Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Tonight on Novus Latium, I have more questions than answers. I'm all right with that, too. Always taking things for granted and cruising along without stopping to wonder why is an unfortunate way to live.

What does it mean to say God has a plan for you? Do you believe it? How do you believe it? Do you believe He has a "Plan" according to which your occupation, spouse, and children are more or less predetermined? Do you believe it's more of a Plan A, Plan B situation, where a less than ideal decision made years ago puts you permanently off the track to the happiest ending? Or might you believe there's no "plan" at all, that God simply allows people to live as we see fit, only intervening in exceptional circumstances for reasons best known to Himself?

Most people have spent some time pondering these questions, I think. No exception myself, the idea in which I've come to find the most comfort follows.

Let's start with the parable of the talents. The rich man doesn't give the servants any instructions; he leaves them the gold and then disappears. In the same way, we all start life with seemingly random assortments of blessings-- in our parents, the neighborhoods and education we grow up with, our natural talents, etc. Likewise, we are for all the world without instruction. Certainly some receive religious or philosophical education, some are trained by ambitious relatives or teachers, and some live by basic instinct. But most people aren't born with an innate sense of their gifts and how best to use them in this world. That "how" is never explained specifically.

In the end the rich man returns, and the servants return his money with whatever they have added to it. Only the third servant has added nothing, saying, 'I knew you for a hard man, reaping where you do not sow, so I buried it in the ground. Here is your money back.'

Multiplying blessings, talents, is part of what makes 'good and faithful servants.' The first two servants did that. And both were rewarded for that, not according to the amount they started or ended with. But the third servant's attitude is all wrong. One can only imagine how his statement made sense in his mind, but burying treasure is much more suited to pirates and robbers than trusted servants. The attitude is one of fearful grasping-- hide this away before anyone sees it-- if the master never returns, then I and I alone can lay claim to the treasure. It is also one of scorn. Perhaps the third servant noticed the others getting more and resented being given the least of all. If this is all he gives me, he doesn't expect much of me. I'll just bury this old bag and take care of my own affairs.

Actually, nothing in the parable suggests that the multiplication must be a doubling. The servant with ten talents might have made only fifteen in the end, and the servant with five might have made twenty, and the servant with one might have made thirty. They didn't. But the first two servants were richly rewarded. The third was thrown outside with nothing.

When I was a kid, before learning what the Church teaches about Hell and how only you can put yourself there, I worried about that third servant. I thought, why couldn't they just teach him how to invest properly and give him another chance?

But I think the servants represent attitudes as much as they model choices and actions. The forward-thinking, forward-looking attitudes of life and growth, mixed with some amount of courage and risk-taking, are praiseworthy. The close-fisted, looking-over-the-shoulder, safety first, grumbling attitude is damnable.

Back to the questions about God's Plan. I think He wants everyone and all things to grow better, more real, more beautiful, and more alive, and to have a grand adventure doing it. Being outside of time, He can see us at every stage of our lives, making every decision and action, simultaneously. It doesn't mean He makes those decisions for us. But He gives us a certain number of "talents" to start with. It's up to us to do something with them. Rather than sitting around, puzzling over the one correct way to 'solve' our life's purpose-- reminiscent of the third servant, who may have been brooding over that sack of gold-- we should be going out of ourselves, sharing what we have, spreading it around, and multiplying goodness, truth, and beauty, all the while trusting in God's love and mercy.

I think God does have a plan for each person: some final shape into which He wants to mold each of our souls. I think the plans are flexible enough that only the most determined and absolute human decisions toward defiance could derail them. I believe God will pick up tool after tool to nudge us into that final shape. Meanwhile, He gives us a great gift in being able to choose, effectually, the color and texture of our life: the places we go, the friends we associate with, the man or woman we marry, all our aspirations and activities. He can, and He does, work on us through every aspect of our lives.

It's easy to think about this at high points like graduations, promotions, birthdays, and retirements. It's a lot harder to remember when you are the lumpy blob of clay, spinning around and around and being pushed and prodded everywhere. Or the block of clay, a bit misshapen, just sitting on a shelf. But as long as you remember to unclench your fists (and your teeth), trust in God, and make it your business to grow and improve something, I don't think you can go far wrong.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Very wise words!! I am praying for you as you look for a job and seek God's will.