Friday, February 26, 2010

Philosophical Answers to Theological Questions that come up in Inspirational Romances:

#2 How Do I know What God’s Plan is for me?

Very often an Inspirational romance hero or heroine will ask this question: “How do I know what God’s plan is for me?”

This question assumes that God has a plan for each human and that human happiness may depend upon learning what that plan is and then fulfilling it.

This question seems logical at first but it is full of philosophical problems. Fortunately, the public usually never thinks about philosophical problems. The public just wants answers. An author, however, should think of these problems so she will be able to become better prepared to provide more thoughtful answers. There are readers who read inspirational romances for guidance as well as inspiration.

I have found that inspiration romances do not often delve very deeply into these questions. The answers often provided in romances are usually something safe and vanilla like:

“Pray for guidance and God will send you an answer.”

“You’ll know God’s answer in your heart.”

These answers are fine. Readers accept them. However, the writer, who is after authenticity and who is willing to look under the hood, should seek a deeper understanding of the complexity involved in order to develop a deeper POV.

Just as the oracle at Delphi advised us to ‘know ourselves’, the oracle at the fictional Delphi advises authors to ‘know their characters’.

Like water in a well, problems have a depth and not all solutions are found on the surface.

Consider the problems of saying that God has a plan for each and every one of us.

Who said God has a plan for us and how does that person know? Would we want our human parents to plan every phase of our lives? Is the gift of freewill to mean nothing?

Assume that God does not know the future. (Many Christians believe this because it addresses the problem of predestination.) God sees a newborn babe in the hospital and He thinks: “My plan for this child is that she go to Notre Dame, become a nurse, marry John Smith from Dry Creek, and work in an orphanage in Uganda.”

What is the chance of this plan actually happening? Probably as close to zero as you could get. Further, how could this poor girl ever learn of God’s plan?

Assume God knows the future. He looks at the baby in the hospital and ‘sees’ her whole life before Him. He ‘sees’ every second of that child’s life. What sense would a plan make? It would be like a person planning for a trip he took to Venice three years ago. Why make a plan? It’s over. You can’t change anything.

Unless you are planning to go to Venice again, what sense would it make to plan for an event that has already happed?

Even if God knows the future, what He ‘sees’ is the result of a lifetime of the exercise of an individual's freewill. This knowledge does not prove determinism. A plan would still make sense for God to have.

This is not an answer. In fact, it provides a problem for there even being a freewill.

What if I followed a child around all his life and at every point a decision is made; I was able to tell you exactly how the child would decide. The child thinks he has freewill. Yet if I can always tell how the child is going to freely choose, then his decision must be based on something which makes up the child’s character. This evolution of the child’s makeup is likely the result of every experience the child has had in his lifetime.

Eventually, if you carry this argument back, you will come to see that the ‘initial state’ determined the first decisions which built the foundation for all future free choices.

Another philosopher enters at this point and says: “The latest finding in physics indicate that at the subatomic level, there may be uncaused events. This provides an empirical basis for the existence of freewill in a world that exhibits causality. Humbug to your initial state theory.”

At this point we can venture no further. The moment a philosophical problem is answered definitely, it gets kicked out of philosophy and winds up in another discipline. Freewill has not been answered definitively and no one has the final answer at this point. Until there is a final answer and ‘freewill’ has been handed over to psychology, all a philosopher has is his arguments.

So the problem is deep. What’s an author to do?

When one of your characters has a problem, like wanting to know what God’s plan is for her, delve deeply into the character’s psyche and determine exactly what that problem is. How deeply does your character explore this problem? You need not use this information in the novel. This information can remain in the back story. Your advice can still be the same as you were going to give in the first place.

Consider this quotation form T. S. Elliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Know your characters. Then consider other answers to the common questions.
“Tell me, Vince, how do I know what God’s plan is for me? Should I take the new job in Ontario and stay in Broken Arrow?”

“Martin, how do you know that God has only one plan for you? I think God cares more about how you live than where you live. God allows you freewill. He may create a new plan for you every time you make an important decision. There is only one plan we can be sure of, and that is that God wants us to be with Him forever in Heaven. Pray for guidance but make your own plans. God trusts you. Show Him you are worthy of that trust.”

The above is only one possible answer of many. Understanding your characters, both those giving advice and those receiving it, can lead to a richer understanding of the motivations involved. Know your characters and they will play fair with you and be true to themselves.



  1. Very thought provoking, Vince. I think that you are correct. Whether we agree or disagree with the protagonist's view point doesn't matter. What matters is their motivation and execution of that motivation as they pursue their goals.

  2. Hi Tina:

    Thanks for coming by. I think you said it well. The better an author understands her characters, the more authentic the writing will be.


  3. Vince, I'm late discovering your blog but your excellent post prompted me to comment. We must to know each character's philosophy. Otherwise, our characters' motivations will not be credible.

    I do believe God has a plan for us, but our free will often sabotages the good things He has in store for us. Jeremiah 29:11-13 is one of my favorite passages. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  4. Hi Caroline:

    I’m happy you came by. Did you know that Be My Guest was the title of Conrad Hilton’s autobiography? I’m old enough to know that.

    I like Jeremiah and your quote from 29:11-13 is below:

    11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

    My though on this is that all of God’s plans may be for the next world. It is said in:

    King James Bible << John 14:2 >>

    In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

    I look upon God’s plans as being for the next life. This life is not even a split second in eternity. However, someone who believes God has plans for us in this life, can read the above passages in a way to support that view.

    Thanks again,