Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Problem of God's Will

   "For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope." (Jer. 29:11, NASB) These are the words of the prophet of Jeremiah which have lead many Christians astray towards a false view of the future. From this passage, I heard many people claim that God had a personal blueprint of their lives drawn up, and that they were following the blueprint. Yet, this is a  perverted view of the Scriptures. John Calvin, in his Commentary on Jeremiah (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom19.xii.xi.html) makes this commonly held view look ridiculous. He states that  "He therefore says, I know the thoughts which I think towards you Some think that God claims here, as what peculiarly belongs to him, the foreknowledge of future things; but this is foreign to the Prophet’s meaning. There is here, on the contrary, an implied contrast between the certain counsel of God, and the vain imaginations in which the Jews indulged themselves. The same thing is meant when Isaiah says,
“As far as the heavens are from the earth, so far are my thoughts from your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:9)
for they were wont absurdly to measure God by their own ideas. When anything was promised, they reasoned about its validity, and looked on all surrounding circumstances; and thus they consulted only their own brains. Hence God reproved them, and shewed how preposterously they acted, and said, that his thoughts were as remote from their thoughts as heaven is from the earth. So also in this place, though the two parts are not here expressed; the Prophet’s object was no other than to shew, that the Jews ought to have surrendered themselves to God, and not to seek to be so acute as to understand how this or that would be done, but to feel convinced that what God had decreed could not be changed." (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom19.xii.xi.html)

  With Calvin's view in mind, that we are wont to understand God's will, and in doing so, project our thoughts onto Him, and try to change His decrees into our decrees, we must examine more in depth the problem of us trying to comprehend God's Will.

The problem with understanding God's Will for us is that it is so simple. Too simplistic for us to fully grasp. We want something more, something more in depth, something that sounds more in line with our thoughts, our plans, our actions. For, according to St. Augustine, following the will of God is the toughest easy thing we can ever do. In his In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos, "dilige et quod vis fac". Love God and do what you will. It's that easy, yet that hard.

Brunner extrapolates on this, saying: "It is not the will of God that I should "do" something, but He wills that I should love Hi with my whole heart, and in so doing also love my neighbour as myself/" (pg. 223) We want to use the Will of God as instructions, telling us what to do at every turning point and for every decision. Thankfully, and frustratingly, this is not so. The Holy Scripture is not a guidebook to life, it does not tell us the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything Else. ( For that, see Douglas Adam's classic Nihilistic Text, The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) "Love never says what we are to do; it does not the Good Samaritan what he ought to do for the poor man who fell among robbers. All it says is this: Here and now do do everything you ca do for him!" (pg. 225) We are not told how to live our lives in detail. We are told to go out and love both God and neighbor. This is the most basic formulation of God' will. Again, "God does not will "something"; He wants "me for Himself"." (pg. 223) God does not need our actions, but wants our communion with Him. 

This communion, is not a command. For "One who is filled with the love of God does not need to be commanded to love God....The Commandment of Love, since it emphasizes the whole meaning of all the commandments, eliminates itself as commandment. Love can only be present where it is given, not where it is commanded." (pg. 224)  Since we are given Love, we should respond in Love. This is the Christian Faith in essence. Loving God and doing what we will to show and share that love. 


  1. The Essenes would be pissed.

  2. I have nothing to add other than I agree whole heartedly! Keep the thoughts coming Dan!