Will of God, Free Course, Lesson — 3

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Is It Possible To Interpret Providence?

Is it possible to know the will of God in and through circumstances that take place in this life? We believe the answer to this question is an emphatic “No.” When an event takes place, we have no way of knowing whether it falls within the decretive or permissive will of God. In a previous article, we defined God’s decretive will as that which God desires and makes happen and His permissive will as that which originates apart from His desire but He permits because of man’s free will, etc. In other words, an event can happen because God wants it to happen and causes it to happen or it may happen for various other reasons. Consequently, an event cannot communicate a message apart from special revelation. In addition, we have no way of knowing whether an event has taken place because of God general providence for all creation or as a result of His special providence concerning the church of Christ.

Many erroneously think that every thing that happens is God’s decretive or purposive will. These folks are clearly wrong. Others, many of them members of the church of Christ, believe they can interpret God’s will or providence by certain events that take place in their lives or the lives of others. For instance, a good man prospers and a bad man suffers hardship. Some are convinced that god is blessing the good man and punishing the bad man. But, is this really the case? What happens when a good man suffers and a bad man prospers?

If the book of Job teaches us anything, it teaches us that circumstances or events, apart from revelation, cannot convey God’s decretive will. Job was not suffering because he was an evil man, as his friends surmised – he was suffering because he was a good man. Job’s friends, and even Job himself, had fallen victim of what has been called the “Gamaliel fallacy,” after the false principle offered by Gamaliel in Acts 5:38,39, “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you even be found to fight against God.” Although what Gamaliel said is ultimately true (i.e., in the end, God’s cause will be vindicated), it certainly does not translate into very practical advice. For instance, the Roman Catholic church, with its universal bishop, is an apostate church that has existed in its present form since A.D. 606.

Does this mean that God is blessing Catholicism? Of course not. Many other false religions seem to be enjoying great success, according to the way the world counts success. Does this mean that they too are being blessed by God? Again, of course not. Worldly success is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. John the baptizer’s ministry did not end in success, according to the world’s standards, and neither did the ministries of the apostles. But, we know they were successful in the sight of God. Therefore, from our finite perspective, we must see Gamaliel’s pronouncement as the fallacy it really is.

Does this mean that it is inappropriate for a Christian to entertain his own private speculation about God’s providential care and certain events that seem to point in the general direction of that providential care? No, we do not believe such to be wrong, but we do believe that even in one’s own private speculation one must be very careful about thinking a certain event or set of circumstances definitely means that God has done this or that or wants this or that to happen. This kind of carefulness was exhibited by Mordecai when he said to Esther, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Mordecai’s statement was not an indication of his lack of faith in God’s providential care for the Jews. In the same verse, he advised Esther that if she did not help, “deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.” It appeared to Mordecai that Esther was in the right place at the right time and therefore the hand of God might have been providentially involved in her being queen, but without special revelation he could not definitely know. Let us all learn to be as wise as Mordecai, and as trusting. Mordecai, based upon the promises God had made to His people, was willing to trust God for deliverance.

We can all recount the marvelous things that have happened to us in our lifetimes that we believe were providential. But, we do not preach about these things from the pulpit as proof of God’s special providential care for His children. What we preach from the pulpit is Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.” In other words,  because of God’s special providential care for us, every circumstance or event that happens to us will have either a good purpose or a good result, so long as we continue to love and obey Him. How do we know this? The Bible — God’s preceptive will — ells us so!

Consequently, our faith in God and His promise relieve us of the burden of trying to figure out whether a particular event happened because of God’s decretive or permissive will, and directs us to a thorough study of His preceptive will.

May God continue to bless you as you study His word.

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