A “trap” that Christians often fall into is the popular idea that God’s will is always done. People often pray “thy will be done” (as Jesus did) and feel somewhat strange doing so since they don’t believe that things can be other than according to God’s will. The end result of this trap is a path that leads to atheism.
The idea that God’s will is always done is at the foundation of the doctrine of Predestination. As Robert E. Clayton says in his book, All Scripture Advocate, “Most Christians accept the fact that not all men are saved. If this be so, then either man’s will trumps God’s will (man is greater than God) or God is impotent (God cannot save all that He desires to save).” Since neither of these alternatives is acceptable, it is concluded that God has chosen in advance who will be saved and who will not. Clayton says, “It should also be noted that when the gift of salvation is offered, man cannot resist” -- or in other words, God’s will is always done. So if someone is lost – it is because God willed it to be so, or if someone is saved – it is because God willed it to be so.
Strangely enough, even those who do not believe in Predestination, often believe in the idea that God’s will is always done. However, the logical conclusion of the belief that “God’s will is always done” supports the concept of God having predestinated who will and will not be saved.
The “trap” (of believing God’s will is always done) is “sprung” when events occur such that it is inconceivable that a loving God would choose, prefer, desire or will in such a manner. Faith is trapped in a dilemma between belief in God and the consequences of that belief when it is tied inseparably with the belief that God’s will is always done. When the two cannot be resolved, rather than accepting that God’s will is not always done, people often give up faith in God.
As part of the process of dealing with this dilemma, rationalization is often used in difficult circumstances to argue that some “good” comes from bad situations. For example, when someone suffers, if we can see that in this they became closer to God, then we rationalize that this was God’s plan and that the suffering was “justifiable”. Verses such as Romans 8:28 are used to argue that God makes every situation into “good” –
Rom. 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
It is true that God sometimes makes choices that bring good out of bad situations such as the case of death of the son of Jeroboam and the case of Joseph being sold into slavery.
Ahijah spoke to the wife of Jeroboam, when her son Abijah was sick, and told of the destruction that the house of Jeroboam faced, and the dishonorable ways in which they would die. But then he spoke of this child as the only one of Jeroboam’s sons that would die with honor.
1 Kings 14:13 (NKJV) And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
Joseph, when his brothers asked for forgiveness for selling him into slavery:
Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
These are used to extrapolate that God always acts in such a way as to bring good out of bad situations – and thus it is all part of God’s plan. The trap is sprung when people cannot find some good that comes from a situation, or cannot rationalize why God would choose for things to happen in the way they do. Then, they decide that a “loving God” would surely not act this way and therefore conclude that either God is not loving, or he does not exist.
The Path to Atheism
Julia Sweeney describes this situation in her life. Julia Sweeney (actress on Saturday Night Live), is quoted in an article by Kathi Wolfe (Religious News Service, April 2003) as saying, “When my brother died, I though it was part of God’s plan.” When someone knocked on her door some time later and asked her “Do you believe that God loves you with all his heart? That query led her to begin to ask questions of her faith.” The point of the news article is that Julia has now “come out” as an atheist.
If all that happens is the “will of God”, and a family member dies a lingering painful death, does this mean that God “desired” or “choose” that this happen? Founded upon the assumption that “God’s will is always done”, this is a difficult question to ask and answer for many people. This “trap” leads people to a conclusion that either God does not love or God does not exist.
What is the “Will of God”?
The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) definition of “will” is:
1. the act or process of volition; specifically, (a) wish; desire; longing; (b) inclination; disposition; pleasure; (c) appetite; lust.
2. something wished by a person, especially by one with power or authority; specifically, (a) a request; as, it is his will that you appear; (b) a command; decree; as, His will be done.
3. strong purpose, intention, or determination; as, where there’s a will there’s a way.
The ideas of “wish, desire”, “decree”, “strong purpose” are all mixed together and the context must be used to determine the meaning. In the New Testament writings, there are 3 primary greek words that are translated “will”: (1) thelo, (2) thelema, and (3) boule. The following are excerpts from Strong’s Greek Dictionary:
§ Thelo - choose or prefer (literally or figuratively); by implication, to wish
§ Thelema - from the prolonged form of 2309 (thelo); a determination, i.e. choice or inclination:-- desire, pleasure, will.
§ Boule - volition, i.e. advice, or purpose: advise, counsel, will.
When these words are used, instead of an absolute determination of how things will be, they typically describe God’s choice, advice, counsel, as shown in the following verses.
1 Thess. 4:3 (NKJV) For this is the will <thelema> of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
1 Thess. 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will <thelema> of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The Will of God is not always Done
The “will” of God (i.e. choice, preference, desire) is
often not done. Jesus himself spoke of
this when at
Matthew 23:37 (NKJV) "O
God does not force man to do his will, but allows man to
freely choose whether to serve or not.
As in the case of
1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NKJV) For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, (4) who desires <thelo> all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
KJV: Who will have <thelo> all men to be saved
NASB: who desires <thelo> all men to be saved
Yet, we know that not all will be saved. There were some that Luke referred to who refused the will of God:
Luke 7:30 (NKJV) But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will <boule> of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.
Jesus declared that many follow the path of destruction – refusing the counsel (will) of God.
Matthew 7:13 (NKJV) “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
The free will choice of man is proclaimed in many places in the New Testament with regard to salvation. For example:
John 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The Unchangeable Will of God
There are things that are chosen by God (i.e. His Will) that cannot be changed by man. When this is being communicated, the New Testament utilizes other greek words. For example, when speaking of the death of Jesus, which was by the unchangeable will of God, it says:
Lu 22:22 (NKJV) And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined <horizo>, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!
The greek word “horizo” (according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary), means - to mark out or bound ("horizon"), i.e. to appoint, decree, specify:--declare, determine, limit, ordain.
The greek word “horizo” when combined with “will” (thelo, thelema, boule), such as in Acts 2:23, is used to communicate that the counsel of God in this case (the death of Jesus) was certain or determinate.
Acts 2:23 (NKJV) Him, being delivered by the determined <horizo> purpose <boule> and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;
“Horizo” is used 8 times in the New Testament. Once it is
used to speak of a determination by men to send relief to the Christians in
Acts 10:42 (NKJV) And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained <horizo> by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
Acts 17:26 (NKJV) And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined <horizo> their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,
Acts 17:31 (NKJV) because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained <horizo>. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Romans 1:4 (NKJV) and declared <horizo> to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
Hebrews 4:7 (NKJV) again He designates <horizo> a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
The unchangeable will of God is with respect to:
§ The redemption purchased by Jesus Christ (coming, crucifiction, ressurection)
§ Jesus as Judge of all the world
§ The day of judgement
§ Salvation being in Jesus (Hebrews 4:7)
Is God Sovereign?
Some people have trouble with the concept that God can allow men to choose and still be sovereign. This is demonstrated by the thinking that if all men are not saved and it be by the free-will of man, then “man’s will trumps God’s will (and therefore man is greater than God)”. The act of a parent in allowing the child to make a choice does not make the child greater than the parent. Likewise, God does not force man, but allows him to have the ability to choose to accept him or reject him. This does not make man greater than God, for those actions will be judged by God. There are consequences to rejection and God has promised to punish those who do so.
How to Avoid the Trap
The “trap” of thinking that God’s will is always done, leads to conclusions which reject God when situations arise in which it seems inconceivable that God would choose a particular result (e.g. the atrocities of Hitler, genocides, et. al.). The reality is that God’s will is often not done, and when we realize that we live in a world with others who have free will and make bad choices, we can understand that much of what happens in this world are the consequences of the choices of men.
Another trap is to think that because God does not intervene, that he either does not care, he is unable to change the outcome, or that he condones the outcome. God’s ways are not our ways, and we often think that death is a tragedy, while God tells us that there are worse things than death. Jesus said:
Matthew 10:28 (NKJV) And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Let us not lay the wrong-doing of man as a charge against God, for He is faithful.
Deuteronomy 7:9 “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
Even though times may come when we suffer “according to the will of God”, we should recognize that God is faithful and we should commit our souls to Him. As Peter said:
1 Peter 4:19 (NKJV) Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
How can it be according to the will of God that we suffer? Jesus said that those who followed him would face persecution. It was not God’s primary choice that they suffer, but it was by God’s choice that they be faithful to him, and a consequence of that faithfulness was that those who oppose God would oppose those who follow God.
Matthew 10:22 (NKJV) And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
So then, those who opposed Jesus (and said that he did miracles by the power of Beelzebub or Satan), would also oppose the followers of Jesus.
Matthew 10:25 (NKJV) It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!
So, even when we suffer for doing what is right, we need to acknowledge that God is faithful to those who are his and we should not allow ourselves to charge God with being the cause of suffering.
Prayer According to the Will of God
When we ask for something in prayer and then say “Your
will be done” (as Jesus did in
David A. Duncan