Throughout my life I’ve wondered what I would become when I grew up. Who would I marry? What would my job be? Where would I live? How should I get there? We ask ourselves questions like, When will God show me the perfect girl (or guy) to marry? Should I go to this cheaper and closer-to-home university and stay in my band or head up to the better-and-more-expensive university . . . and then decide my major? Where should I send my kids to daycare? I will buy the Beefy Crunch Burrito . . . or maybe I should order the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito instead? Both? Is there life after Taco Bell?
How do we make sense of James 4.5 when very few Bible translations agree with each other? Is it really that difficult to know what James is saying? Apparently, yes, it is.
In his book What About Free Will, Scott Christensen reveals the problem in this kind of thinking, “The problem is that Christians are asking God to reveal what he has said is a secret” (87).
These questions simply aren’t for us to know. God can and may reveal the answer, but there’s no guarantee he will. In fact, he probably won’t. At least, not in the type of “Give-me-a-sign” direction we’re usually looking for. We want to avoid anxiety. We don’t want to be wrong. We don’t want to face the hardship that comes with not getting our “ideal” school/job/spouse/car/church/house/burrito. We might think that if there’s hardship then we must be “outside” of God’s will.
As Christensen points out, we may open our Bibles and cry out with Asaph,
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Ps. 77:7–9)
But if we truly trust God, it’s a bit silly to doubt him every time we’re anxious or when we have to put in some effort.
2 Corinthians 1.5-7, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
Romans 8.16-17,“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.“
Philippians 1.29-30, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
How Can We Make Sense of God’s Will?
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. (Ps 37.4-5)
This is not a guarantee to all people, but only to those who “delight themselves in the Lord.” Christensen says,
“Note its conditional nature. A believer cannot expect to find her heart’s desires fulfilled through answered prayer if she neglects to delight herself in the Lord. This means that her ‘delight is in the law of the LORD’ (Ps. 1:2), with ‘the law’ referring to God’s moral revelation in Scripture. Thus, not just any sort of desires will be fulfilled. If one delights and lives in the revealed preceptive will of God, then one’s ‘desires’ and ‘way’ will be shaped by it. One finds that whatever desires she entertains, they will never conflict with God’s righteous precepts.” (87-88)
Our delight in God becomes our main desire. It doesn’t matter what happens as long as we know God, for we know that this world will pass and we will live in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells. “The godly person will ‘commit’ her hopes and dreams to the Lord; and as long as her plans don’t violate any of his moral principles and she will ‘trust in him’ to answer her petition, then ‘he will act’ (88).
“The bottom line is that discerning the will of God is surprisingly simple. When we meet the conditions of God’s preceptive will, then we are free (!) to choose what we want” (88). This may sound libertarian, but as you read on [in the book!], Christensen explains how this is compatible with God’s sovereignty.
We are born in sin. We are slaves to sin (Jn 8.36). God comes to us and sets us free from sin (Jn 8.36). Sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom 6.6-8). When we continually make the effort to delight in God (Ps 37.4-5) and in his word (1.2), it will become easier to delight in God and his word. It will become easier to chose God’s ways over your sinful nature. We will be free to choose what is right over what is wrong because “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8.36).
Perhaps we won’t be given a sign from above on which university we should go to, or who we should marry, or which job we should accept, but the more we delight ourselves in God the more we will understand him and take on his character. In reality, it doesn’t matter which option you choose. They will all have struggles and trials. Your job will be difficult because you and the people you work with are sinners. Your school will be difficult because, well, university is supposed to be difficult. And while you should use wisdom and counsel from others when choosing a marriage partner, you should know that your marriage, no matter who that “special someone” is, will have its struggles.
But if you delight yourself in the Lord, rather than giving in to sin and either running away from your problems or selfishly fighting against them to have it your way, you can choose to serve others. You can love your spouse, the people you work and learn with, and the schoolwork you do because you believe and you see that God is behind it all. You know that he is shaping you into the image of his Son Jesus Christ who, “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2.23).
- What’s the Point?
- Free Will and Liberty (Libertarianism)
- Compatible Free Will (Compatibilism)
- Discerning God’s Will
- Four Ways of Sanctification
- Evangelizing Under a Sovereign God