Two contributors present brief
essays in response to some perennial questions. Each writes
independently of the other. One comes from a person closely linked to a
Christian denomination. The other comes from a person at the fringes of
the traditional Church.
4. Can we know God's will?
As I thought about God�s will I became increasingly perplexed by
the definition of the word will. I consulted a few dictionaries
and came up with a number of definitions. They include: desire, wish,
disposition, inclination, appetite, passion, request, command,
disposition to act according to principle, power to chose action, a
choice of one having authority, having one�s way.
The nuances of differences between the various definitions challenged
me to provide a synthesis of what God�s will means to me.
If one believes God is the Creator or architect of the universe there
must be a blueprint of the universe that he established. It is this
blueprint that governs the course of the universe and is inviolable.
Thus, I see God�s will as design and plan that defines reality
and which is perfect. We cannot escape its principles.
It is my belief that the reality of the universe can be separated
into two spheres, the physical/material and the moral/non-material. Yes,
I am a dualist.
To know God�s will means to me that we try to determine the outlines
and principles of the divine plan. In the case of the material universe
our knowledge is provided by observation and experimentation.
Confidence in the results is assured by the conviction that physical
laws are unchanging and universally applicable. If there were no
conscious observers present, the universe would progress and evolve
according to physical laws, but it would be of no concern except to the
With the advent of conscious humans, a window was created to the
moral/non-material universe. Unfolding of the universe came under
scrutiny and concern. It was consciousness that gave us the ability to
make choices and moral decisions. It was consciousness that gave us
free will. Our choices may be inconsequential or of profound
positive or negative effect on the human condition.
We attempt to ascertain the moral/non-material nature of the divine
plan in at least two ways. Similar to materialist investigators,
observation is important. Human activity and thought are observed and
analyzed leading to certain conclusions.
There is also a component of revelation. It is revelation that
is most controversial. The obvious question is, how reliable is the
prophet who claims a special line of communication to God and knowledge
of the divine plan? What standard can be invoked to test prophetic
The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1.9-10:
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery
of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in
Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
It is Jesus that Christians hold up as the standard to judge all
prophesy. It is through Jesus that we know God�s will.
That Christianity claims to be a historical faith is disputed
by nobody. Christians define themselves by trust in the historical
person of Jesus of Nazareth.
There are two main ways of regarding history. The first is that God is
in charge of the ebb and flow of events in our world. If so, God sometimes
acts to change events and sometimes lets things happen as they will. In
either case we should co-operate with God's intentions.
The second option is that the world operates independently of the
divine. If this is correct, then events flow on their own and God's will,
in the traditional sense, apparently doesn't enter into the equation.
Only the second allows history. Any event caused by God disrupts the
complex system of cause and effect which historians seek to unravel. To
do history at all in a providential universe, we must be able to
distinguish between a history-event and a God-event. As far as I know,
this cannot be done.
This option has its difficulties. If a God who is "outside"
everything doesn't influence our lives, then it's difficult to imagine a
personal relationship with the divine. Moreover, according to
traditional Christian teaching, it is heretical to deny a personal God.
Is it possible to understand the world in a way which allows history
and also allows us to know God's will just as we might know what a
friend wants of us?
A potential path ahead lies in finding God in and through creation
This implies that the information for our choices is to be found in
the created world. It is as though everything we need has been saved
onto the hard drive of the universe, from which we are to decode God's
will. Second, it implies that to be fully human is to be maturely
autonomous. We are to give up the idea that God orders us around.
Instead, we are called to make our own choices.
Traditionally, we discover the divine will by tuning in to God through
prayer and meditation. Another traditional way to know God's will is to
consult ecclesiastical oracles - be they popes or bishops - or to cast
lots (usually by voting) in gatherings of the faithful. If we are to
preserve the possibility of history, it seems we have to recognise that
these human functions are how God speaks to us. God doesn't speak
them. They themselves are processes which reveal how God does
things in our world.
In prayer and meditation we allow the depths of our being to
speak. Recognising that we have unconscious needs and desires, we
cultivate calm reflection so that they can rise to the surface. We
also surface decisions from our unconscious by reducing distraction
from irrelevant concerns and incoming data.
In a corporate setting, we move through processes of attentive
mutual listening followed by sacrificial negotiation and compromise.
God's will is not likely to be revealed by ideological argument and
To sum up: Our knowledge of how the universe works appears to
foreclose on the likelihood that God intervenes in its processes. In
addition, without history, Christianity becomes myth. We know God's will
by immersing ourselves in the world, for in it lie all the answers we