Sunday, April 09, 2006

Is Proverbs 16:9 A Proof Text For Spontaneity?

"The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps."
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)

I have heard a couple of people quote this Scripture lately and I suspect that they meant to specifically address me in their quote. Perhaps, or perhaps not, it does not matter. Whether they meant it to be a hint that I needed to change my style or not, does not matter. I do need to examine the Scripture and examine my own life. Self-examination is always appropriate. In a sense what I hear them say is that detailed planning, or perhaps at least my style of detailed planning, is bad and spontaneous decision making is good.

First thing I would say is the dominate message of this proverb is that God is the one who gives success or not. It is not the case that there are so many variables in calculating the outcomes of our actions that it is impossible to determine what will happen. It is that God is actively, intelligently guiding history and specifically in each man's life as to bring success and failure to his actions. In other words, God is doing things that effect your and my success. This being the case, this give light on how to interpret the first part of the verse. So now we can move to that.

The first part of the verse is not discussing whether people should or should not plan. It is describing a common human activity. This verse is not discussing whether plans are made in a detailed way, a spontaneous way, a anxious way or a calm way. It merely states that people commonly in their heart make plans. If you were to say what type of planning the person was doing, you could only characterize it as coming from the heart. Perhaps some more mature Hebrew scholar can help me out here, but I'm reading the ESV which really does not address the style issue.

The way I have heard the verse quoted though implies that the verse is some how against using detailed objective data to make decisions. I think it is a misinterpretation of this verse and robs it of its true intent that says God is active in our lives. The application of this verse is not that we should be spontaneous in decision making, nor is it that we have a sense of fate, what ever will be will be. What is clear is that God is moving in our lives and we should recognize his hand of blessing or his defeating our efforts. When we are carrying out our plans, we should seek God's blessing through our prayer life, through godly living and through faith.

In summary, to baptize a certain style of decision making through this verse is really to miss the point of the verse. It is not the style of decision making that is addressed here, but the fact that God is active in all of our actions.

I see using Proverbs 16:9 as a way to baptize a certain decision making style as a grave error in interpreting the text, not that it promotes heresy, it just misses the all important point of God being active in our daily lives. On the other hand, I do think I have made plenty of errors in decision making and sometimes because I have mulled over them too long. I have also made the other error which is having made decisions too quickly and not thought through my plans. Probably my greatest errors have come from following my sin filled heart of having not prayed over my decisions. Yes, there are plenty of things to criticize me over.

From a human point of view detailed planning has value as does spontaneity. It is not that one is good while the other is bad, it is the case that we should use the one that is appropriate to the circumstance. When you want a decision that you can later build upon, then you should use detailed planning. If the decision does not affect other long term issues, you can experiment. But again, here I'm just expressing my point of view and not expositing Scripture.
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