God’s Plan in God’s Time

Fourth Sunday of Advent

So that was “the plan.” The angel Gabriel just let a young woman of Nazareth in on God’s amazing plan for the salvation of the human family. But we are hearing about all this after the fact, of course, this account of the angel’s visit to the Virgin Mary being several generations removed from the actual event that took place in real time in human history. It makes me wonder. And here I’m allowing my undergrad Philosophy degree to take me on a wild tangent—which happens every now and again. Would we have even gotten wind of “the plan” if things didn’t work out just right? So I got to thinking some more. Planning in general is hard work. We typically make plans to accomplish good things for ourselves and for those we love. The greatest good doesn’t just happen. Now we like to think our objectives are always noble and worthwhile. But it could happen, and we have only to look back a hundred years of history for evidence, maybe 50, that we, not specifically us but certain members of our kind, might be motivated to accomplish objectives that are selfish, malicious, tyrannical, and downright evil.

Now I have noticed that plans aimed at bringing about what is noble and worthwhile will often involve many moving parts. Those of us involved in planning our new church will attest to that. So we bring together the best human resources we can find. We take great care to be mindful of all relevant factors, looking at many things from many different perspectives, discussing and defining a vision, considering creative possibilities, how they should contribute to the final outcome, and any potential risks they carry, just so all the moving parts come together as seamlessly and as beautifully as possible. Now minor corrections along the way are to be expected. But we intend that the original noble and worthwhile objective remains, and is not altered.

In contrast I imagine evil plans can be somewhat less complicated. I recall the pranks my siblings and cousins played on each other growing up—water balloons, tripwires, the upside-down wastepaper basket atop a slightly open door so it falls on a victim’s head when they enter a room, sneaking up on unsuspecting family members to deliver a good scare. Of course my examples aren’t evil in the typical sense of the word. But evil plans could simply boil down to sowing widespread confusion, chaos, damage, and injury. And having seen my share of superhero comic books and movies, I am well aware that an evil plan can be even more spectacular and entertaining so long as the budget allows. As well, we have witnessed cowardly and devastating acts of terrorism and random violence in recent years perpetrated with great success and modest expense. So both good and evil plans, given more generous resources, will potentially reach farther and affect more people. But evil has the advantage of being more effective and affecting more people than good with less expense and fewer moving parts.

Now we don’t often hear about evil plans when they fail. That’s likely because they prefer to plan in secret and act under cover of darkness. And planners of evil just have to find the next opportunity, without incurring more expense. But planners of good choose to be transparent. So failure, if it happens, happens in full view of many.

It seems God plays by a different set of rules, which should be no surprise. In a familiar passage from the gospel of Matthew, Jesus praised his Father that although there are things hidden from the wise and the learned, it is God’s will to reveal them to the childlike.[1] So it seems reasonable that King David, in the passage we read from the second book of Samuel, should offer to build a glorious temple to God, now that he has established a powerful, wealthy, and peaceful kingdom. David probably felt that after all that God had done for him personally and the whole nation, God rightfully deserved a more permanent and fitting dwelling place among the people than the tent of meeting that Moses had instructed they build through their many years of wandering in the Sinai desert. That plan made sense as well to the prophet Nathan at first. But after sleeping on it, and inspired by God, Nathan had to rescind his approval.

“Should you build me a house to dwell in? It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel.”[2] Clearly, God had a plan, and was not about to sit back and let David take over. So God revealed to David a glimpse of that plan. This is not at all about what David wanted to do for God. Instead, this is about what God wanted to do for David. First God sheds light on his mighty deeds of the past. “I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.” Then God tells David what he intends to bring about in the future. The specifics and details are few. And wisely, there is no obvious timeline. “I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel. … I will give you rest from all your enemies … [and I] will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, … and I will make his kingdom firm. … Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” Wow.

A very important element ever-present in God’s wonderful plan is what we can call God’s projected timeline. God is not bound by time. With God all is eternally present. So we will never know in advance when the time is right. In Psalm 90, we read: “A thousand years in your eyes are merely a day gone by.”[3] And in his second letter, St. Peter offers a more familiar rendering: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”[4] Just when God intends to accomplish his plan is exactly when God alone chooses. What we think is irrelevant. So the church might tell us we are in the fourth week of Advent. But we know it is a short week, a reminder to us of the reality that is God’s time, never the same each time, but exactly as God wants.

As well, we are faced with enormously challenging realities like illness, loss, heartbreak, and tragedy, that we find most upsetting and revolting to even think God has anything to do with them. How can God’s plan include evil? We firmly believe that God desires the greatest good for us, that it is absolutely in God’s nature to desire and do good. Evil does not, and cannot ever come from God. And we also firmly believe that God achieved our salvation by reconciling us to himself through a child announced by an angel to Mary of Nazareth. Right now, exactly how that comes about is a distant future. What is revealed to us is that God has an amazing plan. And God will bring it about when God alone determines the time is right. But when God invites us to participate, as when God invited the great King David and the lowly virgin Mary of Nazareth, will we respond with graciousness and humility? Always, I am your servant. Always, Your will be done.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] Matthew 11: 25

[2] 2 Samuel 7: 5, 8b

[3] Psalm 90: 4

[4] 2 Peter 3: 8

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