Thursday, October 27, 2016

Has God's will been done?

This is another old draft post that never saw the light of day at the time of writing, but it's either time to delete it or publish it and I've chosen to do the latter.  It's far from a complete analysis or thought out presentation, but it is where my mind found itself at the time.

It's now four months on from the referendum, so although that was the initial focus of my thoughts I hope enough time has passed that if we end up with a discussion about anything, it's about how we understand the will of God and not what we feel about the vote.

In the aftermath of the referendum vote there are going to be many more politically and economically significant questions to be resolved that the theological ones concerning the idea of God's will. But for those of us who share a faith perspective, the theological questions remain (no pun intended).

Now I think it's important that we don't get drawn into some pointless debate about where this all stands in relation to the "end times". It's tough enough working out how to live in a way that honours God in the present without having to worry about the shape of things to come at the same time!

My concern is what I see as the sometimes deterministic view that appears to link the will of God with the sovereignty of God in an unhelpful way. At it's most simple I would argue that these two are quite separate. Let me explain.

To acknowledge that God is sovereign is to believe that he is ultimately in control. Maybe better still, it's to believe that nothing happens that he doesn't know about. It's actually quite hard to define without slipping towards some form of determinism that might suggest that God does in fact control everything and that nothing that happens happens without his direct involvement and decision.

God's will, however, is not the same as his sovereignty. And with that we slip into dangerous waters too. Dangerous because we are now in the realms of concepts like the permissive will of God, God's plan for my life, free will, can I miss God's will, am I living "second best", etc etc.  And let's not forget God's sovereign will!

Something like the referendum challenges some of our perspectives. If we've prayed that God's will is done and the vote comes in, irrespective of it's outcome, do we assume that somehow God's will has been done? Does that stand up to Biblical scrutiny? Put it another way, just because we've prayed, does that necessarily mean that the outcome must be God's will? You see the difficulty.

This is why I've used the word deterministic earlier. It's the assumption that one thing follows another as cause and effect, but to do that with our prayers and God's will is surely a reductionist view of how our relationship with God works and how prayer and the will of God interact. Think about the conundrum of the story of Adam and Eve. Was it God's will that they broke his one rule, or was it his will that they remain in the garden, learning and growing spiritually to maturity.

Personally I don't think our membership of the EU comes under God's will in quite the absolute way some people appear to think it does. We change governments regularly, does that suggest that God's will for our nation shifts from red to blue politically too? Of course not. At it's most simple God's will is that we do right things in right ways. No one political ideology has a monopoly on that.

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