I just rented the movie The Adjustment Bureau. Heard of it? All I knew was kind of sci-fi action flic about the choices we make. Turns out it has a lot of theological undercurrents running through it. Matt Damon is a character in the movie that is being messed with by the agency that works for the chairman. And (spoiler alert) the big reveal by the end of the Act I is that the chairman is actually God and the agency are angels. The agency is trying to separate Matt Damon from Emily Blunt. Why? Well because it isn’t in THE PLAN that they are to be together. Much of the movie is the quest for the 2 lovers to reunite and fight against the angels who are trying to keep them apart.
Matt Damon asks, “If its not supposed to happen, why do I feel like this?” The angel, one of the FBI-looking guys responds, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, it matters what’s in black and white.” The angels all carry magic black books that show THE PLAN for each human being. When someone changes what they are supposed to do, the entire plan changes. Then as Matt Damon tries to run from the plan, a car accident unfolds in front of his eyes and the message is clear. God, the movie seems to say, is at work against us for the sake of the plan, which we would call God’s will. In the movie, God is in the top floor of a big stone building (we think). Matt Damon reunites with the girl of his dreams, but the agency sends in a particularly nasty angel named “the Hammer”. His advice for Damon: “You can’t outrun your fate.”
Is this what we think life is? A fated plan from God and we’re stuck on it?
Damon asks, “what ever happened to free will? The Hammer responds, (in one of the best written parts of dialogue of the movie) “We gave you free will, and you gave us the dark ages…you don’t have free will. You have the appearance of free will. Humanity is too stupid for free will.”
At this, Damon decides to change fate, he enlists the help of his helper angel Harry and they devise a system for Damon to schedule an appointment with God. The story gets a bit far-fetched and silly here but Damon and co-star Emily Blunt run through the streets of New York to schedule an appointment with God. At the seemingly end of the rope (uh oh, God’s not at the top of the stairway of the big building) and with the bad guys (angels) all around, ready to destroy the lovers or if nothing else, their love, the two humans kiss with such passion and force that the angels disappear. The helper angel reappears and said God has “rewrote the plan.” He tells them “Its all a test” and God rewrote the plan because their love won out.
If you haven’t seen the movie you are either annoyed or utterly confused by now, but the plot is solid and the Phillip Dick short story unfolds decently on screen. Its not going to win the Oscar for Best Picture but it is a fun movie. But theologically, watching this movie sets some major questions about how God operates in the world. Are our emotions the most powerful thing about us? Has God stripped us of free will and now gives us small nominal decisions on what color tie we where or what we order for breakfast but He’s got all the big decisions all mapped out? The movie is far-fetched fantasy (especially the end). And yet, as Christians, we operate in many of the same naïve beliefs.
What does God want me to do with my life? Who should I love? What should my employment be? Will I discover the plan that He has mapped out? The question is imbued with hope and faith but it is laced with the same insidious sub question: “what if I miss out and fail to figure out the right thing God has for me?” Or worse…”what if God is actively at work against the thing I want to do with my life and I’m going to be stuck doing something I don’t want to do?” Or in the movie’s case, “what if we are pulled apart from the love of our lives?” This belief of A PLAN has done major damage to Christians for centuries and instead of empowering us to follow Him, we waste days, months, and years sitting around waiting to figure out when God will show the plan to us.
“But doesn’t the bible say we are all on a plan that God has to reveal to us?” I often am asked. We Christians love to quote Jeremy 29:11, “For I know the PLANS I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Beautiful and powerful words right? God has a plan for us! Yes! This is fantastic! But wait…at the end of Jeremiah the Jewish people were taken captive by the Babylonians and made slaves and most of Jerusalem was destroyed. Is this in the Plan?
My argument is that searching for God’s will shouldn’t be quoting Jeremiah as much as Philippians 2:13, ”It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Or this one, James 1:5 , ”If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach.” God’s plans for humanity involve reconciling us to His great love. Healing the world now to prepare for the future Kingdom of Heaven. Being instruments of His great mercy. Now. Life is less about the plan, and more about His provision of grace and love and relationship with Him and others.
Still waiting for the PLAN? There are many websites out there telling people specifically how God is waiting to unfold his plan to us…we just have to wait and it will all come crystal clear, like the magic black books in The Adjustment Bureau. Want proof? Sure just click this website and following God’s will is very simple progression of steps. The site seems to say, “read a couple verses and sit back and POW! God will unfold the whole PLAN for your life!”
So often though, God’s will is unfolded not in plans or in progressions, but through relationships, struggles and journey. Look at the story of the bible, sometimes God broke in and said “Paul why are you persecuting me?” or from the burning bush to Moses. But for most Christians, God’s voice isn’t from blinding lights or burning bushes but in the still, small voice that isn’t so easy to perceive. Through reading scripture, through teachings in church, through the beauty of a sunrise, through the intimacy of prayer…this is how God reveals Himself to us in tiny, steady steps. The way of Christ is a journey, and the connotation of journey isn’t an overnight or instantaneous thing…it often takes a long time for a journey to unfold. God does speak to us and make Himself known to us, but not plans that come out of black books but in a love relationship He has been writing with you since the day you were born.
Make no mistake – God does have a plan for you. His plan is for you to follow Him, and be shaped by Him, so that you can be a blessing in this world today to help others see God’s great light. He can use you as a teacher, and he can use you as a mother. He can use you as a pastor (although a bit more difficult!) or he can use you as a contractor. He can use you no matter what your context is, He’s more worried about your heart.
We waste a lot of time obsessing over the Plan, and Jesus says upon leaving earth, just “follow Me”, and I will lead you. Sometimes God might take you and put you in a specific place at a specific time, which is definitely more a concrete plan. My friend Tracy Stover had this happen recently as she was praying for direction and God called her to Africa to serve with World Concern in the Horn of Africa drought. And she faithfully followed Him. God called her to Africa and she followed Him.
A few years ago God called me to come and help build the church and I followed Him and it has been amazing.
But for many others that haven’t been called to Africa or to come and be a pastor, God has also called you to the plan of following Him daily here in your normal life. Work your job where you find yourself, work hard in the relationships you find yourself in, draw upon strength from the Lord, and be a blessing to all of the creation here on earth. This is His plan for you today. I’m sure of it.