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The topic of God’s will is far more complex than it seems at first glance. We can make the statement “God always gets what He wants,” and this statement is absolutely true. But when it comes to defining what God wants, we rely on verbal statements from God which we then view as comprehensive explanations of His will. This is where we completely go astray, for God’s agenda is far too complex to be summarized by simple statements.
Whenever we find God declaring His will in the Bible, what He’s really doing is communicating His heart to us. Not realizing this, we tend to interpret these statements as hard facts about what God really wants to happen in the human realm. When those things don’t happen, we find ourselves forced to conclude that God didn’t get His way after all. Suddenly our all-powerful King seems less than all-powerful, and this doesn’t sit well with us. It shouldn’t, because it isn’t true. God ALWAYS accomplishes His own will. Whenever it doesn’t seem like it to us, it is because we have misinterpreted what God’s will is. God helps us into many of these misinterpretations by intentionally not spelling out His will to us. Why does He keep us in the dark? Because our Sovereign King has no desire to fully reveal Himself to the creatures He makes. He only gives us glimpses and then tells us that is enough. We are never invited behind the scenes to see all of reality from the Creator’s perspective. Even if we were, we would find it to be a terrifying experience—far too overwhelming to be edifying, for we are not designed with anywhere near God’s level of cognitive skills. While we marvel over how He can possibly hear all of our prayers at once, He doesn’t try to explain it to us. He just smiles at our wonder and assures us that with Him, all things are possible.
As we look through the Bible, we find some stellar examples of God’s will being expressed in a limited form. Most famous perhaps is Jesus’ prayer for unity among future Christians: “…that they may be one just as We are one…perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them…” (Jn. 17:22-23).
All we need to do to get ourselves in a minor theological crisis is read this prayer—spoken by our perfect, flawless God—and then look around at the bickering mess that is Christendom. Is God getting His total way in the Church today? If we interpret Jesus’ prayer to be a complete expression of that will, then no, He obviously isn’t. And yet the fact remains that God ALWAYS gets EVERYTHING that He wants. If this is true, then what are we to make of this prayer? We must stop viewing it as a complete expression of God’s will, for that is not what it is.
When He said these words, Jesus was in no way trying to tell us how God hoped the future works out. God doesn’t “hope” for anything—when He wants something, He makes it happen. There is simply no suspense or surprise in God’s reality. He knows everything and controls everything. Our human brains can’t begin to compute this, for we know and control next to nothing. An education on God’s Creator perspective is more than we can handle, plus it’s beyond the scope of what we need to know in order to fulfill the function God created us for, which is to relate to Him. Since we were created to commune with God, not assist Him in operating the universe, then we don’t need to know the mechanics of how He does His God thing. All we need to know is who He is—His Character and values. These are the things which God expresses to us whenever He launches into a description of His will.
When Jesus prayed for unity, what He was really doing is teaching us about the Character of God. God values peace and harmony. Between Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, there is a beautiful sense of unity and alignment. Because He likes these things, God has designed us humans to feel blessed when unity is occurring. He wants us to experience these things, and we will—but while we are on earth, we’ll only experience them in a very limited way.
The Church will never be perfectly unified on earth because God doesn’t want it to be. It turns out that discord and infighting works much better for furthering His agenda, so He intentionally creates friction between us by causing our personalities to clash, and by withholding illumination from us. How different life would be if someone shared an insight from God and everyone else instantly had their minds opened to see the truth of that insight. It would be a very simple thing for God to make this happen, yet instead He intentionally dulls our minds and blocks us from all learning at the same pace. How many times have you found some Christian’s comment very offensive until years later when God finally opened your eyes to see the truth of what they’d said? Your late arrival to the party doesn’t do that Christian any good. At the time, you were probably rude to them. You maybe even attacked them and accused them of promoting a deception from Satan. But years down the line when God finally opens your mind, you see that they were right and you regret that you were so hostile in your ignorance. This happens between Christians all the time. Go to any church and you’ll find people who haven’t yet learned things that God has already taught you, and others who understand the answers to questions you’re still asking. How can we possibly get along when we are constantly being divided over essential doctrines? Not all differences can be easily swept under the rug of patient tolerance. Many things massively change the way we preach and teach. The Church splinters into a thousand fragments, then some group of fragments feels grieved by all the division and they try to come together in their own little cluster. Differences are overcome for a while, only to rise up again later and re-divide. This is not an indication that man’s will is overriding God’s. On the contrary: He is the only One who controls our rate of learning. Why do we desire unity in our hearts? Because God desires unity. But when He actually wants that unity to occur on a large scale is something we’ve misunderstood because we’ve misinterpreted Jesus’ comment.
While Jesus’ prayer gets a lot of attention, the Bible is actually filled with God making statements that imply His will is not happening on earth. In Jeremiah 3:7 we find Yahweh saying: “I said to Myself, ‘Israel will come back to Me after she does this evil,’ but she didn’t come back.”
If we take this statement literally, then we must conclude that Yahweh is a God of limited knowledge who guessed wrong about the choices His people would make. And if Yahweh’s that bad at knowing the future, then His prophecies aren’t worth a hill of beans. And yet we find that this is not true—God has proven time and time again that He knows the end from the beginning. So once again we must refrain from assuming that God is telling us the full scope of His will and instead realize He is just educating us on His Character. God is loyal, and He wants a people who are loyal to Him. But again, “wants” is a relative term. God doesn’t want Israel’s loyalty bad enough to make the Jews a bunch of worshiping automatons. He only wants loyalty from certain individuals under certain conditions.
In 1 Samuel 15:11, Yahweh says to the prophet Samuel: “I am sorry I made Saul king, because he has stopped following Me and has not obeyed My commands.” So should we take this to mean that God really regretted something He had done? Does God make mistakes? Does He blunder? No, He does not. God is not describing the mechanics of how He works in this statement, He is communicating His Character. God values loyalty and He emotionally engages with human beings. He used Saul to showcase this fact to all of us. Of course God knew that Saul would reject Him from the beginning, yet this is what made him so desirable as Israel’s first king. First God used Saul to show how He responds to disobedience, then He used David to show how He responds to obedience. These two men end up showcasing two options that God places in front of all of us.
We each decide in life whether to reject God or to align with Him. God plays out His relationships with Saul and David in a public way to show the world that our response to God affects His response to us. Because we can read the stories of Saul and David, the concepts of obedience and rebellion become more fleshed out for us. They become more than just words. Listening to God’s heart as He describes His preferences with human beings educates us about who God is. It makes us feel like we know Him personally—that He’s not just an obscure power who occasionally shakes the ground and rumbles some thunder. Because God wants us to feel like we are personally communing with Him, He tells us volumes about His heart. Because He has no desire for us to help Him hold the atoms of the universe together, He tells us zilch about the way He operates as God. It’s very important to understand that knowing who God is and understanding the technical mechanics of how He works are two vastly different things. We need to learn to stop listening for technical mechanics in the Bible because God is never giving them to us. Whenever it sounds like He is, He’s really just teaching us about His Character and how to successfully relate to Him.
When God burdened the Jews with a bunch of nitpicky Laws about how to atone for sin using animal blood, He was not describing to them the backstage mechanics of how He deals with sin. What does the death of a lamb on earth have to do with God’s personal holiness? Is He really using the physical blood of a mortal animal to dab away some dirty spot that has appeared on the lens of His heavenly telescope? Of course not. Is it technically true that our holy God can’t bear to be in the presence of sin? Of course not. God is everywhere within His own Creation and no amount of rebellion is going to chase Him out of His own territory. What is Hell if not a cesspool of pure defiance? Yet God is the One sustaining Hell’s existence and actively tormenting the souls who exist there. Again, we can’t turn concepts about God’s Character into technical facts about how He works or a complete expression of His will, otherwise we’ll end up in a confused muddle.
As a soul that God created, God says to you, “I love you.” He says this to communicate His open heart towards you and His desire for you to come to Him. He isn’t saying it as a complete expression of truth. If God were to be more complete, He would say, “I will only love you for a very brief amount of time, unless you submit to My Authority and do as I say. If you don’t, then I will cast you into Hell and hate you for eternity.” If He were to then be even more honest with you, He would say, “At the same time that I love you, I also feel quite indifferent towards you. Your opinion of Me never rattles My universe. I am far too huge to be affected by you in the sense that you think. That is why your attempts to manipulate Me are such a complete joke. Why should I care about the view of a fleck of dust?”
Likewise, when God says, “I want you,” He is not expressing His complete will to you. A more accurate statement would be, “I want you only if you submit to Me to a satisfactory degree. If you fail to do so, then I will delight in rejecting you and making your existence unceasing anguish.” It’s rather overwhelming to hear God’s complete will, isn’t it? That’s why He doesn’t talk this way to us. It’s too much information and in the end we would all feel terribly overwhelmed by His vast complexity. For while “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son,” God really “so loved Himself that He created human beings to add more characters to an ongoing theatrical production that exalts His own magnificence.”
Consider who is really getting the benefit out of this Heaven or Hell set up: certainly not us. The whole concept of dividing humans into two different dimensions of eternity is all about God making a grand statement about how everything He makes must submit to Him. In Heaven, He shows off how generous He is by blessing little flecks who couldn’t begin to be deserving of His kindness. In Hell, He shows off how zealous He is for His own glory. With His “narrow is the road and few find it” speech, Jesus makes it clear that most of us are going to Hell—what does that tell us about where God’s true passions lie? By creating a world of people who He knew would mostly reject Him, God is exponentially increasing the population of a place which primarily exists to make a public statement about how real and utterly terrifying His wrath is.
While God spends much of the Old Testament grieving aloud about the sins of His people, He primarily does this to communicate His heart to us. Through these expressions of grief, He underscores how sincere His love for us is. But we must be careful to never put a period at the end of the statements God says about Himself—only a comma. When it comes to our infinite King, there’s always more to be said on the subject of what He wants. Yes, God wants to have a relationship with us. Yes, He loves us and we like to describe that love as “unconditional.” But try looking up the term “unconditional” in your Bible sometime and see if you can find it. The reality is that God’s love for us is very conditional, and it doesn’t begin to compete with His deep love for Himself.
So then, does God ever not get His way in this world? If we understood how huge God really is, we’d find this question utterly absurd. So when Jesus prays for unity and God expresses surprise at Israel’s refusal to repent and Saul’s lack of loyalty, He is not describing to us limits of His power, knowledge or desires. He is just expressing aspects of an infinitely complex Being using language that finite beings can understand. We humans understand language like “I’m sorry things turned out like this.” We don’t understand a Being who knows what we’re going to do before we even do it, yet He still enjoys living out each day with us. We don’t understand why God chooses to slowly reveal truth to us when He knows that we’re going to pepper Him with a million redundant questions in the meantime. We don’t understand why God finds our thoughts interesting or why He takes such delight in hearing our creature musings. God is an extremely complex, very mysterious alien Being. He can either blast us with His complexity and make us drop to the ground in paralyzed fear, or He can intentionally hide His paradoxical nature behind simple statements that we can understand.
“I want My people to live in unity. I want everyone to be saved. I love humans so much I would die for them. My Church is like My wife. It makes Me very upset when My own creatures defy Me.”
These are statements we can work with. Are they complete descriptions of God? Not hardly, but we don’t need “complete” in order to know God well enough to form richly satisfying soul bonds with Him. If all you’re holding is a tea cup, you don’t need an ocean’s amount of water. God has deemed that it is completely unnecessary to explain to us the technical mechanics of how He holds the universe together and how He actually manages to listen to all of our prayers at once. Instead, He just tells us about His Character, His values, and His desire to relate to us in a personal way. In the end, that’s all we really need to know.