How to Know the Will of God

Interview with Kim Crutchfield by Jon Rising Parts 1 – 3
April 10, 2017
The Use and Abuse of Prophecy
April 10, 2017

Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  (Ephesians 5:15-17)

INTRODUCTION

In this article I will work towards an answer to the question ‘How can we know the will of God?’ Christians are interested in God’s will. In church we regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your kingdom com, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Often we face puzzlement about this will of God business. Is everything that happens in the world the will of God? Is life like a scripted drama and we are actors in a divine comedy for the entertainment of God?   Is evil and suffering God’s will?   Where does human freedom come in?

Some of the confusion lies in the fact that there are several categories of the will of God. We need to distinguish these categories when talking about the will of God. We shall look at four such categories. We shall then consider three elements in guidance. We shall examine six of the usual means by which God makes the Divine will known to us.

FOUR CATEGORIES OF THE WILL OF GOD

When we speak about the will of God we should be aware that the ‘will of God’ is used in several ways. I call these ‘categories of the will of God.’ We can distinguish four such categories. We shall discuss the will of God under four headings: the eternal will of God, the providential will of God; the permissible will of God, and the specific will of God.   We will discuss each of these in turn.

1. The eternal will of God means God’s plan for the whole universe. Much of this remains a mystery to human beings. By our own natural lights (reason) we are unable to penetrate the Divine mind. Christians claim that through the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God disclosed the eternal plan with sufficient clarity so that we are not in complete darkness.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to the good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth… (Eph. 1:8-10)

God’s eternal, or perfect will, includes the consummation of all things in God. It is God’s eternal will to reconcile all things in Christ. God wills to redeem, not only human beings, but the “whole creation”.

For the whole creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of god; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-20 emphasis is mine)

The eternal will of God grants us a framework in which we live and order our lives. This framework means the all of life somehow moves towards the purpose which was preordained in the mind of God. God intends the redemption of all creation Indeed,

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This is not a statement that everything that happens is by God’s decree. Much happens in this world that displeases God. The statement by Paul means that God can use anything, even evil for good. God uses something as horrendous as the crucifixion of Jesus for redemptive purposes. Nothing can ultimately frustrate the will of God. God is in control and can use even evil for the Divine purposes. In the Bible we see this truth in the story of Joseph:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. (Gen. 50:19-20)

2. By Providential will of God we mean God’s activity of ordering and sustaining creation. We may also call this the general or natural will of God. God upholds the regularity of nature through what we call ‘natural laws’. Natural laws cause gravity to continue to hold objects to the surface of the earth; hard substances resist fluid and pliable substances making it possible for human beings to make tools, construct water conduits to move water about, and build boats to navigate waterways. Certain substances predictably nourish organic life. We eat certain plants and animals but not glass, stones, or mollusk shells. Heat and cold affect objects with a high degree of predictability. Water freezes normally at 32° Fahrenheit and fire burns wood and emits heat. The general or natural will of God indicates the regularity of the natural order and makes life predictable with a fair degree of certainty. It is not absolute. God remains free to act in the world. Miracles can occur which suspend natural laws, or at least defy our understanding of their usual predictability. The world is not a mechanical devise. But God and upholds nature with consistency without which human life would be impossible. The usual regularity of nature then is reliable.

3. By Permissible will of God refers to those things that God allows or permits to occur that do not reflect the eternal or perfect. This can also be called the conditional will of God. God is love and God created out of the abundance of Divine love. God eternally wills the existence of human beings who love. But love is free. Love that is coerced is no longer love. Therefore, God created human beings who think, feel, and will, and act. Human beings are capable of receiving and giving love. Human beings possess the capacity of responding to love. God eternally wills the freedom of human beings. God permits human freedom to respond in love. But we may also respond in unloving ways, in disobedience.

Take for example, parents who just before leaving for a night out tell their children to clean up their room, put their toys away, and make the beds before they return later that evening. But when the mom and dad arrive home they find the room still untidy, dolls and plastic soldiers scattered on the floor, clothes strewn about, and the beds in shambles. The children did not do what the parents told them to do. They freely chose not to obey, although they did so within the parent’s will to allow them to exercise their freedom. Consequences follow conditionally. The parent permitted the children their freedom to obey or to discovery.

We are rational, purposing, and willing creatures. We are not automatons. We have volition. But human freedom also has a dark side. We may use our freedom against God. We may act in unloving ways. We may refuse God’s love and withhold love from other human beings. God permits this. God permits human beings to act contrary to the eternal will. To do so is called sin. God does not intervene and retrain us from doing something destructive to ourselves or to another. Therefore, not everything that happens can be said to reflect the perfect will of God, although God does permit such things to occur.

For example, if a drunken driver hits and kills a child, this does not mean that God willed the death of that child. God did uphold the freedom of the drunken driver to imbibe and intoxicating amount of alcohol. God also permitted the laws of nature to remain constant: When the bloodstream reaches a certain level of alcohol, the human brain becomes intoxicated and its reasoning abilities and reaction times are impaired; hard objects (i.e. the automobile) destroy more malleable objects (i.e. the child). A murderer may discharge a bullet from a gun and the trajectory of the bullet will abide by the usual factors of gravity and resistance. If the bullet strikes a person it can penetrate the body and inflict injury or even death. God does not always suspend the natural laws. Not everything that happens pleases God. This is the awful freedom that God grants to human beings.

It is a limited freedom, however. We can declare independence from God, but we cannot really live free from God or from natural laws. It is sufficient freedom within the limitations of finitude. Finitude means limitations. We are bound by space, time, causality, and substance. For example, we cannot ultimately escape our own death, or the need for food, water, and air to sustain our lives. We cannot abuse others and have a harmonious life here on earth. Whereas God permits sufficient freedom, yet there are boundaries to that freedom. We are free to love or to hate. But hate has consequences. We cannot hate and then enjoy the peaceful harmony of love. Sin begets consequences that serve to chasten sin. The punishment for sin is more sin. In this way God upholds the order of the eternal plan.

Now someone may raise several questions like, “Why did god create creatures endowed with such awful freedom and permit them to use that freedom destructively?”; “Could not god have created a perfect world wherein there is no sin, no pain, and no disobedience?” Such questions cannot be answered as we are unable, by our finite minds, to penetrate into God’s infinite mind.   I suppose God could have created a very different universe. Perhaps God has. After all, how do we know what God hasn’t already created all kinds of universes existing simultaneously in different dimensions! But the one we experience is all we know, or can know presently. Apparently, God thought this measure of human freedom worth the risk. We would be foolish to say that our ideas about God’s world and human freedom are better than God’s own ideas. Our very reasoning abilities come from God, who is the Supreme Mind. Some things we simple accept as given and trust the Creator’s plan. We may imagine a world without pain, suffering, and death.   We may long for a world where injustice cruelty and oppression have been abolished. In fact, that is exactly what God has promised!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more death, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”. (Rev. 21:1-4)

We are not always able to understand the permissible will of God. ‘We know only in part and we prophesy only in part…For now we see a mirror, dimly… ’(1 Cor.13:9, 12). Our understanding is fragmentary and partial. However, we can with confidence resist those things which contradict the eternal will of God. Any act that is destructive, unloving, or harmful we refuse to accept. Also, though we do not see and understand all, faith still clings to God and acknowledges that what we have seen and have understood teaches us to trust the goodness of God through all of life’s dark alleys. God is present in the darkness just as much as in the light. The eternal, providential, and permissive will of God are not three separate wills of God.   They are interrelated. We may not be able to see the relation, but God sees the big picture. We can only make out a faint outline with scramble threads. But we trust that the Creator has this beautiful embroidery in the making.   We are part of that grand design. And that brings us to our discussion on the specific will of God, known also as Divine Guidance.

4. The personal or specific will of God refers to God’s intention concerning each person’s own life. Is God calling you to do some specific task? God called Paul to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. But God called peter to preach to the Jews. God calls and equips persons to fulfill particular tasks. When we received baptism as Christians, we were enrolled in God’s mission in this world. God has a plan for each one of us. God knows us by name, calls us by name, and will lead and guide us into the fulfilling of the Divine purpose. When people hear ‘the will of God’ most think about how God’s purposes are personalized in their lives. Usually a person faces a crisis demanding an answer. They ask questions like “What does God want me to do?” It may be concerning the choice of a marriage partner, a decision about which college to apply, or what job we should take. This aspect of the will of God brings us to the question of Divine guidance. How does god communicate specific directions for our lives?

Three Elements of Guidance

1. Commitment and trust: Discernment of God’s guidance in our lives begins when we commit ourselves to the LORD. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 1:7). Without our deciding to know and do God’s will, discernment of the specific command of God is impossible. God discloses his will to those who determine to do it. ‘Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act’ (Psalms 37:5).   We commit our lives to God and when we trust God to make the way plain before us. ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths’ (Proverbs 3:5-6). Commitment means personal surrender. This is a matter of the heart. We offer ourselves to God as though we are sacrifice placed on an altar before God. ‘I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1)

2. Prayerful seeking of God’s will: when in prayer we ask God to show us the way and to help us in making decisions we open the door for God to make our path way more clear. (Matthew 6:10; 7:7-12; Colossians 1:9; James 1:5-6). In prayer we open ourselves to God’s guidance. Prayer may be a struggle as we wrestle to align our will with God’s will. Sometimes we pray as Jesus prayed ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42). When we struggle in prayer we can rest assured that God is also at work in us. Paul mentions this struggle when he writes “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (phil. 2:12-13). God already works in us causing us to want to do the Divine will. God initiates the process.

3. Acting in faith: We commit our lives to God and seek prayerfully to know the will of God. Then we act. This means we obey. We practice active obedience. Jesus taught ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock’ (Matt. 7:24). Conversely, ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21). God’s will demands action; it insists that outside and inside cohere.

Six Usual Means by Which We Come to Know God’s Will

1. The clear witness of Holy Scripture: The Bible contains many clear commands that reveal the will of God. The Ten Commandments disclose the will of God. The commandments to love God and love neighbor tell us the will of God. Paul writes in the First Letter to the Thessalonians:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; That each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things . . . . . . . (1. Thess. 4:3-6)

From Holy Scripture we learn that God wills us to believe in Jesus:

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (John 6:28-29).

From Holy Scripture we learn that normal family life fulfills God’s will. Children are to honor and obey their parents. Parents are to bring their children up in the Faith:

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20). Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)

Scripture also witnesses that God generally upholds the state and that Christians should submit willingly to the just demands of the state. God’s will includes good social order that benefits the community. Christians live in this world and must support God’s means of maintaining the relative peace and security within nations and between nations.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment . . . for he is God’s servant for your good; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. For this same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are the ministers of God. (Rom. 13:1-2, 4, 6) Christians are to pray for the governing authorities that they do their work well and maintain relative peace.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and for all in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life godly and respectful in every way. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

Paul instructs Christians to live joyfully, prayerfully, and in an attitude of gratitude ‘. . . for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Scripture gives us clear guidance in many matters. As we meditate on scripture and ‘hide the word in our hearts’ we learn about God and what God wills. The Bible is the first and greatest source for discovering the will of God.

Scripture does offer guidance, but we should avoid using the Bible as though it is a daily horoscope. Opening the Bible and pointing randomly to a verse for guidance is a misuse of Scripture. Daily reflection and meditation on Scripture, however, allows the Holy Spirit to apply the Bible’s message to our hearts. The Bible doesn’t often give direct guidance or tell us what to do in a specific circumstance.

2. Use common sense: God wills Christians to use their common sense. God does not require people to sacrifice their intellect or to check out their brains. We discern the will of God in everyday life often by simply using common sense. The book of Proverbs contains collections of wise sayings drawn from everyday observable life. Most of the wisdom sayings in Proverbs are available to plain old common sense. The book of Proverbs repeatedly admonishes the readers to avoid foolishness and choose wisdom. The writer of Proverbs draws from common observable behavior to counsel against laziness, procrastination, love of ease, adultery, anger, vengeance, entering unwise business deals, and rash speech. The Proverbs encourage us to exercise good judgment in settling disputes, to keep careful watch over our words, and to act prudently when dealing with wealth. The Proverbs instruct us to apply loving and consistent discipline to children and youth, and it counsels children of the necessity heeding their parents’ wisdom and instruction. This is all done within the framework of understanding life lived under God. God does not suspend common sense, but rather God encourages us to use our heads in making good judgments. This is all part of the Great Commandments to ‘ . . . love the Lord your God with all of your mind, heart, soul, and strength.’

3. Draw wisdom and advice from wise counsel: Another means by which God offers direction for our lives is through asking the advice of persons who are wise and experienced in life. God often speaks to us through other people offering advice and insight into life.

  • Where there is no guidance, a people fall; but in the abundance of counselors, there is safety. (Prov. 11:14)
  • Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisors they succeed. (Prob. 15:22)
  • Listen to advise and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future. (Prov. 19:20)
  • Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. (Prov. 20:18)

In seeking God’s will for our lives whom should we consult?

A. Parents

God gives parents the special responsibility to guide their children towards maturity. The family provides a place where a community of love can flourish and freedom and responsibility can be balanced in loving, non-violent ways. Loving discipline is administered. God commissions fathers and mothers to teach their children in God’s ways. Wise parents understand this awesome calling. Wise children heed the discipline.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching; for they are a garland for your head, and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1:8 see also Prov. 4:1; 6:20)

B. pastors and mature Christians (see 1 Kings 12:6-12)

Along with parents God appoints special people in our lives. They influence us and provide examples to help guide us. Hopefully, pastors exhibit exemplary Christian lives and are sources of wisdom. Within the community of faith we also find mature Christians from whose wealth of experience we may draw wisdom and insight. God surrounds us with these special “incognito angels” to offer us advice and guidance.

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Peter 5:5)

C. Persons with expertise in specific fields (e.g. financial advisors, medical professionals, legal experts, guidance counselors, etc.) God works through people who make it their business and profession to understand a field through both study and experience. We would be foolish to disregard their counsel. (see Exodus 31:1-6; 35:30-36:1)

This is not an exhaustive list of persons from whom we can seek counsel. But parents, pastors, mature Christians, and persons with expertise all can be valuable counselors as we seek to discern God’s will.

A caution is in order here. Often, when seeking advice, we are tempted to look for someone to tell us exactly what we ought to do. Sometimes we keep looking until someone tells us what we already want to do. However, we must be aware that no one can pronounce the absolute will of God for our lives. This must be discerned through our personal encounter with God and our own wrestling with God’s will for our lives. God does not relieve us from responsibility of asking, seeking, and knocking as we struggle to discern God’s will. The process of seeking the will of God is valuable because it provides the occasions in which our faith and discernment can grow. A person who assumes that he or she can pronounce the specific will of God for our lives is a dangerous person. Seek advice, but do not seek easy solutions that relieve you of responsibility of making decisions.

4. Be attuned to impressions, spiritual intuitions, dreams, and visions: God can speak in a still, small voice to our inner person, our spirit. Though God can speak audibly, more usually God gently communicates through the Holy Spirit to the human heart through impressions. (e.g. Simeon in Luke 2:25-27; Philip Acts 8:29; Paul while deciding about his mission Acts 16:6-10). God also uses dreams and visions to communicate (Joseph in Matt. 2:13, 19-22; Peter in Acts 10:9-20; Paul in Acts 16:9). Do not seek dreams or visions. God does not promise to answer in that way. God can use them but seems to do so only on rare occasions. We must also distinguish between God’s Spirit and our own warm imagination. Not every feeling indicates God speaking to us; not every dream comes from God.

5. Circumstances can indicate open and closed doors: Sometimes God uses circumstances to direct our lives. Open doors of opportunity can mean that God wishes us to seize the occasion (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). On the other hand, sometimes a closed door means that God is redirecting our lives. There is no use of banging our heads against a closed door! God can open and close the doors (Rev. 3:8) and this means steer us in the way we should go.

6. Our own desires: Often God places wholesome desires in our hearts. What we want is not always contrary to what God wills. God uses our natural desires also to guide us. For example, if we are talented in and find fulfillment in doing art, we may assume that God has gifted us in that field and is directing us to purse it. One way of thinking about vocation is this: We are probably doing the will of God when we meet the deepest human needs and at the same time experience our most profound fulfillment.

Sometimes God’s will and our own desires coincide beautifully. But in other times what we want and what God wills are at some distance. Sometimes our desires interfere with God’s will. Not every desire in our hearts can or should be fulfilled. Joseph fulfilled the will of God through much hardship and suffering. Jesus fulfilled the will of God by enduring the cross. God may allow us to suffer (1 Peter 3:17). This is never pleasant. But if and when we suffer, we know that God is with us to sustain us and that God is testing our faith so that it may be like purified gold (1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). We should not seek suffering, but if and when we do encounter hardship in our lives we can rest assured that God remains with us.

Action: Doing the Will of God

1. God desires us to act. If we sit still there will be little chance of God directing our lives. God is able to turn us and guide us as we actively obey. We plan, make choices and act! We do what we know to do, even if that means that we act with some lingering doubts and uncertainty. Sin is not in the uncertainty. Sin is in the inactivity. Sin is in refusal to do anything until we are certain. If we wait until we are certain, then we may be paralyzed and do nothing at all. Do not sit idle. Do what you know to do and God will do the rest. God looks at the heart and our willingness to obey. God knows our limitations and our uncertainty. God understands our struggle and all of our weaknesses.

  • A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps (Prob. 16:9)
  • Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established (Prov. 19:21)
  • Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Prob. 21:2)
  • As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:13-14)

2. Doing the will of God involves risk. We act in spite of uncertainty and doubt. Faith implies risk. We naturally fear failure, suffering, or opposition. Faith includes the courage to act in spite of fear. Faith means the refusal to allow fear to paralyze us. If we play it safe and remain in inaction and inertia, we will certainly meet with God’s disapproval (see Matt. 25:14-30 The Parable of the Buried Talent).

3. The will of God often remains unclear until we enter in the way of obedience and action. When we are in motion God can guide us. In some instances, God may wish us to make up our own minds about a matter (see Acts 16:6-10; 1 Cor. 7:36-40; 16:12). God is responsive to our wishes and delights in our mature decisions. God delights in our making good judgments. We arrive at many, if not most of our decisions, by simply prayerfully submitting our way to God and following common sense and good advice (see James 4:13-17).

4. If God wishes to redirect our pathway God is able to make that clear to us. Sometimes God may give us impressions, or hunches. A little inner voice gets our attention and causes us to question the wisdom of our direction. Occasionally, God may warn us in a dream. Now and then our desires may change. At times we may receive good advice from someone we respect. We can always rest content and trust that God’s plan is always for our good (Rom 8:28).

5. A mistake is not irremediable. Sometimes we may feel paralyzed to act for fear of making a mistake. That fear keeps us from any positive action. We stand timidly before an opportunity delaying to exert action or make a decision. This fear prevents us from doing God’s will. Just remember: God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and of self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7).

Now and then we may make a wrong decision. We may find that we have done something unwise. We may realize that we have acted contrary to God’s intentions. In such a case God does not abandon us. Like a caring parent, God patiently corrects and disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:4-12; Proverbs 3:11-12).

The many decisions we make, right or wrong, are all part of the experience of life in which  we gain wisdom and grow in character. God uses our bad decisions, our misguided directions, even our sins, to perfect holiness in us. God is far more interested in our success than we are. When we discover that we have made a bad decision, the point is not to wallow in remorse. Don’t let guilt throw you into despair. Ask God to forgive and show you the steps of correction. Then get up and go on! Leave your past with God and start over fresh.

The Lord’s . . . compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23).

God loves you.

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

God wills your wellbeing

God’s will is always for your good.

God wills to guide you.

God may lead you into suffering, but God will never leave nor abandon you.

God is the Good Shepherd who leads you into green pastures and besides still waters.

God will provide everything you need to fulfill his will.

God is too powerful to fail.

God is too wise to make a mistake.

God loves us too much to hurt us.

5 Comments

  1. DCR says:

    “God loves us too much to hurt us.” I believe that God exists and I am a born again Christian. However, one question has often come to my mind that is somewhat troublesome. You may have come across this question and know a better answer than I have heard from various ministers, including the well read and very intelligent Charles Colson.

    Question: Why did God choose to create man knowing that man would make wrong choices, allowing sin to enter the world, causing billions of people to spend eternity in hell. If I made this choice–wanting to create an entire system– where I would be worshipped, but knew in advance that my choice would lead to suffering and eternal punishment of billions, you would rightly refer to me as being narcissistic. And yet God, who is omniscient, made this very choice. You may reason that God has given man a choice, making it his fault if he spends eternity in hell, and this is true. However, God knew that billions would choose wrong; so being aware of this and choosing to go ahead with creation anyway, how can this be love. Again, if I or you made this decision, it would not be viewed as “love.” If you can shed any light on this, it would be appreciated. DCR

    • Kim Crutchfield Kim Crutchfield says:

      Dear DCR,
      You have raised a most important question and one with which many sincere souls struggle. How can we justify God’s ways if God so constructed the world that human freedom can be abused resulting in God assigning billions of human beings to eternal conscious torments in the flames of hell without remedy? I have found such a construction a stumbling block and a gross contradiction to the nature of God, at least, God’s nature and purposes as revealed in the suffering and death of the Crucified Jew, that Poor Man of Nazareth. For years I tried to hold that view together with God’s love, but frankly cannot do so. The cords snapped for me long ago. Some may opine that God’s ways are higher than our ways. I agree. Yet I find this answer a way to avoid the conflict rather than answering it. J.S. Mill states the stark reality of such a view with forceful clarity when he wrote: Think of a being who would make a Hell—who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention, that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment…Is there any moral enormity which might not be justified by imitation of such a Deity?

      Sobering words, but Christians have justified Crusades, inquisitions, and religious persecutions against unbelievers and even against dissidents among themselves believing that they reflect the holy justice and righteous anger of God. The logic goes something like this: If God can torment eternally, then we may inflict temporal suffering on heretics and infidels. In that way we anticipate God’s eternal and future judgment.

      I think they are wrong.

      I find the construction of such a deity unsatisfying and confusing. If such were true, I could be persuaded only to live in servile terror of that Deity, but I would not be drawn to love Him/Her. The threat of eternal conscious torment is so terrible and unthinkable that I cannot get my mind around it. Such would issue from the judgment of a Celestial Tyrant, not a Heavenly Father. All talk about the love of God pales in the terrible light of the eternal threat of unrelieved suffering and eternally fixed destinies. If the Gospel is essentially, God loves you and wants your love; but if you don’t love God back, God will send you into eternal conscious suffering and burn you with fire and brimstone where there is no remedy and no hope of future repentance, then, to me, such a construction belies any positive assertions of the love of God.

      Now I believe in God’s justice. God’s wrath is an aspect of God’s love. God’s wrath is God’s Holy Love burning against all sin (Karl Barth). Sin is that which is self-destructive and community destroying. Sin is an affront to God. Sin is human injustice. Sin is oppression and domination.

      God moves against sin in all its forms to judge and to redeem those whose lives sin has distorted. Sin is the name of the broken relationship that God seeks to overcome. God seeks reconciliation, healing and restoration to wholeness and fullness of life. God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.

      Your question, however, concerns God’s foreknowledge of the human misuse of freedom and the Divine negative judgment of Hell. I do not hold to a double predestination. I do not believe that God wills by holy decree to pre-assign human beings to two fixed eternal destinies. The elect are saved and the non-elect are eternally damned by God’s own decree. That would be, as Calvin rightly stated, “a horrible decree” (although Calvin held that such a notion reflects the purpose of God and the Divine glory). I cannot follow his Biblicism here. I believe God’s nature and purpose is most clearly revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. I believe God wills the salvation of every creature and that God is not willing that any perish but that all come to repentance. I also believe that some may indeed prove to be rebels and hold-outs against God’s love to the very end. I grant this possibility. Some will effectively resist God’s love, God’s freedom, and the Divine gracious offer of healing and reconciliation. Divine Love is not coercive. God will not force anyone to repent and welcome grace. Love is a self-offering response performed in freedom, not coercion. The Elder wrote, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4:18 NRSV

      I wanted to make this response as a starting point for reflection on your question and others that you must surely have. I realize that this more confessional answer is not adequate and must beg the questions. But I offer it offered as a beginning of a dialog. Thank you for your question. Grace and peace, Kim

    • Kim Crutchfield Kim Crutchfield says:

      Dear DCR,
      You have asked some very good questions. I can see that you are deeply perplexed by how the suffering and evil in the world impact our view of God as loving. How does God’s love and justice meet? And what of the whole notion of Hell? I ask your permission to move this dialog to my Theological Forum. If you give me the permission I can take our dialog and open a new topic on the forum. Is that OK with you?

      I have often puzzled over the same questions myself. I have come to believe that most of the problem lay in our understanding of the central core of what the Christian religion is all about. In one construction, (the one promoted most in the United States) views God as concerned about the afterlife and getting souls “saved” to go to heaven after they die. The focus is on what our eternal destiny is. God’s chief project is getting people to believe the right things so that they can enjoy bliss in a heavenly place in fellowship with God. The Church sets its mission to get everyone to accept Christ and become a Christian so that they can share in this blissful destiny. Evangelism is reduced to “soul winning”, presenting the Gospel so that people can accept Jesus into their hearts and be saved. The unbelievers, those who never heard the Gospel, those who reject the Gospel, and those who believe the wrong things will all end up in an unimaginably bad place destined for eternal torture. Devotees of other faiths are all doomed to the eternal flames. There will be no remedy for them. That is the construction to which I ascribed for many years. It was what I was taught as a child. If that construction is the way it really is, then I would find it difficult to see how God is loving. God would be the Heavenly Narcissist, a Divine Tyrant before whom we cower in fear, not the One we can easily love. God comes off as a threatening malevolent force. Salvation is merely fire insurance to guarantee that we escape hell. We Americans are especially blessed to be so “Christian” a nation, not like the poor Buddhists in China, Hindus in India or the benighted Muslims in the Middle East. Most of them are doomed due to no fault of their own having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. All these will, according to this construction, will spend eternity roasting in the lake of fire.

      However, I don’t see that construction as accurate or true. I see it as repugnant to the scope of scripture and the God revealed by Jesus Christ. It impugned the character of God.

      The Gospel, as demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth, focuses much more on this life, how we treat our fellow human beings, especially the weak, broken and vulnerable. Jesus bears special solidarity with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the destitute, foreigners in a strange land, prisoners and the sick. (Matthew 25) The Gospel project is not so much to get to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth, that is, to live under the Lordship of Christ in the reign of God. That means we live as though God is king, not money, the political state, self, material possessions, popularity, etc. We pray that God’s kingdom come (to earth) and that God’s will be done on earth “…as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ central preaching concerned this kingdom, or the reign of God. It is here and it is near. It is here already in its reality (Christ reigns) but not yet in its fulfillment. It is here now in its truth, but not its completion. The kingdom is best demonstrated by compassion. To be like God is to practice deep compassion. Compassion is what makes us complete or to use the KJV word, “perfect”. Thus we are Godly.

      God judges sin, of course. God is not soft on sin. God is not indulgent or one who simply winks at sin. God hates injustice, lies, betrayals, murder, greed, cowardice, and hate. These are what make hell on earth. God’s wrath is God’s Holy Love burning against sin.

      The Son of God incarnated the Divine Love in a human life who faced head on these very aberrations in human life. We know what the outcome was. The Cross is God’s judgment on religion gone awry and on the political order in service of injustice. Religion, intended to provide a channel to the Divine often serves as an insulator from God. Politics is intended by God to be helpful in regulating a community around the practice of justice. But in service to sin, it becomes a perpetrator of injustice and oppression. The cross threw Jesus under the juggernaut of religion and politics and he was crushed. He exposed the evil in the human heart that took the form of principalities and powers over which he must triumph. The resurrection was the crowning moment in which God vindicated Jesus and exalted him as Lord and Christ. Sin, injustice, cowardice, jealousy, hate, oppression, betrayal, false accusation, did not have the last word.

      The crucifixion of Jesus reveals the horror of injustice, greed, jealousy and hate. Yet Jesus submitted to this world’s skewed judgment and bore the brunt of solidarity with victims of injustice. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus.

      To believe in Jesus is to accept God’s judgment on the world and yet to love the world as God so loved the world. Faith in Jesus yields freedom from fear of God’s negative judgment. It is to be translated from death to life. It is to experience, to use the phrase from John’s Gospel, “Eternal Life”. Eternal life is not so much about longevity of time, but a quality of Divine-Human communion that even death cannot interrupt.

      Hell then is waste, the final judgment known only to God that someone successfully resisted God’s love to the very end. Jesus spoke of hell but did so using the Greek word Gehenna. Gehenna was the city dump located outside of Jerusalem. The threat of hell means that one’s life found total resistance to God and closed the doors to every occasion of compassion. I believe we can resist God and obstinately refuse Divine love and grace. If you want a very powerful view of hell I recommend C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. I also recommend a very good little book called, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue by Edward William Fudge, Robert A. Peterson. I also would urge you to read Brian McLaren’s, The Last Word and the Word After That and Rob Bell’s, Love Wins. I hope we can continue this dialog. Blessings, Kim

  2. Diane says:

    When this subject comes up it makes me think of Paul’s statement, “can the pot say to the potter why have you made me this way?” Paul appears to be saying that God created people for destruction in order to fulfill His plan and purpose. If so, this flies in the face of what most would refer to as a loving nature in anyone holding this view– me, you, or God. But, again, it appears as if Paul himself holds this viewpoint. Perplexing.

    DR.

    • Kim Crutchfield Kim Crutchfield says:

      Diane, I hear you. You have raised a very important question. I have puzzled over this myself and have shared the same perplexity with you. I am not all that certain or convinced of the consistency or clarity of the Apostle’s thought on this matter. When he cuts off the dialog by making a fiat appeal to the potter’s power over the clay to do whatever he/she wants, it leaves me a bit cold. Should the Apostle advocate the concept that God simply makes millions of human beings to condemn in an eternal torment for the Divine pleasure (as some people apparently interpret Paul), well, that would seriously undermines our confidence in the love of this being. We may be coerced by fear to bow mute before a Heavenly Tyrant, but the ability to willingly give one’s heart and love to such an arbitrary being would escape most people.

      However, I don’t want to dismiss the Apostle’s logic too quickly. I’d rather err on the side of assuming that we have not followed him well than to assume that he really believed in such a schizophrenic being.

      The same Apostle gave us those magnificent passages like Romans 8:28-39 glorying in the magnificent and invincible love of God. He is convinced that God is loving and demonstrates the depth of the Divine love through the death of Christ for us “when we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:6-11). The ode to love found in 1 Corinthians 13 remains unsurpassed in ancient literature as a testament to the character of the love of God revealed in Christ and the model for Christian existence. So…how can we make sense of Paul’s ‘predestinarian’ and apparently ‘double destiny’ passages in Romans 9-11?

      First, it may be helpful to place Romans 9-11 in a broader theological context. As I read those often difficult and obscure passages, it seems to me that Paul is not concerned (as we so often are) with the destiny of individual souls. Paul concerns himself with the fate of Israel, the “chosen people”, his kinsman and the sock from which Christ was born. He wrestles with a view of history with this burning question in mind: How can it be that the chosen people, Israel, the covenant people, failed to acknowledge Jesus as their Messianic King, while the Gentiles, fallen away and ignorant of the life of God were accepting Jesus?

      His answer, while sometimes opaque to us seems to indicate that God is working on a bigger plan that embraces all creation, not individual souls that will go to a heaven (or a hell) in the sky after they die. Even back in Romans 8 Paul hints that the Divine plan embraces all creation. He writes: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21 emphasis mine)

      It appears that Paul wrestles with how this cosmic and universal plan takes form through the vicissitudes of history. As best I can follow his logic, God elected and called Israel, not to special privilege, but to special service. God’s promises were irrevocable. Israel as a whole did not obey and remained obstinate and unfaithful. They became a parable of religion gone awry, although few (a remnant) did prove faithful. God’s big plan included the Gentiles (in fact Israel was supposed to be a “light to the Gentiles”). However, Israel interpreted their special status as a call for an ever-increasing nationalism and religious provincialism. We can see that attitude directly attacked and torpedoed in the little tractate called Jonah in the Hebrew scriptures. (God loves all, even the Assyrians, unlike the nationalist, Jonah!)

      When Jesus came and confronted the religious leaders, priests and rabbis of his day on their attitudes toward the outsiders, the “sinners” and their rigid legalistic interpretation of the Torah, they found him inconvenient to their power and chose to destroy him. They revealed their real distance from the God of the Torah in putting Jesus, the Servant of the LORD (see Isaiah 52-53) to death unjustly. However, the love of God triumphed through this death. In raising Jesus from the dead God vindicated the Righteous One, and condemned the judgment of the religious and political leaders against him. The resurrection of Jesus declares that violence, murder, lies, injustice, hate, betrayal, denial, and cruelty did not have the last word. Life trumped death.

      I believe those thoughts lay behind Paul’s logic in Romans 9-11. Yes, history is messy with many twists and turns, but nothing can defeat God’s purposes to reconcile all things to himself through the death/resurrection of Christ. God loves even the currently obstinate Israel who persecuted the church and ostracized Jesus’ followers. God’s purpose cannot be thwarted as Paul argues when he sums up the preceding chapters with these words:

      “As far as the gospel is concerned, they (That is Israel) are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:28-32 emphasis mine).

      God is responsive to historical choices. God’s plans through history may take people through many judgments, hardships and trials, many detours, and wilderness wanderings, yet the purpose of it all is to “show mercy to all.”

      In the closing words of Romans 9-11, Paul simply breaks out in a doxology:
      “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 them?”
      For from him and through him and for him are all things.
      To him be the glory forever! Amen.) (Romans 11:33-36)

      Diane, it seems to me that Paul, for all the difficult and tortuous arguments he lays out in Romans 9-11, comes out on the side of a purposeful, responsive, and all-loving God. I do not believe God is arbitrary, that God loves some people and not others, or that God is secretly cruel and delights in inflicting pain on his/her creatures. Thanks you for taking time to share your comment. Blessings, Kim

Leave a Reply