God’s will is a concept that is confused in our finite minds. Sincere Christians genuinely want to obey God and follow his path, but often they find themselves perplexed. Should I move to a new city or stay put? Is this job the right job or am I to do something else? How can I know what God wants for my future? Over my years of pastoral ministry, I have seen people paralyzed trying to discern the will of God. But is God’s will really what we want? Is there a difference between the will of God and the rationale of God?
Theologians and philosophers believe the will is where desires reside. The will is the part of the soul where desires, motives, and longings take residence. Much of the discussion at the time of the Reformation revolved around the difference between God’s will and God’s mind and how much of God’s intellect could be discerned.
The reformers believed that the world existed as it does because God willed it so. God’s will was mysterious and to be accepted on faith and the particulars of his mind were to be untouched by humanity. The reformers thought that the scriptures revealed the will of God and anything beyond the sacred text was a matter of faith. This is not to say that the Bible does not give insight into the particular matters of life, but certain particulars are not explicit in the Bible; therefore, they must be measured against the character of God and his explicit commands. For instance, the question of “what job should I take” is not specifically addressed in the Bible. But God has willed that humans work, God has willed that our work is for the common good, God willed that we support our families and give financially to His work. Nevertheless, there are no specifics for the particular job I should take. God has given us freedom of choice. Freedom is frightening because it tests our faith. Perhaps that is why we are more comfortable seeking the rationale of God and not his will.
Reason performs a different task than the will. The rationale of God is different; rationale has to do with intellectual reason and discernment. The will has to do with desires, motives and the power to make something happen. But reason seeks to know the intricacies of the what and how question–what will happen, how will it take place, how does something work. I think this is where the conflation between God’s will and rational are confused. Often we say, “I just want to know God’s will for my life” when we are thinking, “I just want to know what will happen if I do X or how will this transpire happen If I choose Y.” We say we want his will, but really we want his mind and his reason. The reformers knew the difference between the will and the mind of God; therefore, they were content (or even fearful) to leave the secret things of God alone.
You might ask, “so what is the big deal?” This discussion seems to be an exercise in semantics. Not really. Wise living comes when we learn to decipher the difference between what is an act of reason and what is an act of will. When we seek God’s will, we are not on a scavenger hunt or an amazing race. Seeking God’s will is not deciphering mystical codes and reading tea leaves. Nor is discerning God’s will attaching external meaning to every inner feeling and impulse. Wise living comes when we submit our reason to what God as he revealed it through the Holy Scriptures.
The Scriptures make known all we need to know of God’s will. When we desire the specifics of “this job or that job,” this “college or that college” are we looking for God’s will, or are we really asking for his reason and his intellect? More often than not I find myself seeking the path that requires the least amount of faith. If I choose what I want, I might end up in a mess, and now I need faith to believe God is good in the mess that I have created. Perhaps I make a decision that leads to great success; now I need faith to walk in humility. God’s will is in every choice because every choice reveals what we believe about his Holy character.
The distinction between will and rationale is important to discern. God’s will is easy to find. Open the Holy Scriptures, and you will know his will. When we are tempted to ask God for his reasons or his specific thoughts for our current path, perhaps we do well to take the posture of the reformers and consider the mind of God a fearful thing. Maybe we should just make a decision and trust in God’s providence and his character. Trust God, make a decision, walk in faith.