God’s Will and Free Will [Does God Really have a Plan?]

January 20, 2008

We hear people say “Oh, it is the will of God” about all sorts of things. Sometimes a person might comment about the death of an small child and make such a remark, or perhaps use words like this in reference to the outcome of a war (or even a sporting event!). Can that actually be correct? Is it ever God’s will that a small child die? Does talking of “war” and “God’s will” in the same sentence make any sense? And what about free will? If we get to make free will choices, how can we then talk also of God’s will? Are we blaming God for bad outcomes that we brought about on our own? What a difficult subject!

Some years ago, Leslie D. Weatherhead wrote a book called “The Will of God” in which he observes that people use the expression “Will of God” in three very different ways. He speaks of :

• God’s intentional will
• God’s circumstantial will
• God’s ultimate will

And we can understand these terms in the following ways:

1. God’s intentional will:

• A reference to God’s intentions, which stem from God’s nature.
• God’s nature is illustrated through the Biblical images used to describe God, which include: Parent, Keeper, Potter, Helper, Gardener, Judge, Creator, Savior, Sustainer, King, Shepherd, Rock, Friend, Redeemer, Builder, and Refuge . And through the characteristics ascribed to God:

1 John 4:8 “God is love”
Isaiah 30:18b “the LORD is a God of justice”
Leviticus 19:2 I the LORD your God am holy”
Psalm 116:5b “our God is merciful”
Psalm 116:5a “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous”
Judges 6:24 “The LORD is peace”

And so we see that God’s intentional will might be laid out like this:

• Life over death
• Peace over war
• Sufficiency over poverty
• Freedom over slavery
• Discipleship over crucifixion

But this then leads us to the question, why do we see:

• Death defeat life
• War defeat peace
• Poverty defeat sufficiency
• Slavery defeat freedom
• Crucifixion defeat discipleship

And so now we must turn to the Circumstantial Will of God

• Human free will generates circumstances that depart from God’s intentions.
• Within these circumstances, God’s intentions can be thwarted (temporarily) by human choices.
• Within those circumstances, what is the “best option”?

For example: Why do we see poverty defeat sufficiency? The answer is simple: there is poverty because those of us with plenty have decided that this is how it will be. We could end global poverty tomorrow if we chose. We simply don’t think it is important enough. That is simply the brutal truth about why there is poverty in the world. It is there because we have decided that it will be there.

We might ask then, is it all hopeless, can we never get things to be the way that they could and should be? The answer is that it is far from hopeless because of “God’s Ultimate Will”:

• Despite being limited by circumstances and human choices, God’s original intentions will ultimately come to fruition.

We see the best example of this understanding of “God’s will” played out in the Biblical narrative about Jesus:

• God’s intentional will: People would recognize Jesus as Messiah, follow him and initiate the Kingdom of God.
• God’s circumstantial will: Confronted with a hostile/violent response, the circumstances meant that of the possible options (fight, run, submit), the crucifixion was the best possible choice.
• God’s ultimate will: Through the crucifixion and resurrection, others recognized Jesus as Messiah and began working towards building the Kingdom of God.

And so, returning to our original question and those that flow from it:

• Does God REALLY have a plan? Yes!
• Can we thwart God’s plan? Yes.
• Can we thwart God’s plan forever? No.
• Will God’s plan become reality? Yes.

Human choices really matter, as we can see in this understanding of God’s will. Think about:

Joshua 24:15 “…choose this day whom you will serve … as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Romans 12 “I appeal to you … discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Every choice we make counts!

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