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?