As I was online this morning, I came across a wonderful post by my friend Cameron Jorgenson at Summa Aesthetica. Everyone should be reading his posts…one of the smartest guys I know…he will definitely have a few books out in the next five years, and they will be ones that you will want to read.
But back to the topic at hand. Cameron discusses the concept of finding God’s will, and whether or not that is something that we can actually find, or whether, the whole process of trying to discern God’s will is a more frustrating and complicating matter.
I think this is a very good discussion, and very timely as a lot of us, especially those of you in my college group are on the cusp of making very big decisions…some that may feel like the future of your life’s direction may be hanging on whether you properly choose God’s will or not. That is a tough place to be.
In part, Cameron states:
“First of all, that is the message of Proverbs…the day to day realities of life should be guided by wisdom, the sort of common sense shaped by God and wise fellow travelers along the way. (Of course, Job and Ecclesiastes muddy the waters a bit by demonstrating that life is complex, and even the wise life is not always rosy)
Also, in proverbs you get this personified Wisdom in the early chapters. That character gets expanded even more in some of the pre New Testament writings that Protestants donât accept as scripture. The reason this is interesting is in John chapter 1 where it describes Jesus as the Word, many of the phrases echo this picture of personified Wisdom. There is the subtle message that Jesus is Wisdom in the flesh.
All of that is to say something relatively simple–I think my brother out theologized me. We will drive ourselves crazy trying to read Godâs mind and figure out Godâs will. Besides, there is a scary side effect to all of thatâ¦I begin to feel like a fortune teller reading tea leaves. Godâs ways are bigger than that. We canât know with clarity all the time. Sometimes there is a sense of rightness, and other times there is the grit-your-teeth reality of tough decisions.
The role of prayer and thinking and asking advice of wise friends is to shape us, to hone our instincts, to help us conform to wisdom. Romans 12 seems to get at this: âDo not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godâs will isâhis good pleasing and perfect will.â While this could be interpreted as a clear endorsement of the âwill of Godâ position, I think one could read this as a call to undergo transformation according to the pattern of Christ, the highest sort of Wisdom, which enables us to feel our way through the tough situations. Even then, I am not sure there is always a clear âright answer,â especially if it involves choosing between two good things (i.e. finishing your education, or taking a job).
And, to make that leap you donât have to ditch the idea of Providence. (Doing so would be a tragic loss.) Providence is Godâs active care of and involvement in the universe. What that looks like is beyond me. It is deeply shrouded in mystery, in the same league as the Trinity and the human/divine natures of Christ. While it is an inescapable idea, I donât think we have access to fully comprehend it. If my little bro is right, wisdom is as close as it gets.”
I think that Cameron is right on in many aspects, and this is something that I have been wrestling with for about a year and half after a hearing a life changing sermon on this subject while at the young adult retreat.
How you view the Will of God, and if that can be determined, will be greatly shaped by what type of theology you have. What do I mean? Well, your outlook at the future, and how that is discerned, or determined, and whether or not that falls in line with the Will of God, can be very different, if say, you are a Five Point Calvinist, which many in the reformed faith are. Or it might take on a very different look if you are someone who is more influenced by arminianism. Or what if you are being shaped by open theism? What type of theology you have, or believe in, will greatly shape the outlook you have on determining the Will of God.
As for this question of whether or not we can determine the Will of God, is still up for debate for me on one level, and on another level I have come to some conclusions.
These are some of my conclusions of my work in progress:
1) I believe that the Will of God is more of a moral command, to not be conformed to the world, but rather to be tranformed through the presence and power of God, than it is about choosing one thing over another (i.e. a job, or a relationship, or a school; see Cameron’s post on this).
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2.)
How about this?
“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” (I Thess. 4:1-5)
2) Seeking out God’s Will, discerning what He wants you to do, is more about pursuing God, and living among and treating others with Christ’s love, than it is about finding the one perfect thing. The one perfect decision.
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:12-18.)
3) Constantly fretting over the one, right, Will of God paralyzes us from living freely in Christ, or experiencing the abundant life he has brought us. (John 10:10)
4) Because the Will of God is more about conforming to the mind of Christ, and not the ways of the world, how you live then will greatly affect how you discern future decisions. For example, if in I Thess. 4 I am urged to be sanctified, and not live like the pagans, then how I am living can either cloud, or bring clarity to the decisions I want to make. Maybe your lack of discernment is less about God not revealing this one perfect thing to you, than it is about how you live, how you use your body, or whether or not you give yourself over to passionate lust, and not living in a holy and honorable way.
These are just a few of the conclusions I have come to in this area of thinking, as I am continually seeking out God’s will, if you will, in this matter. Though this may be a bad analogy, this is one that I have to appreciate when it comes to God’s will. And it is the analogy of a football field, and football game.
Like the boundaries of a football field, God too has given us some boundaries to live our life within. I see these mainly being moral boudaries, which keep us from living like pagans, and keep us from being only about passionate lust, but rather help us live lives that are holy and honorable. And within those moral boundaries, there is a life being lived out, or a game being played in the football analogy. Within those boundaries there are multiple players, with multiple plays. There are rules, and there are penalties for violation of the rules. But there is only one task: That is to cross the finish line and score, so that at the outcome of the game, you have more points than your opponent. I see this as very analagous to life in many ways, while at other places it breaks down.
But I believe God has placed in this world, a world full of many different people, who all contain many different possibilites. All of this affects us as a person. Our interactions, the decisions we make, the outcome of those decisions. Some we seem to control, and others we seem not to. But our task, or job, or goal, or vocation (whatever you prefer) is to live that abundant and free life, within the moral boundaries that God has set-up. To be conformed to the person of Jesus Christ. But how we go about doing that, can take many different routes. I may marry this person, or that person. I may take this job or that job. I may have kids, or not have kids. Are any of these decisions outside of the Will of God? When we are being renewed, and transformed by the person of Jesus Christ, we go down many different paths, in aim of one direction. To love, and to serve God, and others. Which route I take may not be the issue, but rather, how I conform to the person of Christ on that route that I choose.
This obviously will have a lot of problems for many of you. Some of you don’t want that responsibility. That is too scary for you. Others will think this takes too much away from God’s sovereignty, and gives men and women too much free will.
Quick question: Isn’t it interesting how we all want to have free will, and make decisions in life, but we really don’t want to take responsibility for them when they fail, or we make a mistake? Then we say, that must have been God’s will. Or isn’t interesting how we want to give some decisions to God, and others we do not? It’s like we trust Him with this, but not these? Or isn’t it interesting how we want to give God complete sovereignty, but then when something bad happens, we want to take the responsibilty off of God, and blame it on people’s free choices? The problem of theodicy. Very inconsistent of us. So what is it? Do we really want God’s Will, or do we want our own will? Are we really seeking out God’s Will anyways, or are we hoping that our wills will be what God wants?
I would challenge you to think through these things, and to be in pray about them. Do not be afraid to have your whole understanding, or paradigm of belief in this area, blow up in your face. Wrestling through this issue, and not settling for an easy answer, will bring you to a deeper understanding, and more clarity.
A book that has helped me greatly in this area, is by the renowed, Old Testament, and Hebrew scholar Bruce Waltke. His book Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? is an amazing book. He believes, as do I, that a lot of our notions, or attempts to find the will of God, are more based on pagan practices, as well as our attempt to simply life down to easy steps, without us having to really wrestle or struggle through anything.
Let’s begin this dialogue. What are your thoughts?