God's Will and Testamentby R.C. SproulTabletalk - August 1993
"It is the will of God."
How easily these words fall from the lips or flow from the pen. How difficult it is to penetrate exactly what they mean. Few concepts in theology generate more confusion than the will of God.
One problem we face is rooted in the multifaceted way in which the term will functions in biblical expressions. The Bible uses the expression "will of God" in various ways.
Augustine once remarked, "In some sense, God wills everything that happens." The immediate question raised by this comment is, In what sense?
Some distinctions made by theologians include the following:
THE DECRETIVE WILL OF GODThis is sometimes described as the sovereign efficacious will, by which God brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. An example of this may be seen in God's work of creation. When God said, "Let there be light," He issued a divine imperative. He exercised His sovereign efficacious will. It was impossible for the light not to appear. The decretive will can have no other effect, no other consequence than what God sovereignly commands.
THE PRECEPTIVE WILL OF GODThe preceptive will of God relates to the revealed commandments of God's published law. When God commands us not to steal, this "decree" does not carry with it the immediate necessity of consequence. Where it was not possible for the light to refuse to shine in creation, it is possible for us to refuse to obey this command.
We may have the power to disobey the precept. We do not have the power to disobey it with impunity. Nor can we annul it by our disregard. His law remains intact whether we obey it or disobey it.
Yet we still observe the acute difference between the light's obedience to God's creative decree and our disobedience to God's moral, preceptive decree. How do we account for this?
A common way to resolve this conundrum is by appeal to a distinction between the sovereign will of God and His permissive will.
This distinction between God's sovereign will and His permissive will is fraught with peril, and it tends to generate untold confusion.
In ordinary language the term permission suggests some sort of positive sanction. To say that God "allows" or "permits" evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He grants approval to it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.
What is usually meant by divine permission is that God simply lets it happen. That is, He does not directly intervene to prevent its happening. Here is where grave danger lurks. Some theologies view this drama as if God were impotent to do anything about human sin. This view makes man sovereign, not God. God is reduced to the role of spectator. This ghastly view is not merely a defective view of theism; it is unvarnished atheism.
Whatever God "permits" He sovereignly and efficaciously wills to permit. If I have a choice to sin or not sin, God also has a choice in the matter. He always has the ability and the authority to stop me from exercising my will.
In the treachery perpetrated by Joseph's brothers, it was said, "You meant it for evil; God meant it for good." God's good will was served through the bad will of Joseph's brothers. Their acts are judged together with their intentions, and they were rightly judged by God to be evil. That God brings good out of evil only underscores the power and the excellence of His sovereign decretive will.
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