23 Aug Knowing God and His Will
While the pagan world of its time was groping about in the dark after God, the first words spoken by the God of the Bible are, “Let there be light.” The Bible presents God as an intelligent being, and he is intelligible as well. The Bible is not a mystery book, its message is meant to be read and understood. Even in his unapproachability, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16). “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us (the people of God) and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). We can know God, and therefore his will, because God has revealed them in Scripture, in history and most clearly in his Son. While trying to understand God’s will, let’s begin by discussing what it is not.
- God’s will is not revealed randomly in the Bible: One day, a young person praying for a life partner happened to be reading one of the 85-odd passages in the Bible which mention iron. Around that time, she received a proposal from someone working in an iron and steel plant. Based on the passage she had read, she felt “led” to conclude that God was telling her to marry this young engineer working in the iron and steel plant. They went on to have a long and blessed married life, but to claim God’s guidance from one of those passages is a blatant violation of every principle of Bible interpretation. The Bible always reveals its message in its context. To pluck verses out of context is misinterpretation at best and false teaching at worst.
- God’s will is not mystical, magical or mysterious: Before digital technology took over our lives, every Christian home in India had a “Golden Text Calendar” hanging on its living room wall which was a monthly calendar with a Bible verse for each day. The calendar was well intentioned but many of us have been guilty of having a “verse-for-the-day” approach to knowing God’s will – almost like a daily horoscope. This senseless tradition continues today in the form of daily WhatsApp forwards with Bible verses. God’s will is not presented as a discrete set of verses meant for daily guidance. Verses from the Bible do not mysteriously or magically take on new meaning based on the circumstances we are undergoing.
- God’s will is not neatly packaged: In certain Christian circles, we have been taught that God’s will is either his “perfect will” when circumstances turn out favourably and his “permissive will” when they don’t. The Bible asserts that God is sovereign over all human events – from the epoch-making to the everyday and mundane. Even something as statistically random as the throwing of dice is within the scope of God’s sovereignty (Proverbs 16:33). Even when the worst and unimaginable disaster strikes, it is not because God has passively permitted it. The clear teaching of the Bible is that he has actively caused not all the disasters, there are some which are man made – Amos 3:6, Isaiah 45:7, Lamentations 3:38. Of course, he does not cause these calamities sadistically but with restorative intent (Lamentations 3:31-33, Ezekiel 33:11). God is not anxiously pacing up and down, wringing his hands helplessly, when disaster or tragedy strikes. Nothing is at the periphery of his will.
- God’s will is not a matter of convenience: We love fairy-tale endings even as adults. Take the landmark passage in Genesis 24 as a case study. It is read at almost every engagement ceremony in Christian circles. We love how the chapter ends with the hope that Isaac and Rebekah will live happily thereafter – after all, God’s will so beautifully unfolded in this story. If we read on the following chapters, we can easily see that their marriage was far from perfect. Also, in the overarching context of Genesis, chapter 24 is not meant to be a treatise on finding one’s life partner. God’s will often blooms in the slush and mess of our ordinary lives. When God brings adversity upon us, we should like our Lord at Gethsemane pray “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” Luke 22:42. Remember “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” – Isaiah 53:10.
- It is never human free will versus God’s will: God is sovereign and at the same time, humans have free will and choice. It’s never either God’s will or human free will operating in any given situation, but the Bible emphasizes both fully and equally. Human will and responsibility are real with eternal consequences and at the same time, God’s sovereignty is absolute. There is a mysterious interaction between human free will and God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereign will always prevails over human choices and actions (somehow) without ever violating them.
God’s will cannot be separated from the being and the person of God. We must know him in order to know his will. scriptures reveal the general will of God, not the particular. We derive the specific will of God for our circumstances from the principles and patterns laid out in Scripture. We know God and therefore his will by immersing ourselves in Scripture, by not being “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God” Romans 12:1. John Owen said “If private revelations (extra-biblical dreams, visions, voices from God, etc.) agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary and if they disagree they are false.” I close with the words of the apostle Peter who, instead of boasting in his mountaintop transfiguration experience, considered the revelation of Scripture to be “a more sure word of prophecy” because “the prophecy came not . . . by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to which we will do well to pay attention” (1 Peter 1:19-21).
- Readers are urged to read the chapter on Guidance from John Stott’s “The Contemporary Christian.”
- For a brilliant exposition on the Isaac-Rebekah passage in Genesis 23, please listen to “Covenant Romance first Presbyterian Church (sermonaudio.com)”
Sukumaran works as a senior consultant with Wipro, married to Sharon, a clinical psychologist. They have a teenage daughter, Charis. Both are actively involved with the Koramangala Methodist Church, Bangalore, share a long history with the ministry of UESI.