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Volume 15, Issue 4: Stauron

The Plan Before Time

Gary Hagen

Plan B. Many in evangelical Christendom, subconsciously or consciously, think of the Cross as some kind of cosmic band-aid. God had to patch Humpty back together again after man had made such a royal mess of things in Eden. Of course, there are the variations on this theme. According to some ways of thinking, Seth and Enosh were the original Plan B, where "men began to call on God" (Gen. 4:26). Noah then became Plan C. Just wipe the whole earth slick and start all over again. But it wasn't long before sin reared its ugly head again and culminated in a new rebellion at Babel. So God dispersed man in chaos until Abraham could father a new race of saints (Plan D?). Years later, Moses established the Levitical system of law and worship. But Israel continued the rebellion, and through the periods of various judges and kings constantly proved themselves to be spiritually adulterous. Time for a Messiah (and Plan E?).

Of course, if we pursue this line of thought to the end, we see that after another two thousand years, things are pretty much still a sinful mess on this planet. So is there a plan F, G or H? Viewed with modern dispensational blinders on, the Cross was largely a failure, and earth is still a basket case. However, this sort of thinking, whether it is the result of a conscious adoption of a particular eschatology or as the result of a passive imbibing of Left Behind drivel, is nothing short of a form of blasphemy. According to these types of understanding of history, earth is a gigantic test tube and God plays the mad scientist who, by trial and error, tries to solve the sin conundrum. So much for omniscience and omnipotence! Even the name, the Lord God Almighty, under a theology of that sort becomes the very worst of oxymorons. The distorted theology itself becomes a convoluted system of taking His name in vain.
But what does Scripture teach? Was sin's appearance in Eden a slip-up in God's plan? Was this some defect in the master plan requiring heroic efforts on the Cross and the death of a member of the Trinity? Indeed, were the councils of the eternal Triune God-head flawed in their design of man? Again, what would that say about God?
The key to casting out any false doctrine such as this is, of course, heeding God's Word (Ps. 119:9). According to that Word, man's sin and God's salvation provided through Christ's death on the cross were part and parcel of His purpose and grace that He established in Christ Jesus "before time began" (2 Tim. 1:9-NKJV cf. Eph. 1:4). We read in Paul's epistle to Titus that the gospel message is one of hope in eternal life which God promised "before time began" (Tit. 1:2-NKJV). The King James reads, "before the world began." However, the most prevalent Greek term translated as "world" in the New Testament—kosmos (e.g., Jn. 3:16), is not used here. Rather, it is the word aionios—which is commonly used as a modifier in phrases such as eternal or everlasting life.
So we see that from eternity past our salvation was designed and planned for in the mind of God. But salvation presupposes the sin that we need saving from. Does this, as many say, simply indicate God's foreknowledge? Did God devise a plan of creation, then know in advance that this would have flaws and need fixing? If this were true, why not create the flawless system that involved no sin? Certainly an all-wise God armed with omnipotence could manage that. Then why didn't He?
The opening dozen verses or so in Ephesians provide a description of the plan. But the parts that rub our fur the wrong way are discussed in depth by Paul's epistle to the Romans. In the ninth chapter, Paul leaves no room for us to argue against the fact that sin, wrath and destruction were part of God's plan from the very beginning. Our modern sensibilities recoil at this idea and defensively pose the rebuttal: if this is true, "How can God condemn those who are simply following His plan?" Romans 9:19 reads, "You will say to me then, `Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'" Paul reminds us in the next verse of our limited ability to grasp these issues, and compares such a questioner to an arrogant pot impugning its potter.
The subsequent verses (vv. 22-23) reveal to us that the plan included sin as well as the goal of revealing God's glory and character. In His wisdom, God designed a world that would justly display His power and wrath as well as the glories of His mercy. In a sinless universe, neither His wrath nor His mercy would be demonstrated. But in the world as God has created it, some receive the justice they have earned while others receive grace through His mercy far beyond anything in their powers to deserve.
The Jews of the Old Testament era and the Gentiles in the New were not saints of different phases of some cosmic research project. They were all subsumed—from our ancient father Adam to the last man that will ever be born—as part of His perfect plan (vv. 24-29). All history has its nexus at the Cross, but all of this is to His glory.

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