Thursday, September 23, 2010

Finding God's Will

Right after I posted my last entry, I read a neat article by Phillip Cary of Eastern University, "No Secret Plan." I'd written about seeking God's direction as well as listening to one's own heart in doing God's will. Cary writes, "A boatload of anxieties is tied up with the notion of 'finding God's will.'" "[M]any young people who couldn't recite the Ten Commandments if their life depended on it get up in the morning and 'listen' for God to tell them what to do that day. For them, the revealed will of God [the Bible] has been replaced by the thoughts of their own hearts." He continues:

"We have specific decisions to make about things like career or marriage, and the law of God doesn't tell us to choose this job over that one or this potentials pouse over that one. So how do we know what to do?...[T]he 'how do you know?' question is a sign that something's wrong. If you're looking for a formula or method for making decisions, then you're looking for the wrong thing. There is no recipe. There is only wisdom, the heart's intelligent skill at discerning good decisions from bad ones....The concept of wisdom is what every method for finding God's will leaves out of the decision-making process. It's left out precisely because the project of finding God's will is an attempt to guarantee that you won't make a mistake. All such guarantees are falsehoods, attempts to short-circuit the hard work of acquiring wisdom."

All this is from Christian Century, October 5, 2010, and the article is pages 20-23. I'll post a link to the complete article when it's available.

Seeking God's will is a great thing. God's strange ways (which we'll never completely know in this life) works amid our free will, explorations, mistakes, and choices. But Cary's article speaks to me in different ways. I've known preachers (including much younger self) who preached conformity to God's individual plans for us as if such conformity was a kind of "work" or spiritual accomplishment. But what if you pray for God's will, perceive God's guidance, and then the situation turns out badly? That has happened to me, and it's very easy to feel disappointed in God or "down on yourself" that God is punishing you.

I've a friend who declared his impatience with people who sought God's will "when they should just use the damn brains God gave them." He had a point: God's will can be very counterintuitive, or it can be very clear in a common-sense way. If it's clear in a common-sense way, then fervent prayers for clarity may be unnecessary--but this, too, is a matter of wisdom and experience. (The search for God's will can also have the pitfall of us perceiving ourselves to be the focus of God's concern, which is also contrary to common sense.)

As Cary writes, we are (or should be) also growing in wisdom, which in turn is gaining knowledge, understanding, and experience for the short- and long term. In the case of Robert Colin Morris (whom I quoted in my last spot), he made a career adjustment midway through his life--but that doesn't mean he hadn't conformed to God's will before. A biblical argument can be made that God doesn't so much call us to figure out his secret plans (and woe to us if we make a mistake) but rather to grow in the wisdom so extolled, for instance, in the book of Proverbs.


  1. Hi Paul--the article's up now, though full text is only available to subscribers:

    --Steve Thorngate, Century Web editor

  2. Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more!