19 June 2019

“What’s God’s secret, evil plan for my life?”

In seminary I was introduced to the Calvinist idea God has two wills. Sometimes it’s called a “twofold will.” (As if that doesn’t also make him sound a little schizophrenic.)

There’s the will he’s revealed to everybody in the bible. This’d be found in the Law, expounded upon in the Prophets, interpreted by Jesus’s teachings and the apostles’ instructions. It’s the stuff he expects us, his followers, to do. So get out that bible, look it up, and obey.

But there’s apparently a second will: God’s plan for the whole of creation.

From the time he first made the world, to the point he’s gonna restore it, to our infinite eternal future with him, God’s set a plan in place for everything. But unlike the first will—the one he revealed to everybody—God hasn’t revealed this second will. Oh, he revealed he has a plan. He just hasn’t told us any of its details. It’s none of our business. True, if he feels like it, he may sometimes choose to reveal bits and pieces of the plan to his prophets, just to let ’em know he’s got this. Otherwise he keeps it to himself.

The revealed will, which contains all God’s precepts in the bible, they call God’s will of precept. The other, God’s grand scheme for the universe, would be God’s will of purpose. My theology professor described ’em like so. (Well sorta; I shortened his big long sentences, and put them in my own words.)

God’s “two wills.” Assuming you believe he’s double-minded.

If you’re not familiar with these terms, you might’ve heard them called other things.

“Should Be”“Shall Be”
“Preceptive Will”“Purposed Will”
“Commanded Will” or “Will of Command”“Decreed/Decretive Will” or “Will of Decree”
“Revealed Will”“Unrevealed Will” or “Secret Will” or “Hidden Will”
“Permitted/Permissive Will”“Efficient Will”
“Moral Will”“Sovereign Will” or “Absolute Will”
“Voluntas signi” (will of sign)“Voluntas beneplaciti” (will of good pleasure)

In short, the stuff he commanded, and his other plans for the universe which he keeps to himself.

Sounds good? To many people it totally does. It’s why this view is so popular. It explains why we can say “God’s will can never, ever be frustrated”—even though people sin constantly, which appears to be a clear violation of God’s will. It also makes God’s plan feel absolutely, certainly guaranteed: God is in such careful control of the universe, our sins and plans can never ever stop him. His plan will happen. Take it to the bank.

But. The big, big problem with the will-of-purpose concept is it means God is evil. Seriously. Follow my logic:

  1. Everything in the universe—seriously, everything—is part of the will of purpose. God sovereignly controls everything in the universe, and because God determines how everything in the universe is gonna go. It’s all in the plan. All.
  2. And our fallen world is full of evil. Not just a little evil; not just a few bad apples. Humanity is profoundly, totally corrupt. We’ve corrupted the world right along with us. If everything’s part of the plan, our evil is part of the plan. That’s a lot of evil. Every murder, every rape, every lie, every act of violence and oppression.
  3. The will of purpose isn’t merely permitting or allowing things to happen. It’s always described as an active, creative will. God has decided all these things will happen. He’s actively making them happen. Including, y’know, all the evil.

So while the commands make God sound all moral—’cause he defines sin, and tells us not to commit any—the will of purpose puts him behind the scenes, triggering all the sins humanity commits. And then he comes round and condemns us for the sins he made us do… and if we don’t repent (because, I remind you, he programmed us not to!) he sends us to hell. So it seems God’s a bit of a hypocrite too. Wasn’t hypocrisy the one thing that annoyed Jesus more than anything?

Now, when you present these objections to Calvinists, they’ll immediately object right back: God is not secretly an immoral monster. Because the bible says he’s not!—and they follow the bible. Okay, so they can’t reconcile how the bible says God is good, with their will-of-purpose idea. But since they figure both must be true, it’s therefore a mystery, a paradox we can’t explain because God hasn’t given us the details we need to sort out the discrepancies; we just have to trust him on this.

Calvinists regularly pull the “It’s a mystery” card whenever their doctrines violate bible. Way easier than admitting they’re wrong. And we can do it too, for fun! “Yeah, I know Jesus tells us to be generous, but I’m gonna give nothing to the needy and spend it on myself. because my doctrine says I don’t have to. How’s that reconcile with Jesus’s teachings? Well it’s a mystery!”

Not really. Self-centeredness is usually the root cause of all such “mysteries.” We’d love to live in a universe where we pull every string; in our fantasies, we usually do! We incorrectly imagine we’re a lot like God—and God should’ve created a universe like that, right?—so we project our desires upon God, and imagine he pulls every string, and find a bunch of proof texts in the bible to back our idea up. But if such a universe existed, it most certainly can’t be this one. Way too much evil.

Suborning evil instead.

Whenever I talk about the will of purpose with Calvinists, some of ’em ditch John Calvin’s idea of a universe where God is totally behind everything in it, and go with a softer, mushier variant where God’s kinda behind everything in it. They figure God didn’t actively plan every evil thing in the universe; he doesn’t directly commit any of the evil himself.

Let’s say you get raped. As Calvin taught it, according to the will of precept God directly compelled this particular rapist to attack you, ’cause it’s all part of his sovereign plan. Now, semi-Calvinists won’t go there: They say it’s not because God directly compelled anything. Instead God set up all the circumstances, and the rapist just followed through.

Well how’s that any better? Either way, God’s behind you getting raped.

No no, say the semi-Calvinists. God may have set up the circumstances, but at the same time he forbids rape. So it’s entirely the rapist’s free choice whether to rape or not—and the rapist chose to sin.

Okay. Some readers may be flinching by my use of rape as an example. I’m using it for two reasons. First, its heinousness cuts right through stupid arguments: You can clearly see how God setting up a sin is just as bad as God directly causing a sin. Second, it may startle you to learn there’s no command in the bible against rape. Seriously; it’s not in there. There are commands against having sex with someone who’s not yours, so it can be argued that should cover rape, but it doesn‘t entirely. So to say God forbade it, isn’t as cut-and-dried as all that. (Though it’s absolutely not loving your neighbor.)

The semi-Calvinists are trying to mute the problem, but it’s still glaringly there. God determining everything in the universe, and a universe with sin in it, do not mix. Every attempt to reconcile this “paradox” either proves it’s an unsustainable doctrine, or it utterly compromises God’s character. His goodness is sacrificed for his might. Which people are all too willing to do; we tend to value and covet might far more often than goodness. Whereas Jesus effortlessly abandoned might, and died for us.

God determining some things in the universe is fine. The bible has lots of examples of him deciding things, decreeing things, setting things in place, setting things in motion. God’s spinning a lot of plates. But everything? That’d mean Ecclesiastes is totally wrong, and shouldn’t be in our bibles. ’Cause the book states time and again how many things have no meaning. And if everything’s part of God’s plan, how can anything have no meaning?

This is why I don’t teach God has two wills. The scriptures only reveal he has one will. Jesus taught us to pray “Your will be done.” Mt 6.10 Calvinists claim the next part of that sentence, “in earth as in heaven,” implies two wills. It doesn’t. It only states two different places. He usually gets what he wants there; we should want him to get what he wants here. And I remind you he doesn’t always get what he wants in heaven. Satan’s an obvious example.

The one will of our One God, as described in the scriptures, looks like so:

  • God’s will includes his commands and instructions in the scriptures.
  • God’s will includes any individual instructions to individual Christians, revealed to us individually. You want to know it? Pray.
  • God’s will includes his plan of salvation and redemption—which is no secret, but is also revealed in the scriptures.
  • The universe is not going according to God’s will. That’s why he intervenes. That’s why he’ll eventually have to put an end to it. Meanwhile he’s trying to save all he can, for he wants no one to perish. 2Pe 3.9
  • God may not tell us everything. We don’t get to have certainty about every little thing in his plan. We have to trust him. You know, faith.
  • But though God doesn’t tell us all, there’s no evil, falsehood, deception, nor darkness in him. At all. 1Jn 1.5

“What’s God’s will for me?”

Most of the reason Christians wonder about God’s plan for our lives, and worry whether we’re walking in his perfect will, is precisely because we’ve been taught this hogslop about God’s two wills. We figure God has precisely determined the trajectory of our lives—and we wanna know it. Because what if we go the wrong way?

Now, I should point out this “What if we go the wrong way” idea is really bad Calvinism. ’Cause according to God’s will of purpose, there’s only one way we will go: The way God mapped out for us since the beginning of time. Really, we have no say in the matter. We’re gonna follow the plan. And for some of you, God’s plan is a good, comfortable, successful career; and for others, you get to become a crack whore. For some, the plan is a wonderful spouse whom you’ll be forever happy with; for others, someone who beats you and spends all your money. Hey, that’s the plan. If you wind up on the negative end of the plan, sucks to be you. But God’ll make good come out of it in the long run, right?

Of course not every Christian is Calvinist (nor a good Calvinist), but most of us believe God has some kind of secret plan, and we wanna be in on the secret. Or we believe God knows our absolute ideal potential life: As all the time-travel movies have taught us, all we gotta do is make two or three correct, seemingly random choices, and we wind up with the good career and great spouse. So we want God to clue us in on which choices will do that for us.

We forget God’s priorities: He doesn’t care about our materialistic standards. He revealed his will: Follow Jesus. Seek his kingdom before everything else. Mt 6.33 And then we get the fringe benefits of good food, proper housing, decent clothes, a spouse we actively love, and kids who follow our example in following God.

God’s Will.