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.