Cancel Your Plans: God Has Something Better for You

Freedom comes with responsibility.



IF YOU ASK me, one of the great mysteries of human existence is the tension between freedom and the sovereignty of God. I have strong opinions on the matter, but even the most studied scholars would be foolish to claim they've unraveled the matter in totality; the wisest among humans is still a fool compared to God.

Some sects claim free will is an illusion. God controls everything like a master puppeteer or perhaps a computer programmer. Though it seems like we can decide things for ourselves, we can't.

Others reside on the opposite end of the spectrum. They say God does not intervene or regulate anything in our reality. Everything is up to us.

Scripture, of course, summarily rejects the latter position, one held by many founders of the United States of America. To get around these contradictions one had to deny the veracity of Scripture. Thomas Jefferson went so far as to cut out portions of the Bible that did not align with his worldview, creating the so-called Thomas Jefferson Bible.

Meanwhile the extreme position of the former argument, while on more solid ground than the latter, is also in error.  How do I know? Perhaps the best argument for at least some amount of free will is found in what Jesus dubbed the greatest commandment: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). For humans to be able to express authentic love, we must have free will because the essence of love is choice. If someone were able to force you to love him or her, would that really be love? Of course not. Therefore, to affirm the capacity to love is to posit free will.

I WRITE ALL of this only as a preface to what Solomon has to say in Proverbs 16:1: "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD."

As you'll see, this proverb is loaded with significance, but the first line asserts what we've been discussing already: mankind has the freedom to make his own plans. We plan any number of things as we go about life. These are small decisions like what food we should buy to life-altering plans for what college to go to and where to live.

Notice that the proverb refers to the plans of the heart. Solomon is writing about our most cherished desires and aspirations and the corresponding plans we have to realize those desires. We are free to develop these plans on our own for better or worse.

But accompanying this freedom is a sort of responsibility to honor the one who created us. You see, some say to acknowledge human freedom is to diminish the sovereignty of God. In reality, God, in his omnipotence, granted us a finite amount of agency. This does not reduce God's power or knowledge because we understand that he grants us the ability to plan and also that he could revoke such privileges at any time if he so desired. He is God after all.

Understanding this phenomenon might help us comprehend the next line of Proverbs 16:1, "but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD." You might read this part of the verse and conclude that God controls every word we say. We make plans and he subverts those plans by redirecting our tongues. Such a prospect is certainly possible and within God's right. Bible scholars like John Gill and Joseph Benson astutely point to Balaam who went to Moab to curse Israel on behalf of King Balak but instead blurt out blessings. Was such an instance an overriding of the Balaam's free will? The matter is up for debate.

Still, I'm not sure this is the verse's focus. Instead I think its meaning is more like this: "the ability to speak comes from God." If my translation is correct, then the full meaning of the Proverb might be: you have the freedom to make your own plans, but remember, even the ability to speak comes from God. The implication: if you can't even do something as simple as speak without the enabling power of God, why on earth would you make plans without consulting and including God?

Now, lest you think I'm someone clever, you must know I merely borrowed and repackaged the same idea from TT Perowne who wrote: "the implied moral of the proverb is, If you cannot do the less without God, do not attempt to do the greater without Him."[1]

So if you have plans that don't include or consider God, cancel them. Why on earth would you make plans without honoring the one by whom you are able to plan in the first place? Setting aside our debt and duty to God for a moment, the truth of the matter is that God has much greater plans for you anyway! So not only is it moral to allow God to direct our planning, but doing so is also in our best interest.

WE COULD LEAVE the Proverb alone at that, and I think we would do well. But humor me, if you would, for just a few paragraphs more, because I think the proverb actually probes much deeper than the depths at which we've been exploring. Consider again the second half, "the answer of the tongue is from the LORD."

While we can't possibly understand the mysteries of creation, the book of Genesis does provide us some details thereof including these two: God created mankind in his image, distinct from the rest of creation, and God spoke the universe into existence.  While God could have used any method to create, he chose to speak the sun, moon, stars, sky, plants, and animals into existence.

As the creation narrative demonstrates, language is a divine trait, and in creating humanity, he imbued us with the ability to express abstract thought. It's one of the ways we stand distinct from the rest of creation. This trait begins with spoken words, something we pick up naturally as children as our brains develop, but goes far beyond the ability to speak. As you read this article, for example, you are reading the expressions of the author.

Language itself is an act of creation because it allows us to formulate thoughts, and yes, even plans, into an intelligible format. Think back to the book of Exodus in which God provided detailed instructions for building the tabernacle. God conceived of the tent in his mind then translated it into a format that humans could understand and act on.

The ability to express ourselves in intelligible ways is a divine trait, one exclusive to humans among created beings on earth.[2] It's what allows a Mozart to compose Serenade No. 13, a Harper Lee to pen To Kill a Mockingbird, or a Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Guggenheim.

So perhaps, just maybe, Solomon is tipping his hat to the creation narrative in which God gave humanity the gift of language. We can have all the plans in the world stored up in our hearts, but it is God who gives us the ability to execute those plans by giving us the gift of expression.

Am I reading too much into the proverb? Quite possibly. I'll admit that. But I'll leave you with one story that might reinforce the argument.

Consider Babel. God gave mankind the incredible gifts of agency and language, and what happened? People got together and planned to build a tower to "make a name" for themselves. In their pride they sought their own glory rather than God's glory.

How often do we do the same thing?

I know I'm guilty of focusing too much on how I can become richer, more respected, and more attractive instead of finding ways in which I can honor God. I make plans in my heart that benefit me. I try so hard to make a name for myself when instead I should try to elevate the name of Jesus. Do you ever do the same?

In response to humanity's pride, God mixed up their languages, making effective communication impossible. The people still held their plans for self-glory and security in their hearts, but without the ability to communicate with one another they had to abandon the project.

All of this should serve as a reminder that though we're free to plan out our lives, we would be fools not include the one who not only gives us the freedom to make those plans but also the ability to execute them with his divine gift of expression.

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1. Commentary on Proverbs 16:1 from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.
2. Angels and demons, it seems, have the same ability.

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