What?! God has two wills?

It came up in one of our community groups last night during an apologetics training session: is evil and suffering God’s will?

You see the same kind of difficulty with other questions such as: Is it God’s will for my parents to divorce? Is it God’s will for my brother to get cancer? Is it God’s will for the tsunami to wipe out 20,000 people? 

It comes down to this: we, and more importantly the Bible, mean two different things when we talk about God’s will. If, like me, you’re Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) and believe in the total sovereignty of God, then we need to think in terms of the ‘two wills of God’. Both John Piper and Sam Storms have written really helpful stuff about it, especially in relation to salvation.

Basically it comes to this distinction: There’s God’s will in the sense of what God desires to happen and is therefore related what he prescribes or commands. In this sense, no, it’s not God’s will that anyone should perish and go to hell; it’s not God’s will that evil should exist; it’s not God’s will that my brother gets cancer. This is sometimes called the prescriptive will of God, or God’s will to command, or (my preferred term), the moral will of God.

Then there’s God’s will in the sense that nothing happens in the world without him allowing it and ordaining it to be so, since he is absolutely sovereign. In this sense then yes, it’s God’s will that people go to hell, that evil exists, that my brother gets cancer. In the words of Pastor Mark Driscoll, this is what passes through God’s hand, even if it doesn’t come directly from God’s hand. This is sometimes called the decretal will of God, or God’s will of ordination, or (my preferred term), the sovereign will of God.

Why do you need both? Firstly ‘coz the Bible speaks about both. This is supremely demonstrated in the cross of Christ, but see Sam Storms’ article for more examples. And secondly, this is how we maintain that God can be both good (in that he isn’t the source of evil or delights in suffering) and simultaneously completely sovereign (in that nothing catches him by surprise and slips out of his control).

Where the rubber hits the road for us is this: in most circumstances, what God reveals to us is his moral will, not his sovereign will. Therefore, like Deuteronomy 29:29 says, we are to cling on to the things that he’s revealed and let the hidden and unrevealed things belong rightly to God. We’re not to be paralysed by inaction or bitterness because we don’t know God’s sovereign will of decrees. We’re to act in light of God’s moral will of command and trust that whatever does happen, he is both completely good and completely in control.

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About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on April 28, 2009, in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hey Pete,
    “So in a Reformed system God’s highest value is his own glory, and in an Arminian system God’s highest value is the free will of man”-from the linked sam storms
    so i’m guessing u would have the reformed view of God’s highest value/goal of his sovereign will?

  2. Hmm..

    Somehow in investigating how God works, we seem to mix in “God’s sovereignty”, in the traditional, classical, reformed, and even charismatic streams of Christianity to make it appear as if it is “God’s plan” to create suffering “for” us. i.e. the appearance of:

    “God’s will in the sense that nothing happens in the world without him allowing it and ordaining it to be so, since he is absolutely sovereign”.

    This is slightly incorrect, and reflects a doctrinal view that God “has control” over all things.. which the Church has been very successful in reflecting over its children over many millenia. (Often our view of God is more often a view we actually internally “recognise” ourselves to be, and not the Scriptural / actual view of who He is, and who we actually “are” as an identity in Christ).

    God “can” have control over all things, but does not have, in hope that we can find redemption in the redeemer in Christ.

    This also in response to God’s soverignty:
    “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (see 1 John 3:8).

    Underlying the “destruction of the devil’s work” implies that His sovereignty here on earth did not exist since the first Adam, (there was us in our free will here, and also the enemy).. but that we (and the earth) can also be redeemed through the last Adam.

    More fundamentally: we also need to be soooo careful here: because evil and suffering exists in this world, not because God wanted (or wants) it, but because sin exists in this world: it’s our responsibility as a result of the fall and the original sin. Therein lies a tension between God’s will, our will and choices (“free will”)… but also a trapdoor there from the accuser, which is the law of sin and death.

    Then how would all this work in practice?

    I’d suggest we need to be extremely careful in NOT suggesting someone dies, or suffers from something because “God wills it”. This gives permission for sufferers (and those caring for them) to “blame God” for their suffering.. even Job in his suffering didn’t blame God: rather God knew that Job would never let go fo the deep and intimate relationship with God, no matter how the enemy struck him with suffering.

    There’s another underlying question there: if Job was living in our day: the “Last DayS” (post-resurrection / pre-Christ return), how would we recommend him to deal with his issues? I’d suggest:

    1. Praying for full restoration of his relationship and intimacy with God through Christ (which was lost through the “bet” in Job); the restoration of blessings in all forms (spiritual, physical, and financial even..) for him to steward for God

    2. If there was actual physical / mental suffering.. praying for healing by God from both natural (medical) and supernatural (“only by Jesus’ power”) healing: this without becoming “dependent” on the healing to feel any “more” loved by either themselves, by others, and especially by God.

    (Note: In many Christian walks esp charismatic, the healing on this issue becomes so overwhelming that they “blame God” for not healing them. This shouldn’t distract us from:
    1. continue to pray for healing by God (and by God alone, and not us.. in ALL forms), even and when it seems as if it won’t work, because we need to remember the power of Christ in us;
    2. ensuring that the suffering does NOT affects their sense of being loved or acting “as if” they were healed e.g. for say, a depression or exma sufferer, having them envision (without us “controlling” that vision) what would it be like to live as if they had no affliction – and would that feel / look like through them walking through the lenses of God the Father – and feed that into the present day reality;
    3. ensuring it does NOT allow the afflicted individual to blame God – for God was not responsible for suffering death – we collectively here on earth were, through the Fall).

    • Hi Dom, helpful comments there, esp. re: not using God’s sovereignty to mean he’s responsible, culpable or to blame for evil, sin, sickness, death with a result that we end up being bitter against God and blame him. Like you said the Bible is clear that all of those are a result of our sin (in general) and an even more prior rebellion of the evil one.

      However I probably would still hold more to the sovereignty of God than what you stated in the statement:

      God “can” have control over all things, but does not have, in hope that we can find redemption in the redeemer in Christ.

      I don’t know if God ever relinquishes his sovereignty, since in the Biblical framework of things it’s not an either/or. It’s not either he is absolutely sovereign OR we have free will… it’s both/and. And I don’t know that God simply leaves salvation to our choice ‘in hope’ that we’d find redemption. Maybe I’m too much of a Calvinist, or maybe it’s just what I see in the Scriptures when it comes to God’s plan of salvation that we could not have chosen him if he didn’t first choose us. But there’s another can of worms for another blog (or another blogger!).

  3. Hi, how about an analogy.. noting that every analogy will fall short.

    Is it my will to discipline my daughter, cuasing her pain and sorrow? (whatever form the discipline takes). Of course it makes me sad and I would prefer not to have to do it, and yet I rejoice in the opportunity to mould her character for Godliness and lead her to repentance. So yes it is my will to discipline her (my ‘sovereign’ will) though not my desire at several levels (my ‘moral’ will).

    and then go to the cross as you mentioned, where we see the Father disciplining his only Son even to death, in order to save us and ultimately to bring greater glory to his Son our Saviour. Praise God!

  4. 🙂 I though that comment would spice things up a bit..
    that 1 John 4:19 bit in defense of pre-destination is always a Scriptural stretch though..

    “I don’t know if God ever relinquishes his sovereignty”

    I’m not saying He relinquishes soverignty, but rather.. He “shares” it with us. We were born to rule, have dominion, and also, we now have the ability to exercise “all power and authority given unto us” through the purchased blood of Christ (Charles Kraft, “I Give You Authority” covers that stuff well).

    Dictionary.. reveals sovereignty to be one of:
    1. the quality or state of being sovereign
    ->> well, we are all made in the image of God ;

    2. the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royalty
    ->> we were born to rule and have dominion of the fishes of the sea etc (Genesis), and were given all power and authority (Matt 28?)

    In both these cases, it’s for “those that recognise their authority and power in them”.. but how about for those who don’t? (another blog!!) Well, I’d suggest perhaps, they just aren’t living into the increased fullness and intended purpose that they were made for. We all fall short of the glory of God, but Christ brings us back to glory, and we exist in moving in power and authority.. moving from glory to glory.

    “I don’t know that God simply leaves salvation to our choice ‘in hope’ that we’d find redemption”..

    This sounds more like a pre-destination (yes, yes..calvinist!) protectionist defense which is seems to be built on the lack of trust in the self. Whilst it is true that we’d “never cut it” (OT speaks of this heaps), it doesn’t recognise the purchased choice ‘in hope’ is symbolic of Christ that is the key (“most excellent way”) that we also need ‘us’ to be a part of in walking with Him.. and the courage of ‘faith’ being that bridge. (After all, we’re not..robots which can ‘leaving it all up to God’,.. that line of argument also encourages idleness and lack of spiritual growth come to think of it..).

    Anyways.. a father (aka Father) may have a child (aka us), and should love the child, even before he/she was born. Later on, that child is given the ability of choice in stewarding his own house (temple of the HS? :P), and if he / she were to rebel, then they have choices as to whether to be drawn back (if required, exhausting all other alternatives) to the best choice available: “by faith” (through ‘hope’ (Christ)) in them – to come back and be restored in relationship, just as the prodigal son did…

    *I defer to the listening to God’s voice in the Spirit otherwise!!!* bleh.. where’s my karaoke mike…!! hmm.. ***

    • Haha, I thought you’d come back with a reply. Okay this is my last (I promise).

      1. 1 John 4:19 – I wasn’t quoting that in defense of predestination. I was actually quoting Augustine (or someone else of that calibre) who said something to the effect of not being able to choose God except that God chose us first.

      2. Ephesians 1:4-5 and Romans 8:28-30 both speak about predestination pretty clearly, so they were the passages I was hinting at.

      3. What I mean by God’s ‘sovereignty’ is not the dictionary definition you mentioned but the theological definition of God being so entirely in control (read: omnipotent and omniscient) that he is not limited in the ways that we are and all history and the future is under his direction (see Romans 11:33-36 and pretty much all of the last chs of Job). So though I agree that in some senses he shares his ‘sovereignty’ with us (i.e. we are in his image, given his authority to rule on earth etc), I don’t think that extends to the fullness of his sovereignty in the sense that his incommunicable attributes (his omni’s) are also imparted to us. If that were so, we’d pretty much be god.

      4. Part of the issue is we are arguing from different frameworks. I have a compatibilist Calvinistic framework, and you’re arguing more along the lines of an either/or Arminian framework. Simply put, I don’t think God’s complete sovereignty denies full human choice or responsibility (even though it might be logically difficult to see how that can be). Therefore we’re not robots; we have real choices and real responsibility (and real exercise of dominion). That’s called compatibilism and I leave the mechanics to the mystery of God. You, however, are of the position that if God gives us choice and responsibility (or shares his dominion with us – a point I agree with totally), then it must mean a deliberate limiting of his control – since 100% his control can’t possibly mean we have genuine free choice. I guess there is where we think differently and interpret the Scriptures differently.

  5. oops cut off a lil bit there..

    “I’m not saying He relinquishes soverignty, but rather.. He “shares” it with us.

    It’s a view that gives a greater light not just on our co-labouring with God.. but our inheritance as co-heirs with Christ.”

    oooops…

  6. Thanks for writing Pete 🙂

    Its great to have your thoughts throughout the week!

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