Wednesday, May 5

The Two Wills of God

I've been wanting to post on this subject for a while, because I think its related in a way to several of the different discussions around the Christian blog world recently, but I can be a bit obsessive when I post on a subject like this, needing to read what every resource I have says on the subject, dragging out my lexicon and a concordance and commentaries and spending hours to come up with a paragraph or two. Right now I don't have the time for that sort of thing, so I've just not posted anything on the subject, except for that little 3 step thingie I posted yesterday. On a whim, I've decided to post on the subject anyway and just wing it. I am using Blue Letter Bible as my only resource, although I have already read lots of stuff on the subject, and my winging it will automatically pull things from what I have read in the past.

Whenever this subject comes up on discussion boards, at least one person will say the idea of God having two sorts of wills is making things too complicated. God, not being double minded and all that, has only one will and that's the end of the story, case closed, now we can pack up our bags and go home! They are right about one thing. God is not double minded, so whatever particular type of will of His it is that we are discussing, it does not change, because it comes out of the mind and character of a God who does not change.

They are wrong, however, about God only having one type of will. If you look carefully at scripture, you will see that scripture uses the phrase God's will in at least two different ways, and if you listen carefully to conversations you will find that we do, too. Sometimes we are unaware that we are using the term in different ways, and that leads to all sorts of confusion and fuzziness of thinking and what appear to be contradictory statements. Let's look at the two ways we use the term and see if we can clear up some of the confusion.

First, there is what we might call God's moral will. This is also known as his preceptual will or will of command. I'm pretty sure there are other names, but I can't recall them right now. This type of will of God is the way God wants people to behave or what sort of people he wants them to be. All the commands God gives us fall into this category. It is God's will--using this definition--that every single person seek Him out and love Him. The ten commandments and all the other things God tells people they ought to do fall into this category.

Here are a couple of places where the term will of God is used this way:

For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother. (Mark 3:35 KJV)

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

This sort of will of God is, as we all know from experience, thwarted right and left every single day. None of us ever carries out God's moral will perfectly, although those of us who have been reborn ought to be carrying it out a little more fully each day; and eventually, when we are glorified, we will carry it out perfectly forevermore. Christ, because he was always obedient to God's commands, was always in compliance to this will. He is the only human being who has never thwarted it.

This is the way I used the term yesterday in my piece on finding God's will. This will of God is what He desires of all of us as to our behaviour and attitude. It's everything He requires of all human beings, and this is the type of will of God that we need to knowingly and actively work to bring about in our own lives.

The second way the term God's will is used in scripture can be called God's sovereign will, or some call it His will of decree or secret will. Sometimes in scripture we also find this called God's purpose, or the counsel of His will, or his predetermined plan. This sort of will is God's plan for the history of creation, the way He has decided that history will unfold. This plan includes both the things God actively brings about and the things He has decided to allow for His own good purposes. Here are a couple of places in scripture that mention this type of will:

And all the inhabitants of the earth [are] reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and [among] the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? (Daniel 4:35 KJV)

Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (Romans 1:10 KJV)

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will... (Ephesians 1:11)

As you can see from these verses, this sort of will of God cannot be thwarted. This will always comes about, for none of us among the wee inhabitants have the power to stay God's hand. Paul assumes that he will make the journey to Rome only if it is God's will (or His plan) that he make it. If the trip turns out to be impossible, then at that point Paul will know that it is not God's plan for him to make the trip.

This sort of will includes both the good and bad acts of human beings. A lot of people have difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea of any immoral acts being included in any category of God's will. Scripture, however, says that they are. There is the example of Christ's crucifixion. The people who crucified Christ were doing an unjust thing, but according to the text, carrying out God's perfect plan at the same time. One of the common verses used to show this is Acts 2:23:

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (KJV)

It was God's sovereign will--his determinate counsel--that Christ be crucified and He accomplished it through hands that were acting wickedly. As you can see from this verse, it is possible to be going against God's will in the moral will sense, and at the same time, with the same act, be accomplishing His will in the sovereign will sense. If you need other verses to convince you of this, look at Acts 4:27, 28; or Genesis 50:20.

There is a reason this sovereign sort of will is sometimes called God's secret will. As a general rule, we only know exactly what it is as the events actually occur. In the Romans 1 verse above, Paul wanted to go to Rome. I'm sure he thought God wanted Him to go, and maybe he was fairly convinced that God wanted him to go, but he wasn't certain, because he hadn't gone yet. We may get glimpses of what God's plan is through prophecy, or even perhaps through being particularly in tune with what God may have in store for us, but we can never be completely certain of the whole of it until God unfolds His plan in the making of history. If something occurs, then it is God's will in this sense. Absolutely nothing thwarts this will.

Since this sovereign will is--by and large--secret to us, agonizing over it can be a bit of a futile exercise. It lies in God's realm, and he's the one who brings it to pass. However, we do know exactly what God's moral will is for us, so we can work on fulfilling that, knowing that in every right attitude and action we are fulfilling His will. This type of will of God lies in our realm, and we are responsible to bring it to pass in our lives.

Its a little bit like we are ballerinas. (Or if you're a guy--you're a man in tights.) We do our best to look beautiful and perform each dance move to perfection, and God is the one who makes it all into a ballet. We will fulfill a role in the ballet no matter what, and the ballet goes ahead exactly as it was impeccably composed before the foundation of the earth; yet, if we concentrate on making our hearts right and our moves perfect, we can be assured that the role we play in the already composed story won't be the ugly villian. The Composer/Director tells the story, and we just need to dance our best with what we've got.

(*Some people say there are actually three ways the phrase God's will is used, and they may be right, but the ones discussed here would be the two main ones.)