God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.” (CCC 306) And since human beings have been granted the powers of both reason and will, “God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors.” (CCC 307)
In other words, God is not the divine puppeteer. We are in the here and now, making decisions – some better informed than others. We are truly free to be the cause of events in the here and how. However, God lives in Eternity – the singularity where past, present and future are one; the “divine moment” when our decisions are taken into account in the eternal formation of His plan. In this sense, we are co-creators with God of our individual and collective futures.
Perhaps the better question to be asking ourselves is “What is the will of God” for me, for us? That one is easy. Scripture tells us: “God desires everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). When we read the Catechism words of God’s providence as guiding the perfection of creation, we must understand that perfection means “fulfilling one’s nature or purpose.” Our purpose as human beings is to live in loving communion with God. But how do we do that? You would not be the first to ask. The answer is Christianity 101: Love God and your neighbor as yourself. The Baltimore Catechism, question 150 (Why did God make you?) has it right: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Now, there is perfection – and lots of ways to get there, knowing that even in our less-than-perfect choices, God’s grace prompts, supports, and sanctifies us.
The question we should ask ourselves is not, “Is this a choice or that part of God’s plan for me?” as though God were playing an eternal game of “Guess what I’m thinking.” As we faced choices large and small, the better question is, “Will this or that better enable me to love God and neighbor? Will this or that help me to be like Christ to others?” But when trying to discern what God wants in our lives, it’s important we first get the question right.