The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Why doesn’t God always grant requests that are in His will?

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GOD’S GENERAL WILL

As you go along in life, the Holy Spirit educates you about God’s general will. He wants people to love and respect each other. He wants parents to protect and nurture their children. He wants laws to be just. He wants all souls to repent and spend eternity in Heaven.

Being educated about God’s general will gives us confidence in His goodness. We agree that the things He wants sound very pleasant and positive. But when we look at the world around us, we see that many of the things that God says are in His will aren’t happening. Government leaders are corrupt. Laws are crooked. Children are abused. People are cruel to each other. Here is where we should start to suspect that our education on God’s will is not yet complete. But instead of encouraging us to go to the Holy Spirit with our troubling questions, the Church teaches us to take on the role of God’s supervisors and guide Him in fixing a situation that has clearly gotten out of hand. This is when we start praying for Him to soften the heart of our unsaved neighbor, to relocate abused children to better homes, to make prodigal Christians repent, and to replace corrupt leaders with good ones. Because our requests align with the rosy picture of God’s general will, we feel justified in saying we are praying in His will. And if we’re praying in His will, God is supposed to answer us, right? Right. So why doesn’t He? Because the reality is that we’re NOT praying in His will. It turns out that God’s will is far more complex than we realize.

When God lays down moral guidelines and generalities for us to follow, He is not trying to help us anticipate His next move. Instead, He is introducing us to His Character and values by describing what an ideal world would look like. God says He wants a world in which all of His people get along with each other. That’s like you saying, “If I had things my way, there wouldn’t be any starving people in the world—all the food would be equally distributed.” When you make such a claim, we all know you have no way of following through on it. When you talk like this, you’re not trying to tell us what you’re planning to do for the rest of your life, you’re just sharing your personal ideals with us. And since you want something nice, it makes us feel like you have good character. But suppose instead you say, “If I had things my way, everyone would be in chronic pain and starving to death.” Such a claim would make us conclude you had serious issues. If you want nasty things, we aren’t going to trust you or feel safe in your company. It is because God wants us to understand that He is good that He gives us such a rosy picture of the way He would like things to be.

Now where we go off course is by learning the wrong lesson. We think that when God says, “I want the poor to be provided for,” He means, “It’s not My will for anyone to be poor.” Well, yes, it certainly is God’s will for there to be poor people. Just look around: this is God’s world. Everything that is happening in this world is only happening because it’s what God wants. Once we understand this, suddenly things get very complicated and very upsetting because there are a whole lot of evil things happening on God’s watch.

Now if we really think this out, we can tell that we’ve been very badly taught by the Church. First of all, God is not some dot of a human who is powerless to make His fantasies happen. God is God. He is the Almighty Creator. Whenever He wants something, He simply causes it to be. He doesn’t struggle and strain. He doesn’t pine and dream. God is always having His way in this world. So the only way you can cling to the idea that God really doesn’t want suffering in this world is if you reduce God to a Being who is not all-powerful, not in control, and not reigning supremely over all things. You have to turn God into a Creator who is constantly being trumped by His own creations in order to end up with a God who groans in distress over the state of a world which He Himself is sustaining. This is ridiculous theology which completely counters who God says He is. Over and over in the Bible, we find God boasting of how He can so accurately predict the future because HE defines the future. He decides what will happen, when it will happen, and who it will happen to. God emphasizes over and over that He is the ONLY One who knows the future. Demons and angels don’t know it. Humans don’t know it. No one knows or decides what the future will bring except God, and once God decides to do something, no one can stop Him. This is what He teaches us. So if this is true, where is there room for Satan to override God? Where is there room for evil humans to make choices which throw God’s ideal plan off track? There isn’t any. God ALWAYS gets His way down here.

Now if God is always getting His way, why is the world full of child abuse, crime, injustice, suffering and disease? Didn’t God tell us He was good? Indeed He did. So how can a good God be choosing all of this misery? This is where we get into the complexity of God’s will.

THE COMPLEXITY OF GOD’S WILL

When God says that He wants every soul to come to Him, He’s telling us an incomplete thought. Everything God says to us is an incomplete thought because there is always so much more that He could say on any given subject. Take salvation. God wants all souls to repent and come to Him. He’d like us all to enjoy the bliss of Heaven. But He also demands reverential submission from us. He is selective about who He will allow in His Heaven. We really confuse ourselves by not remembering how complex God is. He wants many things at the same time. When we oversimplify Him, we end up drawing false conclusions.

Consider the difference between these two statements:

“I love eating hamburgers.”
“I love eating hamburgers, but only the way my brother makes them.”

These two statements lead us to draw very different conclusions about the speaker’s preferences. When we hear the first statement, we come away thinking that the person loves hamburgers of any kind. If you invite this person to dinner, you’d naturally think serving hamburgers was a sure way to please them. But when you give them a chance to finish their thought, the picture changes drastically. Our hamburger lover morphs into a picky eater who only approves of one particular type of burger. If you heard the second statement, you would certainly not serve this person hamburgers at your house because they’ve as much as told you that you’ll fail to impress them. The first statement made them sound very open minded about the topic of burgers. But the more complete second statement reveals they are very closed minded. Do you see how important additional information is?

Now when it comes to knowing God, there is always more to learn—there is always more that He hasn’t told us yet. This means we must be cautious about drawing conclusions about His preferences. We can’t judge too hastily. When God does something that upsets and confuses us, we need to give Him a chance to tell us more information before we form wrong judgments about Him. For example, many Christians believe God would say:

“I don’t enjoy seeing My own creations suffer.”

And once we think this is a complete thought, we rush to conclude that any kind of suffering we observe cannot be in God’s will. But here is where we are wrong, because this statement isn’t at all complete. There are many situations in which God DOES want suffering to happen. Here is an example of more accurate statement:

“I don’t enjoy seeing My own creations suffer unless they defy Me for too long on earth. Then I delight in torturing them in Hell for all of eternity.”

Wow. A little extra information, and suddenly we have a very different view of God. Yet this view is the far more accurate one for the truth is that people don’t end up in Hell by accident. God created Hell and He intentionally throws people into it. Let’s try another statement:

“I don’t enjoy seeing My own creations suffer, but I will certainly inflict suffering on them in order to draw them closer to Me.”

Now our view of God shifts again. Suddenly we see that suffering really CAN be in His will. We also see that He claims to cause suffering for good reasons—because He wants to help us. Hm. So if this is what God really says about Himself—and it is—then how does that change our view of the child next door who is getting abused by his father? Has God forgotten about the child? Is God no longer reigning in that household? No, such conclusions are very wrong. God has not abandoned the boy, nor is He standing back and letting demons and sinful humans rule in His place. He is controlling every aspect of that disturbing situation and He has a GOOD REASON for causing the abuse to take place. Now when we see abuse happening, we want to rush in and fix it. But God doesn’t always want us to stop what He is doing, so He often blocks us. We call the authorities, but they don’t take action. We reach out to offer the boy direct assistance but he ices us. Soon he’s into drugs and then gangs and then he lands in jail. Where is God? Right in the middle of it, directing it all according to His good plan. How are we responding to that good plan? Are we spending every day stressing and praying and walking around with grief in our hearts? Many Christians feel this is the “Christlike” thing to do. But is it? What does such behavior accomplish? While we constantly tell God to stop doing what He’s doing, we’re just rehearsing doubt in His goodness. We’re just telling ourselves that God is dropping the ball and that evil men are triumphing over Him. What will such a focus do to our own relationship with God? We’ll have a slow and steady erosion of faith, peace, and joy. We’ll end up feeling farther away from God instead of closer to Him. It’s a mess. This isn’t the road God wants us to go down. Instead, He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to look at a disturbing situation and say, “God, I know You know what You’re doing. I’m available to serve You in any way You want. If there’s some way I can be a positive influence in all this, I know You’ll show me. Otherwise, help me to trust in Your goodness.” This is a far more beneficial way to respond to God causing bad things to happen in this world. Here we are practicing trust in God’s Character, and we’re submitting to His Authority. We’re embracing our role as His servants instead of constantly criticizing and nagging Him. This second option is far more honoring to God.

God’s will is a very complicated subject. He is always accomplishing many agendas at once and He never lets us in on the whole picture because we would find it all much too overwhelming. We need to realize that when God talks about His will in the Bible, He is always making incomplete statements—only telling us partial truths that give us only one piece of the picture (see The Complexity of God’s Will). So when we make a request that we think is in God’s will but then He says “no”, the reason is that we have misinterpreted what God’s will is in that particular situation. It’s very easy to do this, especially when we’ve got our minds filled with bad teaching. It takes time to really grasp that trying to anticipate what God wants in a particular situation is, well, impossible. God is constantly surprising us. He’s constantly doing the unexpected, changing course, breaking well-established patterns. In the Bible we even find examples of Him breaking His own Laws and reneging on His own promises. God is wild. He has preserved records for us so that we can learn this early on and be saved all kinds of confusion and strife. Anticipating God just isn’t a goal we should be aiming for. We must learn to let go of trying to predict Him, and once we can’t predict Him, there’s no point in trying to “name and claim” certain outcomes. We must be content to trust in His goodness while allowing for Him to completely throw us for a loop with some wild change of course.

So then, if we ask for something in God’s will, can we know that we will have it? Absolutely. But once we take an honest look at how wild and unpredictable God is, we realize that we can’t get specific about trying to define God’s will. We have to keep our language very broad and general. “Lord, have Your total way in my life. Make me pleasing in Your sight. Make me all that You want me to be.” What exactly will these things look like? No one can say, but if we ask for these things, we can KNOW that God will give them to us—we’ll just need His help recognizing when He does. But so what? At the end of this life, all that will matter is that God is pleased with us. We’re not going to care about the specifics, we’re just going to want that bottom line of “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Any road that takes us there is the road that we want to be on, and God tells us that if we ask for Him to make us pleasing in His sight, He will do it. If we have that, do we need to spend time worrying about what God is or isn’t doing in other people’s lives? No, we don’t. We need some way of knowing that we can personally succeed with God, and He is the only One who can give us that assurance. As for what He’s doing with everyone else, we have to let go of our desire to understand. We aren’t going to understand. God isn’t going to tell us why He let the neighbor’s child get hit by a car or why our friend was the one who He let terrorists kill. But just because God isn’t explaining His reasons to us doesn’t mean He doesn’t have any. There are ALWAYS reasons, but God works with each of us on an individual basis. Your own life is the one that God will offer you the most explanations about (although He still won’t explain everything). He isn’t going to explain the intricacies of His plans for everyone else because it isn’t your business and He doesn’t want you trying to carry the burden of such knowledge. It’s too much for you. You need to just stay focused on doing you and God.

Today the Church teaches Christians that they’re supposed to go through life weighed down and worn out by other people’s worries. No, you’re really not. God doesn’t want you to spend your life praying for other people. He is taking care of all of them, and He’s doing a far better job than you could imagine. You need to stay focused on Him and just concern yourself with your own walk. In the end God isn’t going to be praising you for how often you doubted His Character and criticized His decisions. He is going to be rewarding you for how well you honored Him in your heart. We honor God by revering Him, trusting Him, submitting to Him, and embracing our dependency on Him.

FURTHER READING:
Why did God create sin?
Lifting Each Other Up in Prayer
Praying for the Sick
Knowing without Understanding
The Right Focus in Life According to Christ

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