How Do I Understand the Will of God?

A lot of people are confused about what God’s “will” actually is.

For instance, can it be thwarted? The answer seems obvious: Not at all! Isaiah 14:27 proudly declares: “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” Case closed, right? If God is indeed all-powerful, how could God’s will be thwarted?

Consider the following line of deductive reasoning:

1: God is all-powerful
2: God is all-knowing
3: An all-powerful and all-knowing creature cannot make something which will act different than how the creature intended it to act.
4: Therefore, God cannot make something which will act different than how God intended it to act.

But does this mean everything which happens is according to God’s will? Are all human decisions God’s will? I beg to differ!

The above argument uses sound logic, so long as there is only one kind of “will” we are talking about. However, theologians today typically see God as exercising two different kinds of wills.

The first kind is God’s Sovereign Will. These are the things which God decrees by His supreme sovereignty and authority. They are final, and cannot be thwarted. This is the kind of will which we have been referring to thus far.
The second kind of will is God’s Moral Will. This is what God desires, but does not necessarily cause to happen. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Notice here that God’s moral will is for all people to be saved, but it does not mean that God forces His will upon all people, in a sovereign kind of way. It simply speaks of God’s desires for all people, regardless of the actual outcome. Keep in mind the the Greek word for “want” in 1 Timothy 2:4 is the verb “thelo” which is the same word for “will.” (1) Context determines which English word is the best choice for our Bible translators.

One may wonder why God chooses to allow something to take place which is not in His moral will. The reason would have something to do with God’s sovereign will superseding God’s moral will. For instance, when somebody is not saved, God’s moral will is unmet because God’s sovereign will (namely, that humanity would have the free ability to choose or reject God) is in effect. God knows that people will reject Him, but He had determined in His supreme knowledge and goodness that free will for humankind would be worth it. In giving humanity free will, God chose (through His sovereign will) to allow the possibility of sin and rejection.

Think about it! God values free will for us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross. Without Jesus, we would have no hope of choosing eternal life.

(1) William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 447.