An awful lot has been written on this subject in the popular press, some good and some not too good. But one of humans' biggest challenges is to self edit to realize when you've made some assumptions about God that presume human-like limitations on him. Trying to understand God's will for humanity and his individual plan for each person is one of those areas where human brain structure keeps introducing inadvertent assumptions about God that are misleading. So I thought of, yes, an analogy, to help with what I think is the biggest problem with understanding God regarding the question of his will for humanity and his plan for each person.
Suppose you get up in the morning and go to work. Do you have a plan? You may think that you have a plan, but it is probably a "to do" list. I mean, when you get up in the morning and go to work, you are thinking about the things you need to do that day, but you are not constantly reviewing all your plans. What are "all" your plans you may ask? Well, you have a plan to be safe and healthy. You have a plan to provide for your family. You have a plan for your love and intimate life. You have a plan for education, for military service, for retirement. Unspoken but constant in your mind are plans and they all overlap because their common point is "you." But when you apply the brakes in your car at a stop light you are not thinking, "OK, I did that safely so part of safety plan is OK. I am making the correct turn at the light so yep, five years from now I will make a similar turn that takes me to graduate school. Hmm, this traffic light lasted a full minute, so my bank savings deposit has now gained another one minute of interest rate toward my retirement."
You see what I am getting at? As a normal sane human being you have a "to do list" for each day, but it is within the context of your greater conscious and unconscious plans. And most important, not every traffic stop that you make is a check mark against your plans.
Likewise God has layers of "will" and "plans" for humans that are broad based, overlapping, and allow for many small decisions that have absolutely no impact upon the "bigger picture" or the "greater plan." To think otherwise is to be mildly neurotic, which could lead to severe neurosis, and worse to magical thinking and occult behavior.
So when people of good intention write a book or talk with friends about "God's plan for you," they have the erroneous but understandable mental image of God having one single plan of sequential events, one leading to the next, from beginning to end. That is not entirely correct. It is correct that God knows what will happen, since obviously he is all knowing. That is different from it being "his plan" for you.
God's will for humanity can best be described as the general intention to invite humans individually and as a whole to know, love and serve God, and to live worthy lives as best as one can, so that one will be invited to God's eternal garden and banquet table in heaven upon a person's death. Thus God's will is to allow humans freedom of activity, but to give them commandments and admonitions in order to provide the boundaries that allow humans to 1) live good and gracious lives and 2) to merit eternal life in paradise with him. So that is God's will. Therefore, when something great happens to humanity as a whole (let's say when antibiotics were discovered), that is "God's will." Likewise when humans are terrible to each other, let's say for example in genocides, it is "God's will," not because he has it on a "plan," but because it is God's will that humans have commandments and Prophets, but then choose whether to believe them or not. That is the difference between "God's will" and "God having a plan for a person."
Just to help you to refine your understanding of God's will a bit more before we go on to describe analogies for God's plans for people. God's will was to provide Eden for people and to love and take care of them, but as we read in the Bible, first man and first woman, Adam and Eve, blew it. So God's will was to lavish providing sustenance and love on the first humans, but they wanted more, because they fell for temptation and wanted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. So God's will was for humans to have his companionship, his love and provide for all their sustenance needs. Now, you can see that just because God's will is to care for humans in the Garden, that does not mean that God does not have foreknowledge of what they will do. So there is no contradiction between God's will and then what does actually happen. This is because, like the analogy where you on your way to work have a to do list but in your background also many long term plans, God has layers of "will" toward humans. God's will is to love them and have them love him in return. But God's will is also that he will not force or coerce love from humans. God's will is that he will tell humans what they must do to be saved, but God will not force them to do it. God's will is that he will tell humans how to behave in order to live good and healthy lives (and hopefully keep humanity going), but it's also God's will that he allows humans free choice and long periods of time to reap the consequences of what they themselves sow. So you can see that God's will is comprised of strands of the human experience, none of which are contradictory.
Let's give a real example. Suppose someone has a very serious illness, one that seems terminal. The pious person in the family will pray to God for their loved one to be cured, but will often say, especially if they are Muslim, "It is God's will." Suppose the ill person then dies. Was it God's will that the person die? Yes, but only in the context of God's will as I described above. Suppose that five years before the person became ill, pharmaceutical executives decided not to invest in a new drug that might have cured that illness because it was too rare or expensive. That was "God's will" in the sense that humans have free will to make decisions, and then to reap the consequences. God did not whisper in the executives' ears "Don't develop that drug because I have on my list that a person will die for lack of that drug in five years time." When that decision is made God knows the consequences, since he knows every thought, every deed, and every implication of every thought or action by human or animal and of course the implication of every atom of movement of every piece of matter or beam of energy in the universe. So God did not draw up a plan for the ill person to die at such and such a time and place. But it is God's will that humans are given the understanding they need about how to be good to each other, and how to obey God. So this is one example of how a sad death is "God's will" within the greater context of humanity, but not a check off item on his "plan" for the person.
And by the way, I'm not demonizing pharm executives in this example, far from it. I picked that as an example because humans need reminding that there is just so much that humanity as a whole can do. Humans cannot fund 100 percent treatment and research for every illness known to humans for every human that ever lived and is alive today. Humans insisted on free will and oh boy, they got it. Humans must make ethical decisions about how to maximize for the greater good what they can do, and hard choices must be made. So I used that example to help what is often the most common anguish that faithful have toward God, which is "Why was this person taken from us?" People try to reassure by saying, "It is God's will," but the full and correct answer would be, "It is God's will that humans need to do the best they can within the realities of life, and it is God's promise that no good life is ever in vain, wasted or unrewarded, no matter how dire or sad the circumstances." This is why Jesus pointed out that "the poor shall always be with you." Jesus was pointing out that humanity will never overcome and remediate all the challenges and realities of life. Jesus was not at all implying that God has some sort of pre-applied percentages of poor people that will always be around because that's "his plan." How do we know that? Well, one of the reasons that Jesus was persecuted and crucified was because he destroyed the cruel belief prevalent at the time that the poor and the sick were "sinners" and somehow "deserved" their station in life. Jesus was crucified in no small part because he seemed to "elevate" the sinful and the lowly to the high and mighty "enlightened" and "holy ones." It is one of my great horrors that the heretical beliefs of the haughty priesthood and upper classes has reinfected modern humans, even when Jesus most thoroughly with his life refuted the idea that God sorted human lives by the "deserving" and the "undeserving" based on imaginary individual or family sin. I totally cannot believe how like a foul illness that concept has arisen again in the "new age" dementia of western modern society.
So now we can look with more confidence and understanding at how God has "a plan for each of you."
God's plan starts with the creating of a soul for you that no matter where you are in life, you are equally valued, treasured and loved by God. In token of this God also sends a guardian angel with the soul. The soul is NOT "preprogrammed" to have "plan based experiences." This is one of the great heresies and occult or at best neurotic magical thinking viral modern society problems that people face today. Both the confused faithful AND the unfaithful seem to actually share this imbalanced belief that a soul is inscribed with some sort of check list of "experiences" that is part of the soul's "destiny." This is absolutely not true. Remember, the Bible instructs that the body is the temple of the soul. It is therefore what happens in the body in life that shapes the ultimate cleanliness and goodness of the soul. The body and the environment are the drivers; the soul is along for the ride and is shaped by what each human does and what they experience.
We know this because every soul is equal and loved in God's eyes. To believe otherwise is to be contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Qur'an, plus it ascribes to God the assigning of preferential love and even a caste system to souls. That is so outrageous. I mean, if you have grown up in a belief system where reincarnation is part of your faith, that cannot be helped and I have no disrespect, as I've said before. However, it is contrary to the faith and to the truth for any monotheistic "book of faith" believing person to ascribe preferential or detrimental "plans" or treatment to any soul by God. That is a very severe error and will be judged accordingly by God.
continued in next posting