In Acts 2:23, “this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and kill by the hand of those outside the law.”
Is Peter saying this to both make them feel guilty and to let them save face? Maybe. Or is Peter completely sincere — it was God’s plan and you had no choice but you did allow this awful thing, you should feel terrible about it. I didn’t realize how dense this was until my study bible’s footnote explicitly says that Luke (who wrote Acts) “consistently affirms both human responsibility for the death of Jesus and the inevitability of that death in God’s plan.” Since I have been studying a little bit of Calvinism, the whole idea that God’s got this — He has a plan — it has been very comforting to me. (I realize that might sound odd.) So I’ve been focused on the first part of this verse — this was God’s plan. Yet that’s not really quite the complete story. It was one specific time and place in the space-time continuum where specific people did specific things. The Jews killed by the hands of others. The others did the actual killing. The disciples fled, in fear. Were any of them “free” to act otherwise? Yes? But did God know that they just wouldn’t be able to act otherwise? Yes?
But all this past week as I’m driving around I’ve been nibbling on the edge of the thought: If He has a plan, then what is my role? I don’t think I mean “free will” exactly — that seems to me mostly to be used when people want to raise a little trouble. I wish I could get a hold of this idea a little better, but it swims away.
I mean, I love, trust, and am in awe of God, who is amazing, trustworthy, and loving. If God’s got this — all this — then I can worry less, yes? But what do I do? And nibbling on the edge of this idea, it seems to me it doesn’t matter precisely what I do — work, get groceries, clean the bathroom, write my blog, study. What matters is how I do it. For the Glory of God. So my human responsibility is to act and love and pray and do it all FTGOG without ceasing.
Perhaps it is a mystery. A few weeks ago in class one of my brilliant professors when through all sorts of theories of atonement, including: did it have to happen? If folks had done otherwise, would Jesus still have forgiven us, reconciled us with God, reunited with us as adopted children, healed the brokenness of the world, ransomed us, defeated Death, and so on? Or is that just one of those impossible questions?
Both human responsibility and inescapably the will of God…. this is a dense verse. This is likely as far as my brain can go with it. Also I don’t mind mystery, and I don’t mind just not knowing.
Here’s one thing: Peter himself denied knowing and following Jesus, out of fear, while they were testing and crucifying Jesus. When the resurrected Jesus meets him on the beach, He says “Do you love me?” (Let’s set aside the exact translation of “love” or my brain will explode.) But after three affirmations that Peter did love him, and three times Jesus saying (more or less) “Feed my sheep”, it seems to me that Peter is forgiven, and Jesus is telling him it is important what you do, and how you do it. Care about the sheep. Love the sheep. Feed the sheep.