Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Will of God

People often attempt to determine the "will of God" in any given situation.  Does God want them to marry this or that person or to take this or that job?  The problem being, God's will like man's will is more complex than simply what God "wants".  In fact, God being God, His will is even more complex than man's will.  Since God is God, it would seem to reason if it was just a matter of what He wanted, it would always happen -- He is God after all.
In the theological realm, there is an ongoing battle between a theology called "Calvinism" and a theology called "Arminianism", wherein there is dispute over how God's will and man's will interact.  According to the Arminian, God's will cannot impose on man's will otherwise man's will is not "free" and in essence if man's will is not "free" then God has merely made a bunch of robots.  Calvinists claim that man's will is not free, at least since the time after Adam's Fall.  That mankind cannot do what is required to be righteous, not even seek God. Arminians offer proof-texts which they claim shows that man does indeed have a freewill and that God expects man to act upon his freewill.  Arminians will claim that if man doesn't actually have freewill and yet God requires man to do something he cannot do, then it is a contradiction, unfairness, or insincerity upon God's part to require it.  Some of the Arminian proof-texts are as follows.
God doesn't desire the death of the wicked (Ez 33:11) wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and wants all to repent (2 Peter 3:9). He loves the world and sent His Son to save it (John 3:16-17). If these verses as presented by the Arminian really reflect a "want/will/desire" by the Supreme Creator and Sovereign God of the universe, then why don't these things come to pass? Freewill! It comes down to the notion that supposedly man's own will thwarts God's will. According to Arminianism, God can want something but will not supersede/impose upon the will of man to obtain it. With this notion, who then is really "God"? In Reformed circles there is the articulated concepts of God's "prescriptive will", His "decretive will", and His "dispositional will". (ref)


God's Prescriptive Will is like when a judge makes a ruling for someone to do one thing or another but does not make them do it by force. The person may obey or disobey and then will have to face the consequences. Whereas God's Decretive (decree) Will is like when a judge actually decrees or makes a judgment that something will be done and he makes sure it is done as he decreed. Lastly, God's Dispositional Will is like when a judge would like to see someone do or not do something but neither makes a judgment for them to carry out nor forces them to comply.

It may be well enough for me to assert these distinctions in the Will of God, but let me show some examples of it in action from Scripture (besides the Arminian proof-texts that have already been offered).

The Ten Commandments are an example of God's Prescriptive Will. For example, I always like to ask an Arminian, when God gave the COMMANDMENTS (not mere suggestions) did He know full well that NO ONE actually had the ability to keep those commandments? Then was it insincere, unfair, sadomasochistic for God to require of mankind something God knew mankind couldn't do? No, and there is no contradiction in God commanding these things if we understand His Prescriptive Will (like a doctor prescribing). God can prescribe what a man "must do to have eternal life" (Mt 19:16-17) and yet God can turn around and tell the same man that the man can't actually do it. Why would God do this? Because, from start to finish the Bible is about God's Work, God's Ability, God's Glory. From the Fall of Adam to the restoration through Christ Jesus, everything is done by God alone.

An example of God's Decretive Will can be seen in why if God knows all things before hand did He "allow" Adam to fall. Why did God send His Son to die on the cross instead of simply declare some people (or all people) righteous? Since God's Decretive Will is more in line with the secret things that belong to Him (Deu 29:29), such as why He "allows" bad things to happen to "good" people -- like little babies, it is more difficult to approach. However, one example might be that of Joseph. If you recall, Joseph suffers all sorts of evil at the hands of his brothers. They throw him in a pit and sell him into slavery. In Egypt, he is falsely accused and thrown in prison. (Gen 37, Gen 39) All of this seems as "unfair" as the things that happened to Job. But in the end, God through Joseph explains:
But as for you [Joseph's brothers], 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. -- Gen 50:20
Yet, God doesn't always explain His Decretive Will. We don't often know why a hurricane wipes out a city, or why a woman is raped, or why the Savior has to be nailed to a cross -- we, like Peter may want to always stop it and say, we will not allow it to happen (Mt 16:21-23), but since we do not know the mind of God, we cannot and should not dictate what He can or cannot do for His own matter how "unfair" we may think it is. This however does not negate us to call evil evil and good good (Is 5:20). A "hyper-calvinist" may sit back and say there is no need to evangelize and no need to oppose evil because it is all within the will of God what will happen -- that may be so, but we are still called to carry out God's prescriptive will for our own instruction and edification.

An example of God's Dispositional Will is found in notions such as verses where God is "pleased" by some action (Bible refs) A disposition is like an attitude, thus God's attitude toward behavior is His Disposition.

Thus, when we re-examine the Arminian proof-texts such as: God doesn't desire the death of the wicked (Ez 33:11) wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and wants all to repent (2 Peter 3:9). He loves the world and sent His Son to save it (John 3:16-17) we can see much of these fall either within God's Prescriptive or Dispositional Will, for if they fell within God's Decretive Will, they most certainly would come to pass. In this understanding, the "apparent" contradictions and tension between the Authority and Will of God versus the "will"/action/responsibility of mankind dissipates.

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