God's Will: God's Ability and Eternal Will to Reconcile Us unto Himself
Before I stepped foot in New Haven and, truth be told for as long as I can remember, I have thought about what I wanted to do with my life. However, I doubt that I am unique in having this thought. It is an incredibly broad question and thus must be pared down into distinct portions otherwise the very weight of the question is unbearable. The first distinction for me is to submit my desires for what I wish to accomplish in life to my understanding of what God wants my life to look like. The question of God’s particular will for my individual life is minimally about the actions which I perform in life and primarily the way in which I perform said actions.
Before too many critiques rise up in protest, I believe it is helpful to lay out a few necessary definitions regarding our common-sense understanding of the will of God. First, I will use the term “will” as defined as: an agent’s desired course of action from among various alternatives. I will not be discussing the agency involved in bringing about the desired course of action, but instead only focusing on the question of knowing the will of God. Secondly, the term will is used generally independent of scope in each particular circumstance. However, an individual can and in fact does hold multiple desired courses of action simultaneously, each dependent upon particular parameters. For example, a young girl, Jill, has three distinct wills at the same moment: she wills to be kind to her friend Karen, to become a veterinarian, and to live a virtuous life. All of the above can be defined as Jill’s will for her life, but they are not interchangeable. The will to be kind to her friend Karen is a value-based immediate desire. Whereas the will to be a veterinarian is a non-value based prospective desire and the will to lead a virtuous life is value-based and prospective. Within this framework, one’s will can be determined to be either prospective or immediate and either value-based or not value-based. Just as humans have these different categories within our own will, God too shares these categories in his will for each of us as individuals.
Let us begin by addressing God’s will in regard to non-value based desires, both immediate and prospective. Most would agree that God, in his perfection, necessarily acts perfectly. The difficulty arises in understanding perfection. Our common sense understanding is typically that there is one perfect action in a given scenario. For example, judges watch an Olympic dive to determine how close to perfection a dive is. There are particular qualities which a judge examines in identifying the perfection of a dive. Thus if a diver is able, miraculously, to perform all the necessary components down to the finest detail they would succeed in performing the perfect dive. God in his nature must always performs actions which are fine-tuned to perfection. One of God’s actions is his will. Admittedly, this is not to say that God expects that each individual live out the perfect life which God wills, but that his will is a standard which God desires that we work to conform our lives to.
This is an attractive notion and a popular understanding of God’s will. It appears that if we discover God’s will and pursue it, this is the nearest we can get to imitating Christ. The obstacle in this view is that we do not know God’s will and thus we must seek it out. Unfortunately, this understanding of God’s will is based upon a faulty premise. Returning to the diving example, there is a list of properties which determine the perfect dive, but there are also other properties which neither make a dive better nor worse. A dive is not made better by the color of the diver’s dive skin. There is no perfect colorization of a dive skin, at least not in its relationship to the quality of a dive. This same line of thinking applies to God as well. There are some properties which do make an action better, but there are also properties which neither add to nor take away value from an action. Therefore, God’s will for our lives does contain certain specific properties, but it also conations variable properties of which no particular one would change the value of our life. One’s life does not become better if they are a veterinarian instead of a teacher, one could be equally virtuous in either role. The breadth of these variable properties is remarkably vast and provides a weighty dose of libertarian freedom. However, within this picture God becomes more distant and could be seen as uncaring because he does not have an opinion on our specific career, marriage, or location of residence. While these decisions greatly effect our lives, they do not effect the value of our character. As Kierkegaard writes, “ The man who turns away from the glamour and lure of the external world toward the inwardness of his own self, gains with this decision his ethical existence.” God has seems to have minimal opinions regarding non-value based desires such as career, but instead is primarily concerned with value-making actions of either the immediate or prospective type.
There is still the distinction between immediate and prospective wills. With the dismissal of the non-value prospective category. It seems natural to fall back on those value-based immediate will, such as Jill’s desire to be kind to her friend Karen as the primary focus of God’s will. There are multiple examples of God’s will for people to perform a specific action in the present. The strongest example of all is the Ten Commandments, a code of moral law to guide present actions. Jesus also commands immediate particular action, when talking to the rich young ruler he says “‘Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’” And perhaps one’s eternal character is nothing more than a series of such decisions, as Aristotle states, “These virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.” The general commands of God to be just, loving, forgiving, or honest are nothing more than habitual action extended throughout a lifetime. In fact while there are many decisions in life that are non-value based decisions, our lives are primarily comprised of ethical decisions, particularly in our intentionality. As Jerry Sittser writes in The Will of God as a Way of Life,
“We want to know what extraordinary deed we can perform for God sometime in the future—the ephemeral ‘Will of God’ that we seek to discover. But it is not the big things we want to do with such bravura but the little things we do every day that constitute his true will. God wants us to practice daily obedience. Such obedience requires attentiveness to God in our present circumstances.”
It is this obedience which is the crux of our faith. As John writes, “He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” We want to be apprised that our desire to run a non-profit or become a business executive is the panacea of God’s will for our lives, but perhaps it is not these things which are most crucial, but instead the way in which one performs those given functions.
This perspective severely limits the scope of God’s will. If God’s will is solely encompassed within the daily actions we perform and his will for our life is culminated in the set of all moral actions we perform, then God could be an accidental property of the system. This clearly contradicts the essential nature of God and Jesus’ death and resurrection in the God’s will for humanity. No matter the weight of the ethical life, it fails humanity. In fact as one becomes more aware of the standard, one also becomes more aware of the their separation from that standard. This abyss is insurmountable. The only means of reconciliation is through the identification of our own failing and to surrender unto the gracious promises of Christ. Therefore, as Kierkegaard writes, “with a contrite heart, man chooses himself as guilty and hopes for divine forgiveness.” It is this action of surrender which is the great gift from God, faith. It is a surrender of the particular unto the universal promises of God. As the author of Hebrews writes, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The resignation of the particular unto the universal and the finite unto the infinite does not negate the particular or the finite, but it guards against its essential failure.
This analysis places humanity where it always finds itself somewhere within the tension of a dialectical. At times it seems that a minutely detailed description of God’s will would be preferred especially in regard to our careers, marriage, friendships and where to live. And sometimes God does in fact provide clear direction regarding these particulars. However, this perspectival shift puts the focus upon the saving power of Jesus and obedience to his commands. God’s desires are not caught up in whether or not I choose to attend graduate school, but they do revolve around my relation to God within this particular decision and obedience to the good actions which he has laid out for me to do. In this way we rest upon the gift of faith and act with obedience, fully assured of God’s ability and eternal will to reconcile us unto himself. The ‘infinite resignation’ into the provision of the Lord is where we find our true self: in relationship with God. To give of oneself fully is what God desires. Acting in obedience to God’s commands is a necessary aspect of God’s will, but does not sufficiently encompass his will for our lives, this is only found in his gift of faith and our clinging to his infinite promises.
 Luke 18:22, New International Version
 Jerry Sittser, The Will of God as the Way of Life, (Zondervan, 2000), 85.
 John 14:21, New International Version
 Kierkegaard, Soren, Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay (Penguin Classics, 1986), 56.
 Hebrews 11:1, New International Version