|The Mystery of God’s Will – Part 1 (God’s Sovereign Will)||Download||PowerPoint|
John: We’re at the very beginning of a series on God’s will. We are not like a lot of groups where we kind of just of touch it for one week. We’re going to be in the subject for a little while, so join us. If you miss a week, all our talks get podcast online so you can catch up.
Why Study God’s Will?
John: First of all, before we spend six Sunday nights, or whatever it’s going to take for this series, we always start off with a justification of why spend any of God’s precious time on a subject like this. So, here are my pitches to you. “Why study God’s will.”
First, I think the words “its God’s will” are probably some of the most abused words is in the Christian doctrine. We thing everything’s God’s will. Maybe. We are going to talk about that tonight. But sometimes we use it in a way that maybe is hurtful or not theologically correct, so maybe it makes sense to figure out what it means.
Two, a lot of us spend time looking for God’s individual will for our life. This series is kind of designed to look for that. Is there such a thing an individual will for your life, because if there is, let’s figure out how to find it and stop running around. It’s like all these Christians are running around, “What’s the will? What’s the will. Where is it?” And if it’s not there, then maybe we could just move off at that topic and stop looking for it. So, we’re going to spending time at the series digging in to a very controversial question: “Does God have an individual will for every person in this room?” A lot of us think so. We are going to through it and find out.
Number three, a lot of Christians have difficulty articulating the tension between sayings that God is in control of all things. He’s sovereign over all things, but I have free will and free choice. And it trips a lot of Christians and, truthfully, it trips up even more non-Christians. And we can’t really articulate it well, so we’re going to try. We’re going to do a little bit of that here.
And finally, Christians have so many questions about God’s will that’s it’s got to be a topic that we’re not covering well in the church. That’s why we’re going to do it here. Now on the topic of so many questions, we’ll get there in just a second.
Topics We Will Cover
John: So, here where we’re going: Tonight, we’re going to talk about God’s sovereignty a little bit, and in the coming week we’re going to cover all these topics. The view of looking the individual will for your life, trying to understand is there such a thing, we’re going to critique a little bit. We’re going to try how we figure out God’s guidance, how do we actually do the will of God once we figure it out, and finally, just looking at some tough questions that you have asked us.
All Of Your Questions About God’s Will
John: So, last week here is where we started. Last week we started with what we call the teaser. That’s when, in an open forum, we ask you to take out a piece of paper and write down the questions that you had about God’s will. Whatever questions you had, we collect them and we start to go through. And the way we set up our series is, of course we have a direction and the way that we’re going to go — we’re reading a bunch of books and I’ll refer to some of them tonight if you want to join us in those (if you don’t have enough reading to do in school, you can read some more books) — but these are the question we asked:
Number one: just tell us what questions you have about God’s will. Write them down for us. And number two, if you are someone who is seeking out God’s will, why are you seeking God’s will? Something that we almost never stopped to ask: “Why do even care what God’s will is.” Like, that’s not spiritual to ask that question, but we want to find out why.
Well, here are some of the questions you asked [laughter]. And, just to tell you, just so that you can brace yourself, this is one of the three screens of questions. [Laughter] Apparently, this topical has a lot of a interest, because if you have any reason — if you’re sitting there right now, thinking, “Why would I spend time with this crazy group going through these questions,” — well, because I can guarantee most of you have these questions. Just to help you out a little bit, for those of you who are a little bit eyesight challenged, I’m just going to read the questions, and I just want you to meditate for a moment and think, “Do I have these same questions?”
Here they are: What is the definition of the word “will”? Can we ever know fully what God’s will is? Is there such a thing as the perfect will of God? Where in the Bible is the idea of multiple “wills” of God? Does God have specific plans, down to the day and the minute? How specific or vague (general) is God’s will? Does God’s will change? If so, how is that accomplished (through prayer? sin? fasting? righteousness?) If God’s will can change, does He know that it’s going to change? Does He plan to change it? Can you change God’s will? Do we have the right to change God’s will (do we know better than God)? If God’s will cannot change, then why is an individual responsible for sin? Does man have the ability to thwart or hinder God’s will? If someone else changes God’s will, do their actions change God’s will for me? Can I force God’s will? How small can things be and still be included in God’s will? Does God ever will bad circumstances or trials to happen to make us stronger? Does God’s will include sin? Does it include pain, suffering, the fall, and the cross? Is it God’s will if I am born with a disease? If all our days are written like the Bible says, and God chooses us, then why does He punish the people He doesn’t choose? (It seems like God creates “sinners” and then punishes them for being so.) If God knows what will happen in the future and knows that He has the ability to shape the future, then does God’s will include all events? How is the Old Testament calling different from today? Does God have a will / plan for events after the second coming? — boy, you guys were reaching on that question. Does God have a will for non-Christians?[Joking] We are going to answer everyone of those tonight. No, no way.
Are you curious? Good questions? Some of you wrote so many questions in front of multiple cards. That’s okay. These are God’s will questions in general.
Let’s look at a couple of them that you cared about, about His individual will. How do I know God’s will for my life? Does God get involved in every aspect of my life? Does he care about every single decision I make? If not, what are my prayers supposed to be like? Should I just ask God to bless me in all of my projects? Is there a “perfect” plan for my life? How can I discover it? What if I don’t have a will? Do we all have the same will? If God does have a certain will for us, what consequences are in store for those who disobey? Will God be mad at you if you don’t do His will or if you can’t figure out His will? How do you know if He calls you to full time ministry? How do we test what God’s will is for our lives? Is it a sin — or just a preference — to not follow His will? Can we pray to change God’s will for my life? How can I tell the difference between God’s will and my own will? Can my will be God’s will? People have told me that God totally wanted them to have something like a parking spot (I don’t think I agree). Has anyone here ever heard God’s voice as a call to do something? Is it true that if I have a passion for something then it is probably God’s will? If something keeps coming up in conversation, or on TV, could that be God, or is that just a coincidence? Can we discern God’s will based on a feeling? If the most important thing is to love God and others, what does that entail?
Wow. There are some more questions.
And finally the one that most of you really care about: Will I ever get married? [Laughter] Does God care who I marry? It’s amazing how many questions married I got, you know. [Laughter] Does God had a specific person for me to marry — like a soul mate or are there many positive choices? [Laughter] Does He ask some to remain single? Is there a male out there for everyone? What, are you guys a little worried or what, what’s going on? [Laughter] Was it God’s will for me to marry the person I married?
Now, hold on a second because there’s only one person I know in here who is kind of married and I wonder why they are asking. [Laughter]
David: I wasn’t here last week.
John: It’s disturbing when you’re reading this and you find out that your own wife wrote in: [Laughter] “Was it God’s will for me to marry the person I married?” I had this crisis of faith this week. [Laughter] Maybe she wasn’t sure. We’re going to answer that, too. Of course, the answer is “of course.” [Laughter]
Does God have a will for my finances? Is it okay to make money and live comfortably? What if what I want to do is a childhood dream, something secular, and not something like saving Africa? What’s the difference between a search for purpose and the pursuit of happiness? Is it God’s will that I eat at Alberto’s? [Laughter]
Well, it is an interactive forum, you are allowed to ask whatever you want and we’ll be trying to answer it. Gosh, that is so much stuff, and it I just reinforces once again — if we this many questions — and I got to tell you, some of you in here some thought of a few more. And if you do, what I want to encourage you to do, is you guys have — there’s cards in the back, you can write some down, you can email them. If this isn’t enough, and you have one that hasn’t been asked, send it in to us. What we’re going to be doing is to trying to understand God’s will.
Let’s more forward tonight. I’m not going to go to them one by one. In fact we are not actually going to end the series. We’re going to be spend time in God’s word, and see how He answers. Okay?
Why Do You Want To Know God’s Will?
John: One last thing. We asked why do you want to know God’s will. And I think it’s kind of interestingly because nobody asks that. It’s kind of those things in Christianity like, “Duh, you got to do God’s will.” Well actually, why would any of you really want to know. Here are some of the answers we got back from you:
1. God is the wisest being so He as the best to seek wisdom from the source of true wisdom. That’s what I called fortune cookie theory, you know like “Hey, you know what, better get it from Him than anybody else so you might well do that.”
2. So I can know exactly what to do and we’ll have to figure it out. That’s a lazy man’s theory, the lazy woman’s theory. “Just tell me. It will be so much easier. ”
3. To be able to please God by doing specifically defined acts that He wants to accomplished. It’s kind of a pure thought. We said last week, maybe God has done so much for us that we could at least say, “What do you want me to do in return, if anything.”
4. To know that you have a specific purpose, to know that your life has a specific meaning to it. There’s also a lot of honesty in that one. It almost yearns that we want to have some sort of meaning and purpose in this life. We don’t want to just be glorifying God in general. We like to glorify Him in specifics. We’d like to know what it means, and maybe it’s sometimes that we have to search our hearts for: Are we are always searching for significance? Would it be okay if God said “I Don’t have really plans. Just hang out and worship me.” Would that be okay with that?
5. To have freedom and peace of mind so that you can do whatever you are supposed to do, not feeling guilty over the thought that you are not doing the will of God. So some of us maybe feeling guilty that we’re missing it somehow. Those are some honest reasons.
Okay, here is where we start tonight. We’ll be covering three aspects of God’s will — God’s sovereign will, God’s moral will and God’s individual will for your life, if it exists. We are not doing all that tonight. We’re barely going to scratch the surface tonight as we move through all these questions.
God’s Sovereign Will
John: Lets’ start with God’s sovereign will. Here’s the question: If God is sovereign, if God is in control of all things, if His plan must be accomplish the way He wants it to be, how does our freedom work into that?
And some of you, that was the questions you guys were grappling at. Like, if He ordains all things, then how can He punish me if I don’t do the right thing? How does He hold us accountable? That’s the question we start with tonight. Here is the first one.
Let’s be clear, it’s impossible for us to fully understand this nature of God. I know that many theologians have tried. The reason I know that is because I’ve been reading a lot of them this last week and a week before. And there is a debate for sure about this true nature of God’s sovereignty and our free will, and we not going to slide into an entire debate on predestination tonight. But we are going to skim the surface of it. Because it’s kind of important to this question.
So, first let’s be humble and start off and understand that we serve an infinite God. We’re never going to figure it out. But it is possible for us to at least say, “There are some things about God that we will never fully know. This might be one of them.” But having said that, we can read scripture.
Scripture is clear that God knows the future and that because of the sovereignty, He’s in control of all things. He’s sovereign and He’s in control. Scripture tell us that. Where it say that? Let’s read through scripture for a second so you’re not just hearing my words.
Matthew 5:8: “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Psalm 129:1-4 “Oh, Lord you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, Oh Lord.” In Colossians, we read, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Daniel 4: 35 say, “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”
You all agree that God is sovereign? Anyone disagree? So how do you work out for yourself the tension between God’s sovereignty and His free will? Anyone want to take stab at it? Do you feel that you’re free sitting here. Can you make a choice?
Ryan: I think it’s a choice.
John: Okay. “No one can hold back his hand to Him and say what have you done?” Are you saying that your choice can thwart God? because somebody asked that, “Can my choices thwart God’s will?” Look at this verse, “I know that you can do all things, no plan of yours can thwarted.” (Job 42:2) So, right there, we know one of the questions that’s on the screen already been answered. Can you thwart God’s will, what’s the answer?
John: No, you can’t thwart God’s will. But what if you want to do something different? Does that means that God’s going to take over your free will and hijack it? and say, “You’re trying to thwart my will, I’m not going to let you.” And, if He does that, does that leave you with any free will?
Look at Ephesians 1: 11 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purposes of His will.” Now we could get dragged into the “chosen” part, but look at the “according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purposes of this will.”
You see, the reason this is an important question — it’s not just theoretical. It’s not theoretical because you’re not going to make decisions in your life, and it depends on whether you believed that God’s in control, or whether you believe we have some freedom. Look at these examples for a second, I’m going to give you some examples:
Let’s do one about a Christian college, we’re kind of here. Consider a Christian college. It launches a capital improvement campaign. And it’s finding it difficult to raise money. Some administrators assumed that if God’s wants the new buildings, He will supply the money. Do you believe that? Are you one of these people? who says, “Hey, if God wants new buildings on new campus, He’ll provide the money.” So, if the money doesn’t come in, it’s not God’s will. On the other hand, you have other people in the same university who say, “If the money doesn’t come in, it might be because we might need to change the people in the development office. Maybe we’re not trying hard enough. Maybe we need to bring in somebody who has a fundraising specialist. Maybe we are not giving God our best because we’re not trying hard enough, or not asking the right people.” What do you think? Which one is right?
Ken: I will say maybe all of them may be right.
Ken: It might be that you need to change the people in the office, but I also believe that we live in God’s economy. So in His provision and in His plans and purposes, this is the will of God, we’re certain about it, and they have a meeting, the board of trustees and the board of directors, and they say, we’re sure about that we need the funding for this. At the same time, maybe they don’t have the right people, working in those places, to help bring in the money. But it’s still God’s economy, so both of those could be right.
John: Let me push back for just a second. Would you be comfortable if I took like a big oil drum looking thing and just put it on the sidewalk and wrote, “Donations for our new science building” on it, right? And just put it there, and just said, “If it’s the Lord’s will that we raise money for the science building, people are going to come by and just put money in there, and we don’t need to do anything else. We’ve made provision. The Lord will raise the money.” And put it right there on like Foothill Blvd., by the other parking lot, and just walk away. Are you okay with that? Yeah, Jonathan.
Jonathan: That’s just seems crazy to me. I mean, it’s like, well, I’m just going to sit back and relax while God does all the hard work. Trust God maybe, but sometimes trusting God means investing your resources. I just think that sometimes you do have to make an investment and put effort to take the first step, and then have God do the rest, rather than just ask God to take care of the whole thing.
John. Yeah. Yeah?
Kayla: Yeah, it’s just like what he said. I think there’s a difference between trusting in God and expecting that it’s just going to land on your doorstep. Just because God can make it happen, but He’s going to give you the ways that He will make it happen. Not just dump a bunch of money in the bucket somewhere.
John: But look at it from the will of God for a moment: If God didn’t want this money to be raised, is it going to be raised? Do you think — is there anybody in here think we can raise it? So you guys obviously believe that God is in control at least of the things that He doesn’t want to happen. If God does want it to happen, it’s going to happen, right? You believe that? Either He does or He doesn’t, right? God isn’t undecided. He’s not in the middle, going “Hmmm. I don’t know, what do you guys think?” [Laughter] I mean, He’s probably up there with a decision, like He knows, either He wants it or He doesn’t. So if He wants it, and you put the drum out there, it’s going to get filled. And if He doesn’t, it’s going to stay empty, right? Or does that just not sit well with you?
Participant: God always answers our prayers, but not always in the way that we want them to be, or that we see. Like, we can say, we want the funding for it, put the bucket out there, but there could be something else happening over here and we can get the money in a totally different way. So it can still happen because it’s His will, but doesn’t always happen the way we want to and the way we think it’s going to happen.
John: It’s very wise. But if you think if He really wanted it to happen, the money is going to come in some way.
Participant: In some way.
John: So, would you be looking to fire some administrators for not doing their job in fundraising, or you will be the one who’d say, “Look, if the Lord wants it to happen, it’s going to happen one way or another. We don’t need to be stressed out about how it happens.”
Participant: Yes. But I think people stress anyway.
John: Okay, that’s true. Ryan?
Ryan: Alright, I’m going to play the other side of that card.
John: That my job. [Laughter] Alright, go ahead.
Ryan: Yeah, I believe to a certain extent that you have to work for it, and you have to be responsible for what you are doing, but at the same time it’s like, what happened about all those things like Moses, when God said strike the rock or speak to the rock, or with Peter, when He said open the fish’s mouth and there’s a coin there. Like that’s stuff that God did, you know, and you didn’t need to work for it. Like God provided, and there’s stuff that happened, you know? So I think it still works in both ways.
John: But in this case, God’s not speaking to anybody. Because it’s true: in those cases, God spoke directly. Philip?
Philip: If God wants it, I want to be a part of doing what He wants, and so I might as well do everything I can to raise the money, and that doesn’t mean to sitting out there with an oil drum. That means actually going through all the effort, maybe firing some people, maybe restructuring, and trying to do what we think He wants, but still confident that if it happens, if He wants it to happen, it will happen, without me or not. But I’d rather be a part of it, you know, so I can at least say, “Hey, well, I at least did something He wanted me to do,” as opposed to, “Yeah, yeah, I knew it would happen, so I just let you do it.”
John: Okay. The other example I was going to raise is very similar to that one. Let’s say you’re a missionary, trying to decide whether I should go to this country or not. You’re praying, “Lord do you want me to go to Thailand or not? Should I go to Thailand?” And you’re having trouble raising funding to go. Is that God closing the door, as some of us might say, or are you just not an effective person. You don’t know who to reach out to talk to. I don’t know that there an answer. I will point out this though: Whether you believe that God is in control all the time and will just work things out the way He wants ,or whether you believe that our human efforts, somehow needs to be involved, the funny thing people tend to switch depending on the situation. We’re never one or the other. Like the university that would say, “Oh, no, no, no, we can’t just leave it up to God. We got to go out there and get really, really get busy.” When someone is sick and dying in the hospital, they go, “Let’s leave it to up God,” because we are inconsistent. And it’s partly because we have a hard time understanding God’s will and our free will, and how they work together.
The Tension In Scripture Between God’s Sovereignty And Our Free Will
John: Let’s go back for this for a second: We have things — already we’ve established some things. We are never going to fully get it, so it’s okay if it’s uncomfortable and it’s gray. Number two, it’s clearly that God knows the future and controls all things. Scripture says that. But it’s also clear from the Bible that He doesn’t take away our free will. Here are some verses that actually explains that:
Like James says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:13-14) God is giving us freedom. Joshua stood in front of the people and said, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) Jesus, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus is standing weeping over Jerusalem, saying “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” — showing again that we have some freedom to decide. Peter writes in 2nd Peter 3: 9 “He’s patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” If He wanted it so badly, that He was going to force our will, it would just be done. But He gives us the freedom.
Look at Romans, this is important, and I’m going to skip to Romans 9:19-21, because it’s clear that not only do we have a choice, but we’re also responsible for all our choices. Paul is writing back to people who say, “Then why does God blames us” and he said, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?'” So there’s Paul, struggling with the very same question we’re asking. “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” Think back of our friend Job, who is struggling with God saying, “All my friends are telling me that the reasons that this is happening is a lot of these crazy reasons, what’s the reason?” And God doesn’t give him a reason, just says, “Who who are you? Where were you when I formed the earth?” Like that’s the answer He gives him. Like, “I am — God.” Your asking?
Just to tweak our thought just a last little bit here. Even in Acts, look how close these verses are 13:48 and 14:1, they are like 4 verses apart. There’s an instance where God has called people to Himself, and there’s an instance where we have free to choose, so close together. In 13:48 it says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” A lot of strong Calvinists cling to that and go, “Ah, you see, man has no free will. God’s sovereign will controls. If God wants to calls you, you’re there.” But just a few verses down, it says, “At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas were sent as usual into the Jewish Synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.” They were able to convinced people to believe.
So what is these entire mean? Well we’re not going to understand how it all works together because God is too infinite for our knowledge. In Romans, Paul concludes with kind of a groaning and a praise to God at the same time. He says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
You are not going to understand it fully, but it does have a direct bearing on the series we’re in, so we had to start in this very difficult spot. The very difficult spot being, what is that intersection look like. Look at these for a second: I’m going to try draw it out. Maybe it’ll help. If you put sovereignty at one end of this timeframe and free will over here, there’s tension, a natural tension. In scripture, there’s a tension. So all of the church, for 2000 years, has been trying to figure out, what’s the correct tension? Wow do we solve it? [Joking] We’re going to solve it tonight. Two thousand years, we’re going to do it right here. [Laughter]
What’s the right tension? You see, if you’re an extremist on this side, you emphasize God’s sovereignty only — I mean we’re talking about extremes now. You believed that God has pre-determined everything. We have no real free will. So, if you’re searching for God’s will, stop. He’s already pre-determined everything. Everything you do is His will, so don’t even worry about it. Just stop. God has predetermined everything. Does it trouble anybody? Who’s troubled? Tiffany, why does it trouble you?
Tiffany: In my personal perspective, it puts God in a box.
John: Doesn’t it put us in a box?
Tiffany: It just creates this scene like robots, you know, where God pushes the button and you go, you stop, you know. I mean, I believe that God is a relational God, and I don’t see any relationship in this extreme.
John: Alright who else does it trouble? Who else was raising their hand? Why does it trouble you?
Participant: Doesn’t it say in the Bible, like multiple times, it says both ways, but it says that we have free will.
John: Yeah, we just looked at some of the verses that are talking about choosing and choice and ability to — and we’re responsible for our moral decisions, so yeah, Biblically, you’d have a problem with it — what was your comment?
Participant: I don’t like that, if it’s all predetermined, that some people can argue they’re predetermined that they’re going to hell. .
John: Yeah, like we want a fair God, we want a cool God, right? [Laughter] Not one who’s already decided from the beginning, like “You people, ‘No,’ and you people, ‘Yes.'” But a lot of you had this question on your card. Like that one that said, “If He makes certain people and He already chooses not to choose them, isn’t He creating people just to basically send them to hell?” That troubles us about God, although some Calvinists would say that’s exactly right. But we’re going to struggle with that a little bit. You’re in the right place. I don’t mean to make fun of the comment. It’s actually probably the thing that troubles me the most about this view.
Here’s the problem: there are verses on both sides about the whole debate over, are we just predetermined and predestined, and what does that mean? Or do we have some sort of choice in the matter? So to be fair to all the people who are like, “Wait a minute,” I will say, there are verses on both sides. And that’s why people have been arguing for 2000 years about this.
So, clearly some of you have a problem with Him being so over here that everything is predetermined. The one that troubles me is, does that mean we’re predetermined to sin? Does that mean we’re predetermined to fail? Predetermined to fall? I mean, maybe — depends on what you mean by the word “predetermined.” But let’s take the word “predetermined” out because it’s such a loaded word. Does God control every decision to a point that He controls us sinning against His will? Wow, that’s kind of a tough extreme if you think of that way.
But look at the other extreme. What if you are over here? There are actually people who are so wedded to free will and believe it’s the greatest among all the things we should champion, that they actually say — and I’m going to try to say this fairly, you know I’m already thinking it’s goofy — they actually believe that God is waiting with baited breath to find out what’s going to happen in the end. That takes away God’s omniscience. Like God is sitting there thinking, “Like what’s going to happen. I wonder. I wonder how many people I’m going to get up in heaven. I don’t know. Like, this is stressing me out!” And he’s waiting for time to happen. Does that trouble anyone?
Jonathan: Well, He’s God. Since He is the creator, I’d like to hope that He’s in control of something.
John: Yeah, would you want to worship a God who didn’t know what was going to happen? Anybody else troubled by this? Yeah, Tiffany?
Tiffany: To me, it makes it as if God is playing a guessing game with Himself. You know, I believe that God should know things to a certain degree. Not stressing over what’s happening next.
John: Yeah, it makes our God much smaller, I think. I agree with you. I think there is a balance right there. I don’t know what it is, by the way. I have a book, if you want, I will recommend it to you. Just to show you — we do so much research for these talks — but there is one book called [Four Views on] Predestination and Free Will. It’s four theologians debating four different points on this continuum. If you are person who wants to go deeper into understanding the role of God’s sovereignty versus free will, I’ll recommend this book to you. Come talk to me, pick it up. It’s tough, it’s theological, okay, it’s not an easy read, but it will take you much deeper that I will in the next two minutes. But here is what one them says that I think is the most convincing:
One of the problems we have with God foreknowledge and His predestination, when we talk about it in the English language, we in our mind — and check yourself on this and tell me if this is true — we think of God sitting at the beginning of time, spreading this thing out in front of Him. And we forget for a moment that God is beyond time and is eternal and does not have time. One of the ideas that I really liked out of this book is that His knowledge of things and his determination of them happen simultaneously at every moment, every instant, like to God there is always now, there is not then and tomorrow, because He doesn’t have time. Now if that doesn’t boggle your mind, read the book because I spent so long trying to understand it, and what I come down to is, I think there are some middle grounds here in between an extreme that says that everything has been predetermined — like we’re being controlled like a robot, verses that God doesn’t know what’s to happen and he’s just standing there waiting … And most people are somewhere in the middle, where they are struggling between how much freedom do we have, versus how little do we have. And it’s a matter that we have some, but maybe not enough. Read this book if you want to go deeper.
How Does God’s Sovereignty Relate To The Subject Of Discovering God’s Will?
John: But here’s where I want to take you tonight to close. We know that God is sovereign. We know we have some free will. I said from the beginning, we’re not going to figure it out and since this is not a nine week series on predestination, we’re not going any deeper than we are right now. We’re in a series on God’s will. So God’s sovereign will, God’s moral will and God’s individual will for our lives.
Tonight we covered sovereign will. The real question you should be asking is, “If it’s so complicated and there’s sovereignty and free will, what does that mean for me trying to figure out what God’s will for my life.” And here is what it means:
Whatever relationship between sovereignty and free will there is, we’re never going to figure it out, for two reasons: One, it’s mind boggling, from an infinite God. And number two, God’s not going to tell you anyway, so don’t worry about it. And by the way, I wrote down here, that one thing that almost all theologians agree about — whether you are on the “there is an individual will” side, or “there’s not” — all, seeming (there’s always some exception out there), but most all agree that God sovereign will, we don’t know until it happens. We just know that He’s in control of all things for His ultimate plan. You don’t need to sit around going, “Oh Lord, reveal your sovereign will to me,” because He says, “The secret things belong to our Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) So you see that I say that we’ll never figure out His sovereign will in advance; we’ll always know as it passes what is happened. We go, “That must be what the Lord wanted, because it couldn’t have happen without it.” The only exception to that is when the Lord tells us in advance what He’s going to do. We call that a prophecy. It’s the only exception that I’ve found. And that’s what He means by, He says “the secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed,” the thing that the Lord tells us, those are for us, like promises, so we can be sure of the Lord’s word. Like when He tell us a prophecy like in Isaiah, that happens in the time of Jesus, then we can be sure, because it’s like, “Wow, you told us what you were going to do, and it happened.” Not just one, but over 300 different prophecies of what He was going to do just in Christ alone, to give us assurance that unless somebody rewrote the whole Old Testament really fast, we know that His word is true and that His promises are true.
Go back to Romans again, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable” — meaning unknowable, you can’t figure them out — “How unsearchable his judgments, [how] his paths beyond tracing out!” You can’t even figure out where He’s going. “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor.” (Romans 11:33-34)
So if you have freedom, or you don’t. If this is all an illusion, and He’s controlling everything, or you have absolute freedom, it almost doesn’t matter, because in terms of trying to figure out God’s will — His sovereign will, His ultimate plan for everything, the way He’s going to work it all out — we can’t know until He does it. We just can imagine God looking every single choice that’s made, of all the people that alive, every second of the day. Think of what that puzzle would look like. And God is sitting up going, “I can solve this in two steps to get what I want out of this. That’s how smart I am and how big I am.” He’s looking at everything. It’s like an infinite amount — well it’s not an infinite amount, but a pretty big number of all the decisions of all the people who have ever lived. And He looks at it and He goes, “No problem, it’s still going to work out exactly the way I wanted it to.” Is it because He’s controlling it, or just because He knows, because He’s so smart, because He’s so powerful, because He’s shaping it all? That’s where you guys can stay in the tension a little bit, and we can talk about it afterwards, but it really won’t matter in terms of you figuring it out, because God’s sovereign will is kept from us until it happens.
You don’t have to worry about, “Is it your sovereign will that I marry this person? or go to this school? or take this job?” because God’s like, “You could sin all you want even, if you wanted to — forget looking for my will — you could try to thwart me and it still won’t work. So in terms of the sovereign will, don’t worry about it.
Next week we’re going to cover about God’s moral will, and then we’re going to dive into the real questions that you guys have about, “What about the individual will?” The moral — we’re going to spend some time on it just to understand what it is, and then finally go through all the questions about God’s individual will for our lives.
I encourage you to stick with us and try get through this. Tonight was a little bit tough because I’m trying to grapple with very theological debates, but I wouldn’t be doing you a favor if we just skipped and said, “Ah, you can never know God’s sovereign will, so just don’t even worry about it.” I at least wanted you to know to know what you’re not going to worry about, okay? [Laughter]
Now you know what you don’t know, and you’ve become a little bit wiser. And I hope, I hope, through all this theoretical and theological stuff, God got a little bigger tonight. I hope that when you look at God, you realize how infinite He is — that He just got bigger in your mind, not smaller.
Let’s pray and wrap up with a little bit of worship:
Lord, there is no way I can say better than the apostle himself, who says “the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God: how unsearchable are your judgments.” Lord, I just thank you that we have a place like this to meet, that we have time while we’re here on earth to learn about you, before we have eternity to learn more. And Lord, no matter how many years we spend, whether it’s here or in the next life in eternity, because of your infinite nature, we will never fully comprehend you. We will never fully comprehend your Triune nature. We will never fully comprehend the intersection of your sovereignty and the free will you bestowed upon us as a gift, or even the depth of your love, Lord, that you will send yourself, your own Son to die for us, to redeem us, Lord. That is love beyond anything that humans can understand. And then you offer it as free gift to people who rebelled against you — every single day we rebel against you. Lord, these are unsearchable, unfathomable things, and we lay them tonight on your feet. Our joy, Lord, is just that we get to talk about them, debate them a little bit, and that Lord you entertain them, and that you look down from heaven at your children who are just seeking to know you better. Lord, be magnified in our minds, in our eyes, in our hearts. You are a great God and I pray tonight, Lord, that your Holy Spirit be in this room as we worship you now. Hopefully you have gotten just a little bit larger in our minds. We pray in your name, Amen.