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THEOLOGY > God > Providence > Concepts of God's Will  


Throughout the history of the Church, believers have struggled with the will of God. Attempts have been made to construct some type of presentation by which God’s will can be made comprehensible and, therefore, defensible.

But is this not an attempt at the impossible? Perhaps the attempt itself reveals a certain presumption on the part of man, and possibly a sinful presumption at that. Certain revelations are made in Scripture relative to God’s plan and purpose. Should not the Revelation be accepted and then make no attempt to go beyond it (see: God's Will)? Or is it acceptable for man to seek to think the thoughts of God, or to think the thoughts in so far as God enables him to do so? Is it not proper for man to follow the implications of the revelations as far as rationality and faith enable? Several models have been suggested:

Consider the Revealed Will vs. the Permissive Will. Related to this view is the kindred concept of the Absolute Will vs. the Conditional Will of God. The attempt here is to safeguard God from accountability for natural and moral evil. Thinking that to associate God’s will with the existence of evil incriminates Him, the word “permissive” is introduced, meaning that God does not determine or will the existence of evil but merely permits it. Evil then becomes the doing of Lucifer or Adam, or both.

But does the use of the word, “permissive,” accomplish the intention? If God “permits,” then He wills to permit. If He did not will to permit, then what He wills to permit would not and could not be. So the question becomes: Why did God will to permit evil? There is still, therefore, the association of God with the existence of evil. The word, “permissive,” does not remove the problem; it just postpones the problem.

In addition, the Absolute/Conditional terminology makes it possible to affirm that God absolutely determines in a general way to save man, but the salvation of anyone is conditional upon the individual’s exercise of faith. James P Boyce described it in this manner: “Absolutely he decrees the salvation in general of all who believe. But the salvation of each is decreed, only upon the condition that he believes. Whether that faith will be exercised by anyone, is not determined by God” (Abstract, 114). So salvation is not assured for anyone.

Obviously this approach means that God is not the cause of all things. Again, He only permits them; He does not cause them. He foresees what will be, but He does not determine, even through secondary causes, what will be. Therefore, salvation, if it is to be realized, is in the hands of man, not in the hands of God.

But such thinking is opposed by the enormous attestations in Scripture whereby all things are attributed to God (see: All Things and Scriptural Support for Sovereignty). Behind all things is the Primary Cause of all things. History is not just what He sees will be, but is what He causes to be, especially in every aspect of the redemptive process.

Consider the Revealed Will vs. the Hidden or Secret Will. Support for this concept is found in Deuteronomy 29:29 where Moses addresses the nation: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Here human accountability is established—man is told WHAT to do; but the ways of God are not revealed—man is not told WHY certain things happen the way they do.

In this approach God is the cause of all things, but it is not for man to know the reasons for the ways of God.

Also in this thinking the otherness of God is protected; that is, the distinction between the creature and the Creator is maintained. We know only what we are told, for we are dependent upon His grace in Revelation (see: Revelation). Man is not equipped to understand the deep things of God. By definition humanity implies limitations. So man’s mind cannot fathom God’s mind; God’s mind is hidden.

Consider the Directive (Perceptive) Will vs. the Decretive Will. These are as follows: the Directive Will reveals what man is to do, and man violates this revelation; the Decretive Will determines all things (see: All Things), and man can never negate God’s determination (see: Theistic Determinsim).

The Directive Will is what God commands, informing man of what he ought to do; the Decretive Will is God’s determination of what will be, assuring that His plan for man will come to pass. The Directive Will is related to Law, while the Decretive Will is related to the Decrees of God; the former has to do with the responsibility of man, while the latter has to do with the plan of God.

Both of these aspects of God’s will (Directive and Decretive) are taught in Scripture: God tells us what to do, and He tells us He is in control. But it must be remembered that there are not two wills, just will; these two are not in opposition to each other because they both flow from God and inhere in the Divine Essence. Therefore, both dimensions must be embraced without seeking to reconcile them.

This view stresses the importance of faith; some things we know and some things we do not know. Our priority should be on obeying the directions God has given and trust Him for that which He has not revealed. By faith we rest in the fact that God does all things well for He is God. And man must accept this truth.

This view also stresses the importance of submission, submission to the commands and decrees of God. In doing this man is accepting his lot in life and accepting what comes his way, knowing that it is coming from the heavenly Father who loves and does what is best. The evil the believer experiences is part of God’s eternal plan.

What we deem evil may be part of a larger good.

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