One of the struggles that we all have with our relationship to God is understanding why negative things happen to us. Some say “this is God’s will” in response to COVID-19, but when your loved one dies from it, that isn’t much help. Some of us have been taught a determinist view of God. God’s decretive or determining will is seen as sovereign, universal, and all-inclusive. What can we understand about God’s will and our free will?
One writer has said, “God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It includes everything–even sin and suffering. So your career, marriage, friends, sicknesses, accidents, income, etc. are all part of God’s determined will but are not revealed to you ahead of time.”
Why does God allow someone to have one tragedy after another that they didn’t cause? Why should a young mother have a severe illness and die? Why do babies die? Anyone who says they have all the answers is a liar because none of us do, and being an atheist doesn’t help either. There are some scriptural clues in the use of four Greek words:
“Prothesis” usually translated purpose. See Romans 8:28; 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.
“Boule” which means counsel. See Acts 2:23; 4:28; Ephesians 1:11.
“Eudokia” meaning desire, good pleasure. See Ephesians 1:5;9; Philippians 2:13.
“Epitrepo” means to permit. See 1 Corinthians 16:7; Hebrews 6:3.
I hope you will take some time to read through those passages and think about how they are different, and how they may overlap. It seems that God’s will has three primary connotations: purpose, desire, and permission. Jack Cottrell has an excellent treatment of this in his book What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, College Press, ©1984, pp. 299-329.
Cottrell goes into this subject deeply, but here is a simplified explanation. The determinist view has one glaring weakness. It ignores the purpose for which God created humans. We are not robots programmed to a specific end. In revealing God’s will through His purpose, His desire, and His permission, the Bible shows us that we are precious to Him. He allows our free will to love, serve, and obey Him–or rejecting Him. God tells us what is best for us, and He makes it clear what His desire is for us. But He permits us to choose to reject Him and live in destructive ways.
Our free will is the key here, but we need to know we have a purpose in existence and that free will is a part of that purpose. God allows us to have problems and permits us to seek evil solutions to those problems. If our love for God and our desire to have a relationship with Him is strong enough, the problems will not destroy our relationship with Him. God promises us limits (see 1 Corinthians 10:13) and takes the problems and makes good come out of them (see Romans 8:28). These challenges can boost our relationship with God or destroy it. That is our choice.
— John N. Clayton © 2020