Broken dreams are woven deeply into the fabric of human existence—so deeply that it’s easy for us to assume God’s plans fail, just like ours. In fact, that’s precisely what some theologians have claimed over the past few decades. According to one best-selling book from a Jewish rabbi, God wishes he could make everything right in the world, but he simply doesn’t possess the power to make it happen. “Even God,” the author claims, “has a hard time keeping chaos in check.”
Can God Do More Than Merely Wait and Try?
Such a “God” is less like the sovereign Lord of history and more like the well- meaning mother in Merle Haggard’s song “Mama Tried.” “No one could steer me right but Mama tried,” Haggard lamented. “Mama tried to raise me better but her pleading I denied. That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” Seen from this perspective, God is always doing his best to turn humanity in the right direction. In the end, he just isn’t strong enough to do all that he dreams. Still, we really shouldn’t blame him because, bless his heart, he tries.
A theological perspective known as “open theism” takes a view of God’s sovereignty that’s less extreme but no less dangerous. According to open theists, God chose to limit his knowledge when he created the universe. As a result, God may produce a plan that seems perfect, only to discover that the circumstances of his creation have thwarted him again. “God (in a sense) accepts defeat at the hands of creatures not wholly under divine control.” Since God doesn’t know for certain what people will choose until they make their choice, it’s always possible for the first drafts of God’s plans to fail.
Sovereign Over All Creation, With a Plan Settled Before the World Was Formed
The problem with such perspectives is that they contradict everything that the people closest to Jesus had to say about God’s plans. God the Father didn’t wake up one afternoon in his heavenly hammock and frantically enlist Jesus to be the Savior after noticing that sin was running loose in the world. The apostle John depicted Jesus as a lamb whose sacrifice was already settled when the world was created (Revelation 13:8). Peter proclaimed that Jesus was chosen to die before time began and was betrayed according to “God’s deliberate plan” (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:19 – 20). Peter and John testified together that the trial of Jesus was precisely what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27 – 28). Long before he created the world, God had already mapped out his people’s salvation from beginning to end.
But it wasn’t merely a plan for salvation that God mapped out in eternity past!
According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God “works out everything” however he pleases (Ephesians 1:11; see also Psalms 115:3; 135:6). Sovereignty is essential to God’s nature. God cannot relinquish his sovereignty over human history any more than God can commit suicide. That’s why he’s able to promise his people that he will make “everything beautiful” at precisely the right time (Ecclesiastes 3:11; see also Romans 8:28 – 29). His purposes are so secure that they can never be thwarted (Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 14:27). His mapping of history is so meticulous that he can declare “from the beginning … what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).