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What Is God’s Will?

Here are a few ways the question, “What is God’s will?”, is often asked: “Did God will this tragedy in my life? Are the bad things I experience and see around me God’s will… as in, He willed them to happen?”

Just as in the “predestination or free will?” question, we find evidence in Scripture to support a yes-and-no answer. But whether or not the answer is yes, no, or both, God is all-powerful, sovereign, and possesses total control over His creation and, therefore, any situation in which we find ourselves.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. (Matt. 10:29-30)

Nothing happens apart from God’s will.

But if it is God’s will that He “wants all men to be saved” and is “not wanting anyone to perish” (1 Tim. 2:3; 2 Pet. 3:9), it is evident that God’s will is not always accomplished. This is an apparent contradiction. What gives?

In his book, The Will of God, Leslie D. Weatherhead offers a plausible explanation. I will offer here only a brief recap of his view.

God’s will has three aspects

  1. God’s Intentional Will: God’s original design for a relational and physical paradise for His creation. This is His perfect will.
  2. God’s Circumstantial Will: God allows negative events that are a result of our free-will choices. This is His permissive will.
  3. God’s Ultimate Will: God will see that His original will for our lives and for His creation will be fulfilled in spite of and even through the use of these negative circumstances.

Jesus’ words to Peter at the Last Supper serve as a splendid example of Weatherhead’s view.

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32)

 

  1. God’s Intentional Will: God’s original relational and physical paradise did not include Satan rebelling and Satan having the evil heart to attack Peter. Certainly, God’s original design would not have had Peter in this upcoming drama at all. Of course, He knew this would all happen and planned to use it for His purposes.
  2. God’s Circumstantial Will: In the circumstances set up by the angels’ (Satan) and man’s (the Jews and Judas) free-will choices, God allowed Peter to be tested. But notice that Satan has to first ask for permission to attack Peter. God is in total control of the situation.
  3. God’s Ultimate Will: After Peter has been attacked, God uses Peter’s experience and spiritual growth through that experience to strengthen his brothers. And what a source of strength and leadership Peter was! A quick study of Peter’s impetuous and braggadocios personality prior to this event makes it clear that, without this trial and testing, Peter would have been a poor leader in the new church. Satan must have been smoking his victory cigar when Peter abandoned and denied Jesus. But God knew what he was doing all along and used Satan’s mischief and evil to advance his plans and his will for the spread of the new church. What a turnaround!

 

The Bible says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thess. 4:3). To be sanctified is to be set apart, to be made holy, and to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Anyone who has walked with the Lord for any period of time recognizes clearly that we do most of our growing in and through trials. It is the difficult times that draw us closer to Jesus. It is possible to grow spiritually in good times, yes, but the growth rate is exponentially less than the growth rate in tough times.

Therefore, if it is God’s will that we be sanctified, we can see that our trials—yes, even our tragedies—can be the permissive will of a loving God. They are not necessarily caused by God—although they could be—but certainly are permitted… just as in Peter’s case.

In the midst of an extremely tough experience, I asked my pastor friend, Det Bowers, “Is this from Satan or from God?”

He replied, “Yes.”

I responded with a perplexed look, and he said, “Does it really matter? Just use this as an opportunity to grow spiritually… to get closer to the Lord. And use it for the lives of those around you.”

That was clearly God’s will.

About the author

Sam Hunter

Sam Hunter is the host of South Carolina’s Christian radio talk show, 721 Live, which helps people to apply the Bible to their everyday lives. He has produced two DVD curriculum series: Contentment: The Path to Peace and Fear: Do you React in Fear or Respond in Faith? In addition to speaking to men’s groups weekly as the director of 721 Ministries, Sam is invited frequently to speak to groups at churches, retreats, high schools, and colleges.