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THEOLOGY > God > Providence > God's Will 


While in Babylon Daniel affirmed that God “does according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (4:35) and gives the kingdom of men “to whomever He will” (4:17). To the Ephesians, Paul writes of “the good pleasure of His will” (1:5) and of the fact that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (1:11).

Conceptually, God’s will is expressed by several words: “will,” “counsel,” “pleasure,” “plan,” “thoughts,” “ways,” and “purpose”; though there may be subtle nuances of meaning that distinguish each word, they are virtual synonyms when used of the eternal will of God. And these and similar words are used throughout the Scriptures.

God’s will is the power of self-determination and the results of that determination; it speaks of His internal volitional ability and also of the manifestations that occur from this volitional ability. According to His own good pleasure He acts or refrains from acting, and what He does and does not do is good and right. But after making these statements which are designed to facilitate our understanding of His will and to increase our ability to speak concerning His will, we should be reminded that God’s will does not come to be sequentially, but His will is instant and eternal. No new input causes Him to adjust His determination. Several thoughts will be considered.

One, God’s will is both known and unknown. From the Scriptures—God has given to us His Word, His commandments, His precepts—we learn something of God’s will. To Noah after the Flood God gave a judicial principle that reveals His will for the human race: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” (Gen. 9:6). But, on the other hand, God has not revealed to us why He created creatures, both angelic and human, with the capacity for sinful actions that necessitate such judgment. The “why” of sin in a Creation created by the thrice holy God is unknown to man (see: The Problem of Evil). Some aspects of God’s will we know (Capital Punishment), and some we do not know (the reason God made murder possible).

It is the exercise of His will that affords insight into the very essence of God; by what He does the believer is enabled to grasp something of who He is. And that insight provides us with knowledge of both the revealed and the hidden God, the fact that God speaks and that God is silent. We learn from His speaking, and we learn from His silence. Some things are for us to know, and some things are for us not to know. In this tension we have a basis for both knowledge and wonder.

The most that can be said is that the unknown, secret or hidden, will of God is made known in part by the deeds of God. The musings of the Divine Mind is somewhat revealed in the unfolding of the historical process.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). With a statement like this by Paul, perhaps it is the height of folly to comment on God’s will, as though the mind of man could begin to comprehend, even in a minute manner, something of the Mind of God. To Isaiah God asserts: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (55:8-9). This is humbling, and the believer must be guarded in what He thinks and says.

Two, God’s will is neither divided nor in conflict. Though aspects of His will are known and unknown to us, there are not two wills within Him—His will is a unity. There are not levels of God’s will; there is just God’s will. He is not divided within HImself. And His will is comprehensive, extending to every detail, and absolute, with an absoluteness that is indicative of His absolute nature.

The unity of God’s will dictates that there is no opposition within His will, no conflicting principles at work or in competition with each other. God does not debate with Himself, meaning that in the Divine Essence there is no tension, conflict, or inconsistency. Any semblance of some sort of conflict in God is an indication of flawed reflection on man’s part. Assumptions should not be drawn because of our limited knowledge.

Three, God’s will is the cause of all things. He declares: “I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isa. 46:11); and Paul states that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; see: All Things). The cosmos exists because it is God’s will; there are lions and lambs because it is God’s will; there are mountains and meadows because it is God’s will; and there is man and woman because it is God’s will. Nothing that is, is outside of God’s creating, sustaining, and governing will. “YHWH has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom” (Prov. 16:4). And in Isaiah God affirms: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:7; “calamity” is “disaster” in the NIV and “evil” in the KJV).

Four, God’s will is free. There is no reference point outside of God that guides Him or places necessity upon Him; His will is normative and absolute—He is free. Within His essence resides the reason for His doings, and His doings flow from His own nature. And in the exercise of His will He is true to Himself as He freely determines and then does. There is no standard by which He is judged; He is the Standard. Because intrinsic to God is the reason for His acts and because humanity cannot comprehend Divinity, the deeds of God will always remain inscrutable. The question, “Why?” will remain unanswered! Faith does not require an answer.

To seek to understand what has been revealed is natural, and even mandatory. We have a Revelation (see: Revelation) from God in order that we might know Truth (see: Truth) about God. But God has not revealed all; in fact, man is not even capable of receiving all. The believer struggles with and has difficulty comprehending what has been given.

But to seek to go beyond the Revelation that we have and to know the fullness of the Unknowable is sin. There are things we know, and things we do not know, and things we cannot know. At some point the mind of man must realize its limitations and stop. We have been taught: “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11); we do not live by sight. And in our faithfulness, we patiently wait in fear and trembling.

Five, God’s will is not arbitrary. Though free, His will is not random—it is holy and righteous. All His deeds are good; they are not capricious because they are consistent with His own character—though His deeds are free, they are governed by who He is.

God’s will is guided by God’s reasons. This is to say that God cannot be faulted in any sense for any action; there is no standard outside of Him by which He is judged and to which He is answerable. There is no one to judge Him; He is the Judge. There is no law by which He is held accountable; He is Law. The law is not above Him and, therefore, He must conform to it; His will is Law. And His will is right.

But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
Ps. 115:3

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