Contingency Plans

What if we refuse God's plan for us? Does God have a contingency plan? In one sense no, since God foresees everything, so it's not as though God is caught out by our refusal. But in another sense we can say that God has contingency plans.

1.8 Contingency Plans

Plan, or Hope?

1. When we speak of a ‘plan’ we can distinguish between two meanings. First, we can think of God's plan simply as God's sovereign will. In this sense God's entire plan could be summed up by saying that human beings were created to share in eternal friendship and communion in the life of the Holy Trinity. Since God is love, as we discover in relation to the Trinity of Persons who share the One divinity, the human race was created through the gift of personhood. We could perhaps define personhood as ‘communion in freedom’. In order for human being to be definitively constituted in love, this gift required a full response of love. Because of this we can identify a second sense of the word ‘plan’. In this sense God ‘hopes’, rather than plans for our response. Personhood is constituted in freedom, so God cannot ‘plan’ our response if by that we meant ‘programming’ it regardless of our intentions. The first movement of God's creation of humanity as a single communion of persons is a purely sovereign act of God, which corresponds more to what we think of as a plan, that is a scheme one intends and has the power to effect. The second movement, our response of love, is also an act of God, in us, but it waits on our cooperation in freedom. God begins moving us towards him but we can refuse permission.

Accept, or Refuse?

2. Personhood of its very nature has the pattern of gift and response. Since God is love in the definitive sense, a single unity in a trinity of persons, in God gift and response go together of necessity. But for created persons, the response does not occur of necessity. Although it should occur, it might not. If it does not occur, this is necessarily of the person as such, not some subsidiary matter. So it is not a mere event but a refusal. In order for such a refusal to occur, it must present itself as a possible choice. In this possibility exists the phenomenon of temptation.

First Contingency Plan

3. First Contingency Plan. Since human well-being is encompassed in God's love, and we might not respond to that love, we can say that God has a series of ‘contingency plans’. They are contingent because we might not respond. The first of these is to address the problems of temptation and weakness. If I see two possible paths I could take, one leading towards God and one away, for the latter to be at all attractive it must in some way participate in the good. Since everything God creates is good, there are no ‘bad objects’, no temptations created by God. So temptation must involve some distortion of vision so that something good is seen in the wrong light and sought in the wrong way. The essential solution to temptation is prayer, which is abiding with God, trusting in him. But temptation includes the inclination not to pray, not to ask for God's help. There is already a distancing from God. We are drawn to something that seems more attractive than the gift God has given us. This can be countered if we discover something new that appears more attractive to us than what we are tempted to. It is a bit like diverting a cranky or wilful child with something more appealing to draw him away from something he has become fixated on. God reveals a new depth in the creation we have already received, a new perspective that attracts us and brings us to our senses to avoid taking the path away from God. The gift we have received no longer appears to be going stale, but is given new life. Yet this new attractiveness discovered in creation, while helping to draw us back to God, might also start to turn our eyes habitually away from God. We might systematically seek lesser goods. So God does not overwhelm us with such attractions, but gives us a taste of them so that we will be drawn to the Creator, and to the creation only insofar as it reveals the Creator.

Rejecting God's Plan

4. Having discovered in new ways how good creation is, our focus of attention might shift so that some aspect of creation is chosen over the Creator. Temptation was only a possibility in that direction, a tendency to drift, to see a door permanently ajar, beckoning us through to forbidden delights. That is, they are forbidden if they are enjoyed in the absence of God, and God’s absence makes them more tempting. God helps us to shut that door by showing us the beauty of the gifts we have already received. Nevertheless, we might refuse that help. We refuse to pray. We keep God at a distance. We make him relative, indeed God tends to become just one of the goods we might seek. This is what sin is, separation from God by preferring lesser goods to the One who is Goodness itself.

Second Contingency Plan

5. Second Contingency Plan. God has a further contingency plan to address the problem of sin. The contingency plan for temptation was to reveal to us the deeper goodness and beauty of creation. But to the extent that this did not work, and sin occurred, God's plan is to reveal to us more about the Creator. The first involved God revealing himself implicitly. The second involves God revealing himself explicitly, and is what we have come to call Revelation, with a capital ‘R’. Yet God is not distant from creation, but intimately permeates it in every level and particular. So revelation does not reveal the Creator as over against creation, but in and through it. Since human beings are a part of that creation, and inhabit creation with a status that could be called a ‘living symbol’ or exemplification of creation in its unity, revelation reveals us to ourselves. By discovering more about God we discover more about ourselves. So the very act of revelation constantly draws us back to the beauties of creation and especially of human being. In order to save us God is constantly trying to draw us back to the simplicity of communion with him and each other.

Refusing the Contingency Plan

6. However, because each of God's ‘contingency plans’ can only work through our cooperation, this is why they are contingent, they might fail in any particular instance. The plan of explicit revelation also contains a possibility of refusal. This is a deeper kind of refusal. The first refusal, ‘ordinary’ sin, chooses a lesser good over the Good. At that stage, we only see God indirectly, through creation, so it might not be fully apparent to us just what we are doing. But Revelation reveals us to ourselves, so our self-consciousness is heightened to the point where a new kind of temptation arises. In the first kind of temptation the possibility that presented itself was to choose some particular created good in preference to the Creator himself. In this deeper kind of temptation, the dilemma is accentuated because the highest good in creation has been revealed to be the human person as such. Now I am tempted, with open eyes, to choose myself over God. If this realisation comes to full clarity it should provoke dread. We discover the fear of God in a psychological sense. Because of this, the prior contingency plan to combat sin comes to have the appearance of law, judgement and punishment. If we were left in this state, having experienced our moral impotence, we might be tempted either to despair of ourselves or to make a final repudiation of God.

Third Contingency Plan

7. Third Contingency Plan. God had a further contingency plan. In the first, he revealed a deeper goodness and beauty in creation itself. In the second he revealed that the human person is the crown of creation, made in the image of God, a cooperator with God's own creative work. Each of these should have turned people back to God in joy and gratitude. But these plans were not fully successful. Now God chose to reveal that creation itself exists fully and intimately within God in a personal way. What does this mean? The Incarnation of the eternal Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, reveals firstly that the Word is the identity of the cosmos itself, the one ‘through whom all things are made’ (The Creed). So all the goodness and beauty reflected in creation are already the goodness and beauty of God, not from a distance, but in complete intimacy. Secondly, that human being as the crown and unity of creation, has always been destined to be the Son of God. In other words we could say that the human race was always destined for divinity in Christ as its head. Surely this plan will work. Now that God in person has identified himself with us, we will turn away from ourselves and back to God the Father. At this point we truly discover the distinction between the human race as one communion of persons and the possibility of individuals separating themselves from this communion, and thus, from God. This plan of God is revealed to have two dimensions. One is not contingent at all, but is part of what we identified originally as God’s sovereign will. Since creation was already intended in God's eternal plan to be created in and through the Word, and since human being was intended as the crown of creation, the Son became human through God’s sovereign will, unimpeded by human non-cooperation. This does not contradict Mary's freedom, as Mother of the Incarnate Word, since God in his perfect foreknowledge knows one who will say ‘Yes’ of her own freedom, re-founding the human race in necessary union with the One who has always said ‘Yes’. So the human race in its unity is re-established definitively and irresistibly as one communion of persons in obedience to God, through God’s sovereign will and eternal plan. Yet individuals might still reject this plan, even knowing Christ.

Back from the Dead

8. If someone goes down this path it means sin becomes spiritual death. It has a terminal character, yet as long as we live we can still turn back. This becomes possible because the effective re-establishment of humanity in communion with God is permanent. Later we will examine how the sacramental character of the Church embodies this, but for the moment we note that this standing solution has been provided by which an individual separated from God can be reunited with God and all people. This solution is none other than Jesus Christ himself permanently present in the human community in a way that can never be lost.