Is Our Obsession With The Will Of God Really The Will Of God?

You may have seen the television commercial where a man walks out of his investment advisor’s office and suddenly finds a green path spread out on the ground before him to direct his future financial steps. As his investment advisor explains, that path “is the guidance you get from [her investment company]” and the customer need only “stay on the line”. That ad is seeking to tap into the felt need that many people have to be given a clear money management path that they can follow.

Similarly, many Christians presume that knowing and understanding the will of God for their lives is a lot like staying on the green line. They presume that knowing the will of God is akin to following a line that is supposed to magically appear before them and direct them this way or that, and all they have to do is “stay on the line”.    

The problem with such a presumption is that, as we pray for God’s guidance in making decisions, reality dictates that God doesn’t give us a line that suddenly appears to guide us down the street of life. As Blaine Smith writes, “We’re often unclear about how much information we should expect when God guides us. Typically, we expect too much insight, more than may actually be needed to take the next step of faith. It’s vital to understand how much guidance is reasonable to expect before looking at the further question of how to recognize the guidance God gives.”[1] 

As we begin to consider the matter of knowing and understanding the will of God, we should first consider some built-in assumptions that cause us to make understanding God’s will a more difficult matter than it needs to be.

1) We tend to live with an unrealistic need for certainty; consequently, we have a corresponding discomfort with mystery.

When things don’t go the way we would like, we often operate as if we must have a divine explanation for what has happened, not only for our own peace of mind, but also because we feel as if we need an explanation (or justification) to give to others. I can look back on certain experiences in my life that didn’t go the way I wanted or prayed. I remember going through one particular difficult experience and having a friend ask me, “What do you think God is doing through this situation?” “I have no idea,” I replied.

Twenty-five years removed from that experience, with more maturity under my belt, not to mention having a much better understanding of Scripture, I can look back on that difficult experience and that probing question (“What do you think God [was] doing through [that] situation?”) and I can answer with great contentment: “I have no idea.” I am simply comfortable and thankful to live in the mystery that God was with me and took care of me even in the midst of a situation that, frankly, I could have just as well done without.

2) Because we live with an unrealistic need for certainty, we sometimes fail to recognize our own responsibility in the things we don’t understand or wish had turned out differently.

I once had arranged for a young woman to sing during a worship service I was leading at a hospital. When the appointed time came, she wasn’t there. As I called to check on her, it was clear that my call had awakened her. She said, “I felt that God wanted to teach me to have more faith, so, instead of setting my alarm clock, I prayed that God would wake me up.” After a moment of silence (and a brief contemplation over why God didn’t wake her up), she concluded, “I guess God didn’t want me to sing this morning.” The thought crossed my mind to say, “God also gave you that alarm clock”, but I bit my tongue.  

3) We live in an era and a culture where there are more choices open to a person than ever before.

My wife was grocery shopping and ran into a neighbor in the cereal aisle. The neighbor was lamenting in indecision over how many choices of cereal were arrayed before him. The picture of that neighbor staring at cereal choices bears a striking similarity to the indecision that many Americans feel with regard to the plethora of major choices and opportunities set before them.

Kevin De Young summarizes it well: “I’m convinced that previous generations did not struggle like we do trying to discover God’s will because they didn’t have as many choices. In many ways, our preoccupation with the will of God is a Western, middle-class phenomenon of the last fifty years. People living on a dollar a day just don’t have that many choices to make….[2] With so many choices, it’s no surprise that we are always thinking about the greener grass on the other side of the fence.” [3]

Young Christians seeking to know God’s will often struggle with this dilemma of a multiplicity of options. They are often tempted to view any new and exciting options that come along as potentially being “God’s will” (often solely because the person merely became aware of the opportunity), only later to conclude (maybe by good judgment, no less) that such an opportunity isn’t really workable or preferable. However, the fact that they have already spoken to friends about this opportunity as being (or, at least, potentially being) God’s will reveals that, deep down, this person tends to think of God as having a rather capricious nature. Such a mistaken view produces little confidence and hope in the true and unchanging character of God. Unfortunately, such a mistaken view in people does produce an even greater tendency toward indecisiveness.

In the interest of understanding God’s will, many Christians live as if they are entitled to a measure of certainty that is devoid of any risk that something might go wrong. In reality, that quest for certainty about God’s will is actually a means of idolatry:  a veiled attempt to keep from having to walk by faith and trust God.

Next time: What CAN we know from Scripture about God’s will?

[1] Smith, M. Blaine (2009-08-20). Knowing God's Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions (p. 25). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] DeYoung, Kevin L. (2014-03-21). Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will (pp. 30-31). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[3] DeYoung, Kevin L. (2014-03-21). Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will (p. 35). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.