“The Pastor’s Word” is a monthly letter from our pastor, which also appears in our Newsletter, the Quill. Much further down this page you will also find MP3 audio files of sermons from our worship service each week.

Does God Have a Plan?

Over the past few weeks our focus on Sundays has been on the theme of forgiveness.  We considered Jesus’ mandate to forgive not merely seven but 77 times.  We explored Jonah’s reluctance to forgive his enemies, and we heard the gospel as it resounded  from the Book of Ezekiel, which declared that God would rather forgive than punish.

The theme of forgiveness also emerged in another text we were unable to cover: Genesis 50.  There we learn how Joseph, who was wronged by his brothers, came to forgive them.  “Even though you intended to do harm to me,” he says, “God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing” (v. 20).

I hear the same reasoning so often today: God has a plan.  In the case of Joseph, an advocate of this view might argue, God “intended” the suffering of Joseph for a greater good, namely, the perpetuity of Israel.

But language of God’s plan always gives me pause.  What kind of God would foreordain the suffering of Joseph or any other human being for that matter?  Does this plan include other forms of suffering as well, like lynchings or the Holocaust?

Normally these questions stop here.  Some people insist God is in control and that suffering, however mysterious, is part of God’s will; others insist that God has ceded control to join us in our suffering and that such suffering could never be intended by a loving God.  What, we might wonder, would the author of Genesis say?

Here we make a startling discovery: the word for “intends,” sometimes translated as “meant” or “devised,” actually means “turned” in the original language.  A better translation of Genesis 50:20 accordingly appears in the Douay-Rheims Bible which says, “You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good, that he might exalt me, as at present you see, and might save many people.”

Do you hear the difference?  The original Hebrew tells us not that God had a plan involving the suffering of Joseph; instead, God takes something bad, which happens sometimes in the normal course of history, and transforms it into a good.

This way of thinking need not be restricted to the story of Joseph.  Think about Jesus and the cross.  Might his crucifixion, rather than being part of God’s plan, be something bad that God turned into a good (i.e., the resurrection)?

Forgiveness is an important topic, and it was appropriate to cover it over the past few weeks.  But the question of God’s “plan” as it surfaces in Genesis 50:20 is important too, especially given the difference between most contemporary translations of the verse over and against what it says in the original Hebrew.  So what do you think?  Does God have a plan?  What is your view?

Pastor Dan Peterson

Pastor Dan Peterson
Queen Anne Lutheran Church