July 28, 2004

Finding and Doing the Will of God: Prolegomena

Two parables:

  1. It's the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    "As we discussed," he says, "I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff."

    He hands you an envelope. "Here are your train tickets. I have reserved a suite in your name at the Chateau Lake Louise. Your train leaves at 10 tomorrow morning. Have the time of your lives, and I'll see you in three weeks."

  2. It's the big day. Only an hour ago, the girl of your dreams, a beatiful Christian girl from a wealthy family just became Mrs. You. Your father-in-law, the CEO of a successful local hi-tech company, momentarily takes you away from the throng of congratulatory crowd.

    "As we discussed," he says, "I have taken the liberty of making the arrangements for your honeymoon. As you know, my daughter has always wanted to visit Banff."

    He hands you a slightly thicker, heavier envelope, which you open. A set of keys on a leather keychain fall into your palm. You recognize them as the keys to your father-in-law's Mercedes-Benz CLK cabriolet. Also in the envelope is a cheque for a considerable sum; the memo line reads "For gas and accommodation."

    "The car is yours for three weeks," your father-in-law says. "Use it as you wish. Enjoy your trip."

Consider the ramifications of these two scenarios. In scenario 1, you and your bride get three weeks of connubial bliss, in addition to the innate romanticism of travelling cross-country by train.1 Your only obligation is making sure you get to the train station on time. On the other hand, that one obligation can get to be a bit of a constraint. Suppose you miss the train? You'll still get your honeymoon, but you'll have lost two days waiting for the next train, not to mention the one-way fare you had to spend out of your pocket money. It's still a pretty good trip, but to a certain extent you've missed out.

In scenario 2, on the other hand, you have far more freedom. You and your bride take the Mercedes west en route to Banff. You take it easy, making occasional stops at various roadside attractions on the way. Somewhere around Thunder Bay you mutually agree that taking the trip is more fun than arriving at the destination, and instead of heading to beautiful Banff you elect instead for a roadtrip that takes you into the American Midwest and parts of New England, until you re-enter Canada in Quebec's Southern Townships. You trade off a little luxury in your accommodations so you can eat in better restaurants. After all, your rich father-in-law did tell you to have a good trip, and what could be better than a road trip with the love of your life and a luxury convertible?

I told all those stories to ask this question: Which one of the two scenarios is most like finding God's will for your life? I suspect that most people would identify with the first. God's will is something like an itinerary, which is up to you to discover and obey. This is accomplished through various means: prayer, Bible study, wise counsel, and the interpreting of circumstances, inward impressions, inner peace, and so forth. In non-moral matters, decision making is an exercise of determining what choice God has already made for you. We have all heard the catch-phrases that come with this view:

  • I felt that God was leading me to . . .
  • We are going to pray and seek the Lord's will in this matter.
  • I want to know what God would have us to do in this situation.
  • Be careful not to run ahead of the Lord; after all, you don't want to settle for God's second best.
  • I want to stay in the centre of God's perfect will.
  • God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

I submit, however, that it is actually scenario 2 that is closer to the Biblical view. The Bible contains certain moral principles and precepts which we are bound to obey; however, within those limitations, we are free to act or choose as we wish. In non-moral matters, decision making consists of applying the principles of Scripture and God-given wisdom to make the best choice available, and submitting to the outcome of Providence.

This idea of free choice within the boundaries starts with creation:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen. 2:16-17)

It is reiterated in the Old Covenant:

And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household. . . .

And in the New Covenant:

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39)

I hope to discuss various aspects of the will of God and decision making on a somewhat regular basis, hopefully weekly on Wednesdays. Subjects I plan to cover, in no particular order, include:

  • The history of the "itinerary" view
  • Phrases such as "led by the Spirit" or "the will of God" as used in the Scriptures
  • Does God have a personal, individual plan for my life that I am expected to discover and follow?
  • Examination of some of the proof-texts used for the "itinerary" view
  • Gideon and "fleeces"
  • Making decisions according to God's revealed will, especially on the "big" questions such as marriage, work, missions, and so forth.

Footnote

1 Purists will have already noted that the Canadian doesn't stop at Banff or Lake Louise, but goes north to Jasper. Try to suspend your disbelief just for a few minutes. [go back]

See also

Part 1: God's guidance: A voice from the past

Part 2: God's "perfect will" and Romans 12

Part 3: Fleece, peace, and the "still small voice"

Part 4: God's guidance and "open doors"