28 November 2006

finding God's will (I)

Human beings have often tried to find the will of God. Whether sifting through an animal's entrails or consulting the spirits of the dead, people have always wanted to know: what does God want? This is no less true today for Christians. While we don't typically resort to drawing lots or observing the movements of the stars, listen carefully to the language we use and you'll see that we are just as preoccupied with trying to answer that question in the specific decisions we face. The language we use is widely-accepted, but is it consistent with what the Bible says? Do we have the right expectations about how much of God's will should be knowable to us?

We start with the conviction that history is entirely His story. This notion that everything that has ever happened in the universe has been part of God's predetermined plan is referred to as God's Sovereign Will. This does not mean that God has caused everything that has happened to happen. But, it does mean that He has not been frustrated in accomplishing His ultimate plans despite the actions of human beings that run contrary to them (c.f. Dan. 4:35; Acts 4:27-28). This ultimate aspect of God's will is something that, at best, we only know in hindsight regardless of whether what has happened appears to have been good or bad.

Additionally, God has given us guidance on how to live--His Moral Will. This refers to God's revelation in the Bible teaching human beings what they should believe and how they should behave. Expressed another way, the Bible represents God's communication to us about what reality truly is and how real life can be lived. It guides us into a way of being that puts us at harmony with who God is (c.f. Lev. 26; 1 Thes. 4:1-3). This is the reason that we gather together on Sundays around God's Word, and spend time in it alone during the week--so that we can know and live in a manner consistent with what God has clearly conveyed.

The question is whether or not God has an Individual Will for every person. This captures the idea that God has an ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each human being that we should seek to discover and pursue. This is usually the thing that Christians have in-mind when they talk about wanting to find God's will. They are looking for some detailed information for their particular circumstance--the house they're contemplating buying, the job they're considering taking, the person they are possibly marrying. Like a child going to a parent asking "What choice should I make?" they are looking for very specific guidance (c.f. Gen. 24; Eph. 5:15-17).

But, the Biblical pattern is that God treats us as mature children that He has raised well. The notion of God having a will for every individual as described above that we should seek is plagued with problems and is not what the Bible teaches (that will be the focus of Part II). For the moment, the contrast between a parent's treatment of an immature child and a mature child is helpful to gain a basic understanding.

When a child is young and immature, a parent will give them little responsibility and close supervision. Instructions are detailed, assuming no basis for understanding and leaving nothing to the child's improvisation. Movtivation is extrinsic--the threat of a time-out of spanking. A mature child is treated much differently. A parent gives them complete responsibility and freedom to decide what to do. Rather than detailed instructions, the parent assumes that certain values are held and that general principals have been taught that will be sufficient guidance to making the right choices. Motivation is intrinsic--coming from within the child as something that they want.

The relationship between a parent and a mature, grown child is the closest picture to portraying what the Bible says about how we find and do God's will. Next week, we'll talk about why the idea of an individual will is problematic, how you make decisions if that isn't something we should be seeking, and deal with a couple of qualifiers, questions, and examples.

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