When I was a teenager in the Baptist Church in the fifties, our youth leaders used to talk to us a lot about finding God’s will for our lives. We were also encouraged to think of finding the right mate, the person whom it was God’s will for us to marry. I don’t know if anyone actually ever said it, but at the time my idea of finding God’s will was rather like getting on a straight road that had been predetermined just for me. I believed that if I missed the right path, I would spend all my life on the wrong one, out of God’s favor. My salvation might be secure, but God would be displeased with me. I also believed that one man out there was intended just for me, and that if I missed him and married the wrong one, I was forever out of luck, or perhaps in a graceless state. If I found the right one, we would be blessed by heaven and live in perfect bliss.
I long since stopped believing in such a specific, inflexible Divine Plan, but I do believe that God has a purpose, or purposes, for each of us. My thinking now is that the secret to our intended destinies lies in our DNA. Genetically, each of us is a distinct individual from conception. God’s will for each life is for that person to maximize his or her total potential in the service of doing good. The choices we make, and the ways we respond to things that happen to us intertwine with our particular gifts and limitations to help us evolve into the people we were meant to be. The Holy Spirit works in our lives to grow us in grace, to lead us more and more into the perfect will of God. As it says in my book of aphorisms compiled by Jo Petty and entitled Apples of Gold, “God is playing chess with man. He meets his every move.” In other words, God directs us where to go from where we are, just as a GPS does in a car. If we make a wrong turn, we are directed back to the road that will get us to our destination. Sometimes, our path to self-realization is a very long and winding one.
I shall not attempt to figure out exactly how free will and predestination are reconciled except to say that we are all engaged in an interactive dance with each other and the Divine, and with the natural universe that the Divine set in motion. I won’t say that there are no accidents, but that God can change the accidents into opportunities if we allow God to do it. Nevertheless, I believe that the One who set the vast universe in motion has specific plans for some people at strategic times in human history. That is Biblical, but also, the right person being in the right place at the right time is something that has been recognized even by unbelievers, even if they see those connections between a person and destiny as serendipity.
Just as I no longer believe in the romantic notion that only one mate can make us happy, I no longer believe that a person’s life is planned out according to an exact script. But I do believe that when a person yields his or her life to God, that person becomes part of a giant improvisational choreography that is as thrilling to the mind of God as it is to us. Our “Lord of the Dance” rejoices in our self-discovery and in seeing what we will do with who we are. The big plan is laid out, but our parts in it are up to us. Our responsibility is to discover who we are and what we can do and how it can best be used in the situations in which we find ourselves.
“And we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 RSV)