When Christians assume “God’s will” means good fortune.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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,
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?
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,
’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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
We don’t always know why babies die. We do know it’s sometimes God sparing them from worse.
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.
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
’Cause God’s revealed will is his perfect will.