Question: What’s the difference between God and George Osborne?
Answer: God has a plan B.
This issue has arisen in several ways, through thinking about stories in the Bible, things which have happened recently in my role as minister, conversations with friends. A few days ago I was reading the story of 1 Samuel 15, where Saul is told by the prophet Samuel that he’s to lose the throne of Israel because of his disobedient act of sparing the life of the Amalekite King, Agag. At the end of the chapter we’re told that ‘the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.’
Fast forward another 3,000 years and we read about Peter, in Acts 10, on the roof of Cornelius’ house, seeing a vision of all manner of food and being told by God that he’s permitted to eat it all. And yet it’s not Peter who’s remembered as ‘Apostle to the Gentiles.’ Galatians 2 tells the story of how Peter ‘drew back and kept himself separate’ from Gentiles, an event which meant Paul had to assume the mantle of leading the sharing the Gospel with non-Jews.
All of which raises some difficult but important questions. When God first instructs Samuel to anoint Saul as king, does he know about the way the story will end, in eventual failure? How do we understand Saul’s prophecy of 1 Samuel 10? Does this show some evidence that Saul started out being the right man for the job, the best man available to God? Does God always foresee how people will change? When he revealed his vision of clean foods to Peter, could it be that, at the time, Peter seemed to be the best person for sharing the gospel to the Gentiles?
I talk to so many people who regret how things have worked out in their life, and who see this as a failure on their part, an inability to properly listen to God. I didn’t know how that person would turn out when I married them, I’d no idea the complications that there would be when I moved to that new job. There is often an added dimension of personal guilt for Christians when they try to make sense of these sorts of disappointments. I wonder how many people in Israel berated Samuel for picking the wrong king...
But what if God is inside time, alongside us? He knows everything there is to know, but that can’t include events in the future which are not fully settled. In that case, we could have been clearly hearing from God, who felt at that moment that for us that job, that home, that husband or wife was right. I realise this is a huge change in thinking for many of us, but I can’t help feeling it’s one which helps us make more sense of a lot of the struggles we face, and shows God not to be weak but rather loving and responsive, able to work powerfully and resourcefully even when things go wrong.