Have you ever had someone say to you, “Don’t worry, God’s will is perfect for you”?
What does that mean? How can it be “perfect” when you’re struggling to even come to terms with your circumstances? Maybe you’re trying to survive an illness – maybe you’ve just lost a child.
In situations like these, it seems impossible that God’s will would have had something that terrible in store for you – much less His perfect will. And if He willed it – then He must not be a very loving God at all.
How do we continue to keep the faith when this life stops making sense?
What is God’s will? Theologians tend to make two distinctions: Sovereign will and preceptive will.
Sovereign will refers to God’s absolute governance. Nothing happens without His permission. Isaiah 46:10 says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”
From the story of Job, we know that even Satan has to ask God for permission before he could lay hands on Job. As Job is assailed, God has the power to intervene at every turn, but He “permits” the evil for a time. In that limited sense, He sovereignly “willed” it to happen. He is in control of all things – good and bad.
Preceptive will refers to God’s ordained guidelines.
- “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
- “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
- “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
All of the above shows God’s preceptive will for us. But, while we have an obligation to obey His ways, we also have the free will and choice to disobey Him.
Some people give thanks in all circumstances — some don’t. Some inflict grave injustices in the world — others don’t. In this sense, the preceptive will of God is not a foregone conclusion.
The tension in God’s sovereign will is when He chooses to permit things to happen — even things He takes no pleasure in or is grieved about.
How is God’s will perfect? If God’s preceptive will can be broken, how then can He be sovereign? And if God chooses to “permit” evil, how can we say that his will is perfect for us – let alone good?
God doesn’t restrict our free will. But He is able to bring good out of even the worst situations. One of the clearest examples is Jesus’ resurrection.
God is supposed to be immortal. For God to die, and in such a humiliating manner, what could be worse? That was Jesus: God nailed to a cross, naked and shamed. I can only imagine how helpless the disciples must have felt. They were watching the man they wholly believed in (Matthew 4:19-20) die.
I wonder if any of them could reconcile how an Almighty God would choose to die like a lamb. These were thoughts they had to grapple with even as the mob mocked Jesus, “You said you were the Son of God. Now save yourself!”
They must have felt so scared and angry. Judas’ betrayal, the crowd’s accusations, the death sentence by Pilate … I wonder if any of them were tempted to ask: “If Jesus really is the Son of God, why won’t he do something?”
But it wasn’t that God was helpless. He allowed it to happen so His purposes would be fulfilled. Without Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, death wouldn’t have been defeated – there would be no salvation. If Jesus didn’t choose to die for us, Satan would have won.
I firmly believe that God doesn’t intervene in man’s free will, but he takes the worst circumstances and creates good from them. And if God can take His own death and turn it into life, He can take what’s dead in your life and bring good out of it.
Sometimes we can’t see how our circumstances are in God’s will for us because they just look impossibly bleak. But God always has a plan. His plan is far greater than we can imagine, but because we’ve seen what He did on the cross – we can believe it.
His preceptive will can be (and is) broken by our free will every single day, but His sovereign will remains intact no matter what we do.
God’s will is still perfect in our pain and suffering.
The disciples weren’t the only one who wished that God would intervene. In the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as the hours before He was betrayed – Jesus prayed to ask if Father God would intervene.
“And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36)
He went down thrice on His knees in fervent prayer so intense that His sweat was mixed with blood (Luke 22:44). But still, Jesus was betrayed, accused and hung on the cross for our sins. It seems God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer sounded a lot like “no”.
Perhaps you can identify with Jesus. Maybe you’ve poured out your life to serve God and His Church – only to lose your child to a terminal illness. Maybe you’ve rejected entering into relationships with non-Christians – only to remain single into your thirties. Like Jesus, you’re in a painful situation and you desperately wish God would save you … Yet His answer seems to be “no”.
Is this God’s will for my life? Why is it so painful to bear?
I honestly don’t know. I don’t know why God allows certain things to happen, and I don’t profess to know what His perfect will for you in your current season looks like.
Our hope must never lie in the mere improvement of our current circumstances – our hope is in Jesus.
Still, I don’t believe it’s wrong to pray to God, asking if He would intervene. Jesus did. But Jesus prayed according to God’s will: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus knew that Father God was almighty to do anything He asked for – but He also trusted in His Father. And because of His obedience even to the point of death on the cross, we now have the greatest gift in history.
In His sovereignty, God allows the presence of bad things in this world. Someday, we’ll live on God’s new earth where there won’t be anything bad. Yet our hope must never lie in the mere improvement of our current circumstances. Our hope is in Jesus.
Because of His resurrection, we can believe that God’s will is perfect through our pain and suffering. Because He is good, we can trust Him to exchange our will for the Father’s.
Whatever you’re going through today, fix your eyes on the cross and choose to say, “Yet not my will, but Yours be done”.