There is a thought that does the rounds with some frequency. I have heard it in the context of people affirming God’s ‘wonderful plan for your life’. I have heard it whenever somebody sins and it is cast as our having ‘made a mistake’. I have heard it said whenever things happen that (from our vantage point) are less than excellent. It is said that we have missed God’s best for us. Some frame it as having strayed from God’s path or plan for us.
But the reality is that we cannot fall short of God’s best for us. We cannot walk off the path that God has laid out for us. Everything that happens is, in fact, God’s plan and God’s best.
I can hear the objections already. ‘Surely, it isn’t God’s will for us to sin?’ Haven’t we strayed outside of God’s plans for us when we don’t do as he commands? It is certainly true, when we sin, we have wandered away from God’s commands. But it is not true that we have somehow managed to circumvent his plans and best for us if and when we sin.
Let’s start with one basic truth affirmed repeatedly throughout scripture: God is ultimately sovereign. He isn’t just sovereign over some stuff, or the things he is most worried about, but he is sovereign over everything. Even the very laws that govern the universe only function because his word upholds them (Heb 1:3). As Spurgeon was aprt to note: ‘I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes’. God is sovereign over absolutely every atom in the universe.
Just taking that truth by itself leads us to affirm that even the most heinous sin that occurs is ultimately under God’s sovereign control. This is a point affirmed by scripture directly. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ was no accident. Those who crucified Jesus were specifically called ‘sinful’ for doing so. But Peter affirms with absolute certainty in Acts 2:23: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ The men who did it were sinful and lawless. But Jesus was delivered up in accord with God’s definite plan. This is just one such example among many others we could highlight. Even sin remains under God’s sovereign control leading us to conclude – just as was the case with the crucifixion of Jesus – that even our sinful actions and intentions are folded into God’s ultimate plans and purposes.
But we can go further. The Bible affirms that the universe was created to express God’s glory. Psalm 19:1 tells us, ‘the Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’. Isaiah 43:6-7 speaks to Israel having been created for the glory of God. Ephesians 1:2 speaks of those who are in Christ being created for God’s glory. The universe, and everything in it, is created for God’s glory.
Now, if God is sovereign over all things, and everything in the universe exists for the purpose of glorifying God, it follows that God has created a world that will bring him maximal glory. That is, everything over which he has control (which is everything) exists and functions in order to maximise the glory of God. This appears to be the essential point Paul is making in Romans 11:36: ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.’ We can frame the case like this:
- God is sovereign over all things
- All things exist to glorify God
- Therefore, everything that exists does so in a world that brings maximal glory to God
When we recognise that ‘things that happen’ are actions that exist, every action is also under God’s sovereign control, and so everything that happens is also designed to maximise God’s glory. The world in which we live has been sovereignly ordered by God as the world in which his glory is maximised.
If we accept this is true, then it necessarily follows that we cannot miss God’s best for us. Our best is tied up in God’s glory. What most fully glorifies God is what is best for us. That is why God’s commandments are not arbitrary but flow out of his moral goodness. His commands are good for us because they glorify him and our good is tied up inherently with his glory because that is the ultimate purpose for which we were created.
If we live in a world of maximal glory for God, that means this world is the one that is maximally to our good. If this world – over which God is entirely sovereign – maximises his glory and our good, then nothing that happens within it can make us miss God’s best. This world is God’s best because it maximally glorifies him. And if it maximally glorifies him, it maximally works to our good. If it maximally works to our good, that cannot square with our missing God’s best for us because our best is tied up intimately with God’s ultimate glory.
All of this means we do not need to tie ourselves up in knots about straying outside of God’s plans and purposes for our lives. God has given us his Word to obey, which will achieve all that he wants it to achieve. But God doesn’t stop being sovereign when we sin. He is perfectly capable of stopping us from sinning. In fact, the wonder is not that we ever stumble into sin, it’s that we ever don’t! Any time we keep ourselves from sinning, that is not our doing, but the Lord actively working to stop us from sinning. Any time we do sin, that is Lord choosing not to intervene and allowing us to act in line with our sinful nature.
When we understand this, we have to ask how it is even possible to stray outside of God’s plans and purposes for us? We might well sin and break his commandments. We act outside of God’s expressed will. But that doesn’t do anything to change God’s ultimate will which, despite his stated desires for us, determine what actually happens in the world. I may sin to my heart’s content, actively raging against Christ throughout my life, and yet even that – according to Romans 9:19-24 – happens under God’s divine authority and supervision for the purposes of maximising his glory. Even that would be part of God’s plan for my life and his ultimate purpose of glorifying himself.
But it also bears saying that no event happens in isolation. Even tiny, apparently insignificant events may alter the entire course of history. My railing against Christ throughout my life may be the means the Lord uses to show many others the futility of that position and draw them to himself, just as the sin of those who crucified Jesus was the very means by which God dealt with the problem of sin once and for all and by which he saves his people. Even a life of rampant sin exists to glorify God and will have ramifications far beyond the apparent sin that we see. Such lives still serve God’s best, even if what is apparently better (as we judge it) is not attained by the one serving God’s glory in that way. I am convinced at the end of time we will be astonished by the work God was doing through otherwise terrible, heinous events and we will affirm along with Paul in Romans 11:33: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!’