The best of all possible worlds.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 September

You mighta noticed my articles on God's will thus far, mainly focus on what God revealed in the scriptures to actually be his will. His commands. His instructions. His wisdom. What he literally wants us to do.

Problem is, whenever Christians wanna know about God’s will, that’s not what we mean. Nor what we want.

Poll the Christians you know, and our overwhelming attitude about God’s commands is they’re either “too hard” cf. Ac 15.10 or “old covenant.” We don’t care about the commands. Well, unless they make us feel good about ourselves ’cause we’re already obeying them—whether intentionally or accidentally. (And if we’re not obeying them, we offer our excuses.) Or unless they justify our prejudices, ’cause it appears God doesn’t like certain sins any more than we do.

But whenever we Christians say, “I just wanna know God’s will for my life,” you gotta understand we don’t mean God’s commands. We don’t wanna be directed to the Sermon on the Mount, or the Proverbs, or anything having to do with God’s revealed will. Instead we’re talking about the unrevealed will. God’s secret will. His plan for the cosmos… and where we fit in it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he loves us and wants to save us and give us his kingdom. Lk 12.32 We know about salvation and eternal life and resurrection and heaven. That’s not what we mean either, ’cause that’s not part of the secret will; that’s common knowledge. We want the insider knowledge. We want the stuff that’s none of our business. Ac 1.7 We wanna know the details of our own personal futures.

Specifically: We want a heads-up on all the significant decisions we’re ever gonna make in our lives. Whom to marry. Where to go to university. Which career field to pursue. Which job to take. Which ministries to dabble in. The best financial investments. The best schools to put our kids into. The perfect things to say at particular moments in time. God knows all the possible outcomes of these decisions. We’re not asking to know all the outcomes; we just want God to point us to the best one, so we can do it. ’Cause we assume that’s God’s will: The best of all possible worlds.

“I wanna know God’s will for my life” really means we wanna make certain we’re not just getting some ho-hum, lackluster, not-reached-its-potential, regret-filled future life. We want the best future life. The fun high-paying job. The spouse and kids who never tell us no. The ministry which requires no sacrifice whatsoever. We want God pouring out blessings like the world’s loosest slot machine.

Not God’s commands. Not his righteousness. Not the good works he set out for us to do. Ep 2.10 Screw that. It’s too hard. And it’s the old covenant.

The suffering-free life?

I’m assuming you’ve seen the Back to the Future movies. If not, here’s a super-brief summary of the first movie: A kid with an unsatisfactory home life accidentally time-travels back 30 years, and has to get his future parents together. Once he succeeds (oh, don’t yap at me about spoiler alerts; it’s a 30-year-old movie) and returns to his present, he notices his home life has significantly improved.

The movie taps into a pretty common human suspicion: There are many potential futures. Many potential timelines. Pick the right one, and life will be great. Pick the wrong one, and life will suck.

So, “seeking God’s will for my life” assumes God wants us to live in the best, most optimal, most perfect life. Dead-center in God’s perfect will. And we want that too, don’t we? An ideal, comfortable, worry-free, happy life. Heaven on earth.

But is that really what God wants for us?

Christ Jesus did everything right. True? He always sought, always followed, God’s will. Jn 8.28 He never sinned, never tried to fake us out so we’d think he was anything other than who he was. 1Pe 2.22 He was always precisely where God wanted him, always in the exact center of God’s will. It’s why we look at him whenever we wanna understand God’s will. He, if anyone, definitely lived dead center in God’s perfect will.

Still died a horribly nasty death though.

See, that’s the trouble with this theory. We assume God wants us to live a perfectly happy, wealthy, suffering-free life. We never imagine the possibility he doesn’t want that at all. That he wants us to have joy and peace—they are the Spirit’s fruit, after all—but not money. Not an intensely satisfying job. Not a trouble-free family life. You do recall Jesus’s own family thought he lost his mind, Mk 3.20-21 and sometimes his job was really frustrating. Mk 3.1-6 ’Cause sometimes life gets that way. Even perfect lives.

This isn’t at all what Christians imagine in “God’s perfect will.” Yeah, some of us will admit there’s always gonna be some difficulty or discomfort in life. But we nonetheless expect it to be minimal suffering. Not agonizing, faith-stretching, patience-growing, serious suffering. Never anything rough.

These are wholly unrealistic fantasies. Yeah, God has good plans for us, but the whole “plans to prosper and not harm” bit? Jr 29.11 Doesn’t apply to us. It’s why Jesus warned us there’ll be suffering in this world. Jn 16.33 The suffering-free existence doesn’t kick in till New Earth. Rv 21.4 Unless you’re expecting to die young, don’t assume you get a free pass to jump ahead of God’s program.

Jesus suffered. Not for anything he did; he suffered on our behalf. We live in a world where that sort of thing happens. Some of us are gonna suffer for our own poor decisions, 1Pe 4.15 but some of us are gonna suffer on others’ behalf. Including Christ’s behalf. 1Pe 4.16 That’s part of life. Often it’s part of God’s will. 1Pe 4.19 He’s gonna reward us for it. Mt 5.10, 12 If you were hoping for a suffering-free life, you realize you’re also hoping for a reward-free eternity?

’Cause ultimately, this idea of a “perfect life” doesn’t come from the scriptures. Nor God. It comes from popular culture. It’s what Americans call “the American Dream”: We finally succeeded in our pursuit of happiness. Problem is, it’s a very materialistic happiness. We’ve achieved all the possessions we ever coveted. We’re satisfied. (As if greed ever gets satisfied. Pr 27.20) This is what we want from God; who says life has to be a struggle? Just trust God, and he’ll give us the desires of our heart Ps 37.4 …our evil, desperately wicked hearts. Jr 17.9

Yeah, it’s not about what God wants. It’s about what we want, or believe we want. It’s wish-fulfillment disguised as piety. We “want God’s will”—but really, we want our own.

It’s not a secret!

First let’s dispense with this bit of false theology that God’s got a wonderful plan for your life, but he’s not gonna share it with you.

Yes, there are some decisions God makes, and he makes them unilaterally. He didn’t ask our input. Didn’t ask us whether we wanted to be born. Usually doesn’t ask us when we’re ready to die. Doesn’t ask us, as you’ll notice, whether we’d terribly mind going through suffering. And when we wanna know why us, sometimes he’s not gonna tell. He didn’t tell Job. We know what triggered Job’s suffering, Jb 1 but after Job spent much of the book demanding an explanation, God basically told him, “Who are you, that I should answer to you?” Jb 38-41

But there are many decisions God makes which aren’t monergistic. He listens to our prayers, y’know. He takes requests. He answers them. Sometimes he does seek our input, as he did with Abraham when he decided he was flattening Sodom. Ge 18.22-33 Yeah, the LORD flattened it anyway, but no, this isn’t a bad example. God himself said he wasn’t gonna hide his will from Abraham, since he did have a relationship with him. Ge 18.17-19 And later, when the LORD decided to flatten the Hebrews for idolatry, Moses actually did talk him down from it. Ex 32.7-14 See, a one-sided relationship isn’t a healthy relationship, and when our relationships with God become one-sided on our part, God declares them unhealthy. Is 1 God forbid it should ever become one-sided on his part.

So you have questions and concerns about your future. That’s normal. And that’s what prayer is for. Bring those petitions to God. You wanna know the best of all possible decisions? Ask. Sometimes he’ll tell you. 1Sa 23.1-14 Just don’t naïvely think you’re always gonna like God’s answers. Lots of them are hard. Most of the time God answers me, “I already said in the scriptures…” and yeah, he already told me in the scriptures; I just didn’t wanna listen, ’cause I didn’t like that answer. We humans get that way: We’re so intent on the answer we want, we block out the answer God gives us, and claim he didn’t speak. He did so. It’s just our hearts are hard.

You wanna know the right school to go to? Ask. The right person to marry? Ask. The right job? Ask. But like I said, don’t assume the right decision is gonna magically turn into this awesome dream life. Jesus tells us to give up that dream—along with everything else—and take up our crosses, and follow him. Lk 9.23 Our imagined best isn’t God’s best. Follow Jesus.

Are there alternate timelines?

SHORT ANSWER. Yes. In every moral decision, there are two potential timelines we humans can travel down. In one, we turn to God and live. In the other, we disregard God, embrace evil, and die. Ek 18.21 For his part, God definitely prefers we live. Ek 18.30-32

WAY LONGER ANSWER. Well, first I need to point out there are Christians who insist there’s no such thing as alternate timelines. They claim God has only one timeline, one single cosmic plan which incorporates anything, which he laid out long in advance, where everything happens precisely as he determined. Determinists, we call them.

Determinists insist God is so almighty, so sovereign, he gets the universe he wants. It can’t possibly be otherwise. And the one he decided upon is this one. The universe we’re in. There were never alternate plans, alternate timelines. There was never any plan A, where we’d never sin nor die—which we bungled, which is why we’re living out plan B till God re-implements plan A. This was always the plan. This world. This sin-plagued, death-filled, chaotic, effed-up world.

Weirdly, some determinists also wanna know about “God’s perfect will”: They also want God to tell them which choices to make which’ll grant them the best possible outcome. Yeah, it’s totally contrary to determinism: They also claim there aren’t multiple outcomes. But whoever said humans are logical? They simply juggle the contradictory beliefs. God’s pre-determined plan might have a super-happy outcome for them just the same.

But as I said, the bible describes a universe with options. Real options, with real consequences. Not the illusion of options, with God condescendingly pretending he’s given us free will, in order to disguise his deterministic universe as one with free will. That’d make God a dirty cheat, who rigs the game and still penalizes us for losing.

God will get the universe he wants—at the End. And he’s not so powerless, he has to micromanage the cosmos to make sure we get there. He doesn’t approve of sin; he doesn’t denounce it in the bible, yet secretly arrange for it to happen in order to get the results he desires. He’s not a hypocrite. He told us not to sin; so don’t sin. But we have real choices: Sin, or not. And our free will doesn’t interfere with his cosmic plan any. He can work with it, or around it.

So there are two real timelines we can choose from. Choose the good one.

SIDETRACK. Science fiction fans sometimes ask me: If we choose option 2, does option 1 continue to exist anyway, in some parallel universe? Or does option 1 only exist in God’s mind?—a possibility which could’ve happened, but won’t?

Part of quantum mechanics is the theory there are “many worlds”: One in which a quantum event happened, and one in which it didn’t. Potentially there are an infinite number of possibilities. Therefore an infinite number of universes.

It’s a concept which boggles Christians’ minds, ’cause we simply can’t imagine God, infinitely powerful as he is, creating an infinite number of universes. Or Jesus dying for the sins of infinite universes. Or—even weirder!—infinite Jesuses, dying on infinite Calvaries for infinite worlds. Don’t we just have the one Lord? Ep 4.5 We can’t fathom how God could pull it off, so it’s much easier to assume these scientists made a math error somewhere, and dismiss the theory as goofy.

And we’re not alone. Even though quantum scientists claim the math holds up, a number of scientists have big problems with the idea too. A new universe for every decision? Doesn’t this violate the law of conservation of energy?

But whether the “many worlds” theory holds up or not: Functionally we live in this universe. If we choose option 2, it doesn’t matter whether option 1 exists elsewhere. It doesn’t exist here. We gotta live with the consequences of option 2. That’s the one God praises, or condemns, us for choosing.

Years ago I got an email from someone whose bible study leader claimed certain babies went to hell. His reasoning: If a baby died, God knows what it would’ve done had it grown up—whether it would’ve chosen to follow Jesus. So God consigned it to paradise or torment accordingly. Why it’s poor reasoning: God doesn’t judge us for our actions in alternate worlds. Alternate Me might’ve sinned, but I didn’t. Sometimes ’cause I resisted temptation; sometimes ’cause God delivered me from temptation. Mt 6.13 But if he’s gonna judge me for Alternate Me’s actions, I guess he didn’t deliver me. Or anyone. Right?

We don’t always know why babies die. We do know it’s sometimes God sparing them from worse. 1Ki 14.13 But if God’s judging them based on alternate worlds, we’ve got that same problem again. Is he judging them for their own sins, or someone else’s? Ek 18.20

So regardless of whether parallel universes exist or not: We live in this one. Deal with this one.

FINALLY. If you have any doubts about choosing the good timeline, read your bible and learn God’s commands. Ask God to deliver you from evil. Mt 6.13 Listen for his voice, so he can steer you away from evil when his written will doesn’t have all the answers.

Concentrate on God’s kingdom. All the other stuff we worry about? You’re gonna find they tend to sort themselves out when we focus on the kingdom Mt 6.33 instead of trying to peer into God’s secret will.

’Cause God’s revealed will is his perfect will.