After years of miserably washing the dishes by hand like seventeenth century peasants, we’re now fortunate enough to have a dishwasher.
This chamber of magic water has significantly curtailed our kitchen arguments, or at least it did – until, unexpectedly, it went on strike and would only make edgy whirring noises.
‘It’s probably the filter, it needs unblocking,’ said Wifey, reclining on her chaise-longue while being fed grapes and fanned with palm leaves.
I rolled up my sleeves and went fishing around in the murky water like Crocodile Dundee. Alas, despite disassembling anything that seemed to come off (which was quite a lot, actually – including a number of things that initially didn’t want to come off and probably shouldn’t have), I could do nothing to encourage the water to leave.
So, we called up the lettings agency and, promptly, an engineer arrived six weeks later and unblocked the filter.
“Aw, look,” he said with the ubiquitous Australian verbal shrug. “You’ve gotta rinse the plates before putting them in, right?”
This was unhelpful for several reasons. Not least that it justified Wifey’s ongoing view that plates should be rinsed before they go in the dishwasher, but worse, that it justifies her father’s fixation with the same. This bothers me. If you have to wash the plate before it goes in the dishwasher, then what on earth is the point of the dishwasher? It’s like getting an Uber and the driver suggesting that he sits on your lap while you work the pedals.
Not that I am in the habit of comparing kitchen appliances to the Bible, but something else that seems to work just fine most of the time is Jeremiah 29:11:
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. [NRSV]
It’s a beautiful verse, filled with optimism and gushing with peace and security. Until, of course, the chaotic events of a cold world batter the sense that God has a plan out of us. Then it stops working.
Christians (especially evangelicals) are forever banging on about God’s plan. It’s the stock response to pretty much anything that happens; the place we go for hope, comfort, or (worse) to give others hope and comfort. There are few things less comforting than, in the midst of sorrow or grief, being told that it’s all ‘part of God’s plan’.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to delve into exegesis or start talking about what this verse means in its original context. Nor am I going to embark on a miserable philosophical discussion about predestination that makes you wish I was still writing about dishwashers. What is important though is to think about what we mean by the phrase ‘God’s plan’. A plan is a very human thing. It is a schedule of activity designed to make something happen within the constraints of time, resources and creativity.
But here’s the point: God operates under none of those constraints.
So how useful is the phrase ‘God’s plan’?
That concept might actually be quite limiting; another example of our tendency to put our unimaginably vast and powerful God in a box.
A better idea might be to reflect on what these verses tell us about God – no matter what happens around us.
For example, some of the things they might tell us are that we can trust Him, that there is good reason to hope, that even though we don’t understand everything – He loves us, is with us, and our story does have a happy ending.
After all, who are we really being invited to trust – God, or a ‘plan’?