“God’s Will” is one of those terms thrown around so frequently and carelessly in Christian culture is has almost lost all meaning. It is often used as a way to try and diminish or belittle the pain of others, “I know you are hurting but this is God’s Will.” It is used as a way to manipulate people, “I don’t think this is God’s Will for your life…” Or as a way to direct shame people for their hardships, “You must doing something against God’s Will…”
Probably the worst use of “God’s Will” are all poor souls who wake up every day feeling they have to figure it out. Many people live with a constant anxiety that all their hardships, struggles, and pain are somehow being caused because they can’t figure out God’s Will, and that, if they could, it would make everything better. What if I told you God’s Will was already simply explained to us?
The Desire for Certainty is a Poison to the Mind
We hate uncertainty. We would all love to wake up each day knowing exactly what will happen so we can prepare for it and not be surprised, shocked, or hurt. We do everything we can to try and forecast the future. As Christians, this desire for certainty can become sanctimoniously masked under the guise of “seeking God’s Will.”
Seeking certainty, however, is a poison to the mind that blocks it from experiencing the world around it. A desire for certainty and a desire for truth cannot live in the heart at the same time. If we seek certainty, we will ignore or dismiss anything that contradicts our assumptions. Certainty makes us stiff, brittle, stagnant, and most of all, arrogant. After all:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)
Anticipation of the Future is Divination, and Declaring it is Blasphemy
You know who else likes figuring out God’s will? Fortune tellers. I know this sounds harsh, but just think about how often the Scriptures warn us about trying to know the future? God isn’t being a kill-joy here, but trying to help us understand that divination is blindness. Never are we expected to know the future, or what the outcome of any situation is.
There is something worse than divination: blasphemy. If you use “God’s Will” as an excuse to push YOUR will on another person, you are blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean we can’t use Scripture, or the things we know to be true, to advise, admonish, or counsel others. But when you cross that line into telling someone what God’s will for their life is, as if you know, you have put yourself directly against God.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James 4:13 (ESV)
This passage in the book of James ends with “if the Lord wills” and is too often misquoted to imply that the things we do will succeed if they are “God’s Will.” This is wrong, because this verse is a direct warning against trying to understand the future at all. The point of this warning is that all we can do is what we know is right, regardless of outcome.
God’s Will is Simple, Knowable to All, and Present
God’s Will as discussed in Scripture has nothing to do with the future. When Paul asks us to discern God’s Will, he is referring to the present, not the future. God has never hidden what is asked from us; it is to love one another, bare one-another’s burdens, and give thanks in all things. Simple, easy, and obvious to all. To “discern” God’s Will is not about being a psychic fortune teller or soothsayer, it is about knowing how to bring the love of Christ into any situation:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (ESV)
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:15-17 (ESV)
As you can clearly see, God has already told us what “God’s Will” is. God’s will is for us to love one another, in all circumstances, as best we can. Everything else is outside of our knowledge.
When Bad Things Happen, They Are Bad. Period.
Finally, can we all stop with the whole “This must be God’s Will” junk every time a tragedy happens. No, it’s a tragedy. Bad things happen, and they are bad. God never said “everything turns out OK!” In fact, we are told suffering is guaranteed. The only thing we are promised is that God will use all things to work toward greater good. That does NOT mean God wanted them to happen, it just means God is good at making lemonade.
Stop judging people for their grief or pain. It is not “holy” to feel nothing or keep up a constant pretense of happiness and positivity. To mourn is the first natural step toward rejoicing. When a person dies unjustly, when we struggle with sickness, when we are hurt by another, God is hurt with us. After all, it is known that God’s Will is for us to bare one another’s burdens:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)
BUT WHAT SHOULD I DO?
The struggles we have over God's Will ultimately come down to the hard choices we have to make in life. We want to know what we SHOULD DO. Our hope is that if we do the "right thing" God will bless us and we will succeed. Here is the problem: doing the right thing doesn't always feel good and often leads to suffering. If you are asking yourself "what should I do?" the answer is that you should do whatever you truly believe is right.
Don't give up your decision to superstition or outside forces. Be still, examine your heart, pray for wisdom, and then make the decision that you believe is the most logical, loving, and construction choice you can make. God never asks us to do anything else.
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21 (ESV)