Got to discuss my homily with my oldest son yesterday after church. He had, ironically, talked to me last week about the issue of God "controlling everything" because of a conversation he had had a few days earlier. Basically, some one who was DUI had hit and killed an elderly man. Apparently, that man had been talking about wishing his life was over, so the statement was made that God caused the wreck so the man could die. The logic of this left my son unimpressed. I told him I was preaching on that topic in a few days; so after I had, I followed up to get his view. He is a smart and thoughtful kid and it is interesting to me to hear his insights.
He said that what I said was what he thought as well. Then he said, "When people tell me 'but God has a plan" I say, 'I believe He has a plan, but I do not think we follow the plan.'" I think that is a good summary of a very complex reality. Obviously, much more can be and needs to be said, but it is facing the right direction, as I see it.
There seems to be constant confusion about the difference between "God's plan" and "God micro-manages every detail of everything that happens." An analogy (all talk of God is analogical...) might illustrate what I am pointing towards. As a father, I have plans for my kids. I plan for them to be faithful Christians, decent human beings, hard working and successful. To that end, I have raised them in a particular environment, prayed constantly, and set down expectations (torah). Part of the plan is go to college. I do not follow them around all day and tell them what to do, although there is periodic feedback with consequences for behaviors (good and bad). God, at least in many books of the Bible (let's take Genesis) seems to be similar. He has given us freedom to choose, given us dominion, and given us space (i.e., He is not "around" all the time). Of course, He has not orphaned us and He has communicated with us (Torah, Prophets and in these last days, His Son). He works among us, He is "with us" as the Hebrew Bible says over and over; yet that presence is Spirit.
So God's plan for us includes this element of choice, a choice we can and do exercise. In MP today I read Acts again, a continuation of Stephen's last sermon. In it I read You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit... That resistance is at the core of our problem. God's "control" seems to be less than complete (because God wants us to be free to choose). The reason why seems obvious, God made us out of love and for love; love requires freedom of choice. So God chose to give us the option, Outside of time with an eternal knowledge we cannot fathom, one assumes that He knew the cost of that choice. Those who believe in the incarnation and crucifixion have an idea as well.
Yes God does punish and discipline us, yes some things are His hand at work--discernment is needed. Yet, our freedom is real because He does not control everything all the time. Tthere are times when He goes to plan B because of choices we made and things that happen (and plan C, D, X,Y,Z!) How it all works, I do not know. I just know that if God is for us we have every reason for trust and hope. We should try to obey Him and follow His plan, but we can be grateful for Redemptive Love whenever we fail.