One of our nagging questions is about what the will of God is. How do we know God’s will? How can we tell if something represents the will of God? How do we know that it is the will of God for one person to win an election, or if the candidates who contested are all interested in serving the common good? How do we determine that a good fortune - or even a not-so-good fortune - is the will of God?
There is a book by Leslie Weatherhead entitled The Will of God. In the book, Weatherhead makes the claim that God’s will is inextricably related to God’s character and ultimate intentions for us - for you, and for me. That is to say that God’s will for you and I cannot be separated from God’s character.
According to Weatherhead, there are three ways in which you can categorize the will of God: Intentional, Permissive, and Ultimate.
Begin in the Garden of Eden, where there was absolute tranquility. There was no death, only life. There was a personal relationship between Adam, Eve, and God. These two Biblical progenitors could walk and fellowship in the Garden with God. Humanity was at its most peaceful and harmonious with God. We can look back at that time as the most trustworthy moment of humankind's relationship with God. There was a time when human innocence was such that by following its will was also following God’s will. Adam and Eve did not have to till the land for sustenance. Everything they needed was provided by God.
However, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were asked not to eat, when they decided to follow their own will was the moment when they rejected God’s Intentional Will for their own.
The rejection of God’s Intentional Will was heartbreaking for God. But God did not banish Adam and Eve outright; he still maintained contact with Adam and Eve but developed a new way of interacting with them.
It is this new mode of interaction that Weatherhead calls God’s Permissive Will. It is not what God wanted, but Adam and Eve - and, by extension, you and I - had to be permitted to make their own choices.
For example, should someone decides to drink and drive and ends up killing someone, that is not God’s Intentional Will, but rather has become God’s Permissive Will. If, for example, someone becomes so upset over the election results that they act on the anger, then that is not God’s Intentional Will, but has become God’s Permissive Will. God had to let us make fateful choices, or we would no longer have free will.
Over the past couple of days, many of us have been glued to our television sets, computers, and phones, constantly checking the results of the November elections. This has been one hard-fought battle. You and I may have made different choices, which is God’s Permissive Will at play. We have the freedom to choose our leaders, and so we may choose differently. Each choice, however different it may be, is a valid one and so we should not be upset or sullen just because our choice of candidate did not win.
I think one of the fundamental decisions that confronts us is whether we want to walk in God’s Permissive Will or in God's Intentional Will. Our model, when it comes to God’s Intentional Will, is to look at Jesus. Most especially, consider Jesus’ cry in the Garden of Gethsemane where, in agony, he cries “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but your will be done.” This is the Intentional Will that Adam and Eve could not express in the Garden of Eden.
Another example of Jesus’ model of God’s Intentional Will was his love for everyone. He reminded the lawyer, who came to ask about the greatest commandment in the Law. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like unto it, Love your neighbor as yourself. God intended that we love the Creator God and each other. To love God and another is not a Permissive Will but the Intentional Will of God, for there is no inherent choice in it. To put God ahead of our personal desires is to love God. To put the needs of neighbor ahead of our personal desires is to love neighbor - even when we vehemently disagree with our neighbor over politics.
Permissive Will guarantees our free will, but with that comes self-centeredness... "The world is all about me," we tend to assure ourselves. But the world has never been about any one person. If our elections were to teach us anything, it is that the world is not all about anyone; the world is all about us. And the choices we make should reflect not only our character, but God’s character.
The third will is the Ultimate Will. The Book of Revelations talks about a new heaven and a new earth, which will be just like the Garden of Eden - the very place where we violated God’s Intentional Will. This time, there would not be only two people, but multitudes of people, including you and I, in fellowship with God.
Remember, God’s Ultimate Will is that we abide with Him eternally. ‘O how sweet and glorious will it be in that place where there’s no more tears, pain and sorrow.’ I long for that place - that Garden - but I think God also wants us to have a taste of it right here on earth, for that is why He constantly invites us to walk in His Intentional Will and not in Permissive Will.
To be honest, God’s Intentional Will may not always be clear to us. But one thing that is always clear to me in my pursuit of God’s Intentional Will is to always be in love with generosity, be in love with justice, be in love with compassion and mercy, and to in love with love itself.
For me, it is the one sure way of knowing that nothing comes between my God and me.