God’s Plan B’s

plan_b

How can a sovereign, all-powerful God who sees the end from the beginning ever resort to a Plan B?

When humans resort to Plan B, we assume that Plan A has failed in some way. Blame it on poor planning or preparation. Blame it on a lack of information. Blame it on the unexpected. But when it comes to God, none of these elements should come into play, not if God truly “works all things after the council of his will” [Eph. 1:11]. 

I’m going to present four Plan B’s from Scripture. You can decide if you agree that they are genuine Plan B’s, and how these events might affect the way we should think about human freedom and divine sovereignty.

PLAN A: Adam   /   PLAN B: Noah  

I would hate to think that God created Adam knowing full well that he would have to drown millions of his ancestors. Seems like it would have been more compassionate and reasonable to create Adam and Eve with a stronger moral resolve, or avoid planting a certain tree in the middle of the garden, or at least set up a barrier for talking snakes. But according to Genesis, the fatal choice of Adam and Eve so corrupted the human race that, for the sake of his creation, God was forced to hit the reset button.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Gen. 6:5-8

I have heard some people say that our eternal, sovereign God cannot experience an emotion like regret.  They would claim that the authors are either assuming God’s emotion based on his actions, or describing God in a way that readers can understand. But no matter how you paint it, the catastrophe cannot be ignored. And neither can Noah.

Noah is presented as a man that stands apart in his generation. Like Adam, he is considered blameless, innocent. Like Adam, he is given authority over animals, which are sent to him for care. Like Adam, he is given a mandate to fill the earth and subdue it [Gen. 9:1-2]. This is clearly a second Adam, a fresh start for humanity. Plan B.

PLAN A: Moses and the freed slaves   /   PLAN B: Joshua and the next generation  

If you’re like me, you squirm a little when reading something like this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” Exodus 32:7-10

Why would God say something like that? Was he just testing Moses, as my Sunday School teachers assured me? God must have known that he wasn’t about to kill the people he had just delivered from Pharaoh. Of course, starting over with Moses wouldn’t have broken his promise to Abraham, but, as Moses argues, it would definitely make him look bad after what happened in Egypt.

If you continue to follow the story, however, God does wipe out that generation. When ten of twelve spies claim that the Promise Land is too difficult for them to take, planning to stone Moses and Joshua and return to Egypt, God is so upset that he once again tells Moses that he wants to make a nation out of him [Num. 14:12].

Again, Moses defends the honor of God, and God goes another direction. All of the people twenty and older die in the wilderness. The next generation under Joshua claims the Promise Land, serving as a Plan B to the original generation under Moses.

PLAN A: Saul   /   PLAN B: David

I was taught that when God chose Saul as the first king of Israel, he was giving the people what they wanted, knowing full well that Saul would disappoint them. I believed that David was always God’s Plan A, a man of faith and courage, the man after God’s own heart. But take a careful look at the text.

Saul was tall and handsome, but he was not arrogant. He claimed that he was part of the least family of the least tribe of Israel [9:21]. That sounds like the kind of person God would choose. Saul was anointed with the Holy Spirit. He showed patience with people that did not embrace his rule. He listened to Samuel, obeyed God, and led some miraculous military victories.

In time, however, his insecurity caught up to him, and he started making foolish decisions. After disobeying God one too many times, Saul was told that the kingdom would be given to another, someone that would be more faithful. This was the verse that especially caught my attention:

“You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” I Sam. 13:13-14

When God promised David in II Samuel that his kingdom would be established forever, we tend to think about Jesus. He is the son of David that, in his resurrected state, eternally reigns over the people of God. But think about this: God said that he would have established Saul’s kingdom forever, but now he was going with Plan B—David.

Does that mean Jesus was originally supposed to come from the line of Saul? Jonathan would have made a great king. He was a man of faith, like David. But God abandoned the family of Saul. And Samuel went to his grave grieving over it.

PLAN A: Israel   /   PLAN B: The Church

 I have spent a lot of time in recent posts talking about how God’s plan for Israel was handed over to the Gentiles in the first century. Paul considered it a tragedy, though  he acknowledged the unfaithfulness of Israel and the saving faith of the Gentiles. I covered this Plan B in my post, God’s Divorce, and also touched on it in Death Threats from God.

Thinking about the pattern of these events, a few quick points come to mind:

  • God’s ultimate plans are never thwarted by the free actions of sinful people. Israel’s Messiah still came, and the world is still being blessed by the sons of Abraham, whether they be sons of flesh or of faith.
  • No one can avoid responsibility for their own actions because of God’s plan. He has a track record of leaving unfaithful, unrighteous people behind.
  • Just because God knows the future doesn’t not mean that he acts on it pre-emptively. It seems that he prefers genuine relationships with people, which means real freedom and real choices.

Do you disagree? Do you think that there are no Plan B’s in God’s sovereign plan? Or do you agree that God seems to make decisions along the way, deciding when and where to put his foot down or take things in a new direction?

 

6 thoughts on “God’s Plan B’s

  1. At that wedding when Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine (after they ran out of wine), the master of ceremonies said that they had saved the best wine for last. That seems to be God’s modus operandi to save the best for last. God has a Grande Finale unlike any other. Here it is:

    Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is roused in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is roused in glory. It is sown in infirmity; it is roused in power. It is sown a sourish body; it is roused a spiritual body.
    If there is a soulish body, there is a spiritual also. Thus it is written also, The first man, Adam(plan A?), became a living soul; the last Adam a vivifying Spirit. But not first the spiritual, but the sourish, thereupon the spiritual. The first man was out of the earth, soilish; the second Man is the Lord(plan B?) out of heaven. Such as the soilish one is, such are those also who are soilish, and such as the Celestial One, such are those also who are celestials. And according as we wear the image of the soils, we should be wearing the image also of the Celestial.(1Cor 15:42-49)

    Some more examples of this pattern:

    1)The Jewish day begins with sundown and darkness and then the day and light

    2)Adam is first, then Christ

    3) Cain was first, then Abel

    4) Ishmael, the son of the flesh was first, then Isaac, the son of promise

    5) Esau was first, then Jacob

    6) Jacob is first, then He gets a new name, Israel

    7) Saul is first, then David

    8) The man of lawlessness comes first, then Christ returns

    By the way, you are wrong about Israel. They still have a future in God’s purpose. If the pattern holds true above, and the promises given to them are true, there will come a time when God puts His spirit in them and then they will be obedient, and God will be their God, and Jerusalem will light up to be the light of the earth, and the 12 disciples will sit on 12 thrones ruling and judging Israel, and Israel will be a nation of kings and priests in the earth, etc.

    This repeated pattern is for one purpose: the glory of God. The contrast between the flesh and the spirit, the failure and the success is designed to increase the glory of God. Why do we have such poor presidents, kings, and rulers(for the most part) in this wicked age? To serve as a contrast for the glory of God when Christ and His Saints rule the universe. Why do we have a daily contrast of darkness and light? It’s the contrast principle, the day is so much more appreciated and glorious when compared with the night. When death is finally abolished, then life will shine all the brighter in our experience and estimation than if we had never experienced death in the first place. We will not only have life, but will have an appreciation and thankfulness of it that we never could have if life was our only experience.

    Therefore, both the plan A and plan B together constitute plan A.

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    • Hi Charles,

      You’re actually hitting on a different point than I was making, but something that is similar and important. I wouldn’t put Noah and Christ in the same category. Jesus was called the Second Adam (and the Last Adam), but not a New Adam. I think Noah was, in a sense, a New Adam, a fresh start to the original program, allowing human freedom to continue without destroy the original plan.

      How often does God talk about judging Israel, but preserving a remnant? A sprout would come from the stump of Jesse. Sure, the tree has been cut down, but a stump has been preserved, and when the sprout emerges, God will have remained true to his promises, and Israel would still be held accountable to their own sins, their own free choices.

      When it comes to the Second Adam, however, there are a lot of OT symbols and types that are planted to prepare for his coming, a coming that was prepared before the foundation of the earth (as Peter affirms in Acts 2, and Paul affirms over and over in Romans and Ephesians). Look at the Patriarchs. We have a Trinity, of sorts: a Father, a long-awaited Son, and a flesh/spirit paradigm. Each patriarch has a barren wife with a miraculous birth. Each has an “older will serve the younger” issue: Ishmael/Isaac, Esau/Jacob, Brothers/Joseph. I think that these patterns show that God is telling all of the future generations of Israel that the people of the First Adam will ultimately serve the people of the Second Adam. Yes, the Second Adam is the “younger” in a sense. But ALL FLESH will bow the knee to this Second Adam. And this has been foreordained before history began. So when it comes to Christ and his coming, God is sure to demonstrate that the SECOND will reign over the FIRST.

      However, that does not explain God regretting making humanity and choosing Noah. And it certainly doesn’t tell us why God told Saul that he would have established Saul’s throne forever. Was God lying? Samuel? Were the Biblical writers making things up? No, I think this is not a setup for Christ, but a simple judgment for sin, causing God to fulfill his plan in a different direction—with David.

      Ultimately, yes, God gets glory. But I think we can differentiate between God’s plans for his Son, and God making choices based on human sin and judgment. I think there can be Plan B’s without them affecting God’s sovereignty. In fact, I think God’s Plan B’s make him even more just and good than some theologies might allow.

      As for Israel, I agree that Paul’s discourse in Romans 9-11 speaks of a future redemption where, because of jealousy of the Gentiles, they will turn en masse “that the whole world might be saved.” But in that discourse, he also makes it clear that they were grafted out of the vine for their unbelief and the Gentiles were grafted in for their belief. In other words, Israel lost their right to be called God’s people because of their own poor decisions. Jesus warned them, but they didn’t take the warning. However, there is redemption. That’s God’s heart. Not just planning and executing, but loving and redeeming.

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  2. I’m sure you have probably looked into all notions of foreknowledge, but I tend to land on this explanation:
    “What if God knew what humanity would do only after he made a decision to create us? This could be understood as a logical order, not by necessity a temporal one, since God is everlasting. What if after God decided to create us, he was unwilling or unable to take back that decision? This understanding of foreknowledge would not compromise God’s character, because his foreknowledge came about as a result of his decision to create. ”

    https://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/an-explanation-of-simple-foreknowledge/
    The only other viable option for me would be Open Theism, but it comes with a huge set of problems, IMO.

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    • That’s an interesting idea, and, no, I haven’t heard that one. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of foreknowledge. Obviously, if any one of us knew the future, we would make all of our decisions based on that. I think we assumed that God must act the same way. But we have at least some Scriptural evidence that he does not.

      One example is in Deuteronomy 31. In the previous chapter, God gives Israel an ultimatum. He urges them to choose life and blessing over rebellion and curses. However, before Moses dies, God tells him that in a few hundred years Israel’s choice of rebellion will make him so angry that he will be forced to make good on his promise to curse them. He tells Moses to teach them a song to remind all future generations of their choice so that when God curses them they will remember that it was THEIR fault. Not his.

      If God knew that they would rebel, why not do it a different way? Why start something that was doomed to fail? Don’t ask me. He knows that certain things will fail when he starts them, but does it anyway. Probably for an ultimate purpose that is worth all the rebellion and angst. Probably something that is based in his character, which is, according to the people that knew him best, LOVE.

      If you knew that by having children, at least one of them would rebel against you, would that stop you from having children altogether? Would the prospect of having the experience of child raising and having a good relationship with OTHER children be worth the aggravation of the rebels? I think so. As a parent, I would be willing to risk rebellion for the experience of having a family. Remember, God is not a solo act. But I think unity must be a choice, an act of free will. Even in the Trinity. “Not my will, but yours be done.” That’s love.

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  3. What if God’s Plan A is that people should have freedom and consequences (mitigated by his grace), a real, responsive relationship with God? He promises his true intentions, and the conditions in which his promises will be realized are often explicit, though we read them as unconditioned.

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