Friday, November 02, 2012

God does NOT have a "special customized plan" for you

Brad Boydston asked

"Is it possible that God does not have a special customized plan just for you? Why or why not?"

I replied: 

As a Molinist, I do not think God has a "special customized plan" for individuals. I believe He created us with genuine freedom, which means that his sovereignty does not depend upon Him being the only agent. Having been made in His image, we are agents as well. Then this means that human beings can really generate their own "plans." God's omniscience entails that He knows what each of us would freely do in any possible situation. This is called "middle knowledge," or knowledge of "counterfactuals of freedom." (For example, see 1 Samuel 23:6-10, Proverbs 4:11, and Matthew 11:23.) Finally, God surveys all these possible worlds, and then instantiates one of them, the actual world in which we now "live and move and have our being."  Truly, then, God gives us the desires of our hearts. (Prov. 16:9; and .

Therefore, I think it would be  better to say that God's plan is that human beings be like His Son. But this is a much broader "plan," and allows us great freedom in HOW we will imitate Christ. I believe this is what it means to work out our salvation "in fear and trembling." Yesterday was All Saint's Day. Just look at the variety of ways of imitating Christ they give us! For example, read GKC's comparison of St. Francis and St. Thomas, "On Two Friars" here : Or look at Luther and Erasmus. Or Peter and John. Or St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.  Or C.S. Lewis and Clarence Jordan. Doesn't it give God more delight to see how we will choose to reflect Christ, rather than for him to just create a pre-packaged saint?

This "God has a special customized plan for you" business smells of individualism and narcissism to me. It feels like a way of selling the gospel, rather than preaching the good news of the kingdom. Thank you.  I will now descend from my soapbox. ;  )



esseetverum said...

The debate between molinism and Thomism is a long one. There is a reason why molinism has attracted such attention to Reformed thinkers, and conversely, why Thomists have historically been hesitant in accepting it. Molinism is deeply concerned with epistemological questions of God, for example, does God know counterfactuals, or does this knowledge affect in any way our ability as agents to receive grace? What freedom exists in the agent when God actualizes one modal over and against another? Are there limitless possible worlds? etc. Yet, these are very much 16th century preoccupations, and have much in common with a theology based on the supremacy of God's will. If Thomism begins with esse subsistens and its participation among ens, then the question is not necessarily one of will, as much as it is tied to questions regarding when and how grace happens, and hence you have the grace/nature controversies surrounding the last century, especially afer de Lubac and the failure on all sides to really acheive clearity.
Perhaps this is all to say that while the epistemological questions of God's knowledge of counterfactuals may prove useful for certain analytic philosophers,(and indeed Thomas does say God knows them) nevertheless, it seems to me that it is less of a debate for Thomists who are naturally suspicious of any characterization of God as purely in terms of his will, atleast post-Reformation. If Thomists are right, and God's creative act is one of our participation in being, than it seems the debate needs to be over when and how grace can enter the human person, and whether it is already in nature to begin with, in other words, we begin with ontology, not epistemology.
This is besides that fact that the question posed hinges on what one means by "special customized plan." All sides would agree, we have agency and are yet limited. The question is how? Molinism answers with speculation on God's will, Thomists with God's creative act. Are they mutually exclusive? This seems to be disputed. But, it seems if the Thomists are right, then middle knowledge does seem somewhat superflous.
Just a few thoughts.

Dan said...

I missed Brad's question whenever or wherever he first posted it.

Without getting as technical as esseetverum, I'll side with you, God does not have a "special customized plan" for us beyond his intention to bring about all his intentions for he and his creation. I believe it was Jenson who once wrote, "If it's God's will for us to have free will, we will have free will whether we want it or not." (that's probably not the exact wording but close enough and i'm not really sure this is a Jenson quote).

What does Scripture mean by when the Son of Man sets us free we are free indeed?

What are Paul's highly charged words about when he speaks against those who want to lock folks up in the Law - another way of saying a "special customized plan" perhaps?

Can love be love if it is not freely chosen?

Was it Luther who said, "Love God and do whatever you want."?

The idea that God has a specific unique customized plan for our lives speaks of either an immaturity on our part and a fear to take responsible creative action with the gift of humanness that is ours and is a way to avoid the great adventure and awesome gift that being human is.

It's kind of like the steward who buried his the talents his lord entrusted him with over against the risk takers who put their lord's wealth at risk for the possibility of great gain.