This entry had to wait a couple days, having been interrupted by the terrible news last Friday out of Aurora, Colorado. Why it had to wait is that, at least from my perspective, time was needed to recoil from the shock of yet another senseless act of violence in which families were bereaved of loved ones. Our prayers and thoughts of deepest sympathy go out to those friends and families of the victims.
As is always the case immediately following such events, people ask why? Many Christians would say that James Holmes acted according to his free will. That sounds reasonable to me in a sense: he did what he wanted to do with no apparent coercion or outside influence; and he should be thus held responsible for his actions. Of course that explanation begs the question of why anyone would want to do such a thing. Dr. Drew and other pop “experts” who have never met him were quick to diagnose Holmes as a “sick” person in need of treatment. Others, like Piers Morgan, immediately used the situation to push tighter gun laws. Such responses sicken me because they trivialize and cheapen the lives of the victims in the interest of promoting agendas which marginalize the glory of God and reality of sin. If it sells soap run with it.
This blog was to be about prayer, specifically as it relates to the will of God.
Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15).
When we talk about the will of God our meaning might go in one of two directions. First, we might be referring to the revealed moral will of God; that is, those things we ought to do or not do based upon the commands and prohibitions of God recorded in scripture. The other sense in which we speak of God’s will is in terms of His secret sovereign decree. That is the sense in which it is used in passages like James 4:15: Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
Now in the 1 John prayer passage just cited it seems obvious for two reasons that the sovereign secret will of God is referred to. First, many times we pray for ourselves and others to operate within the parameters of God’s revealed moral will, and they do not. When I was in Bible college in the 1970′s I prayed a lot for my unsaved family members–and still do. An older Canadian pastor once assured me that those family members would be saved because it was God’s will. But two of those family members have since died, and as far as I know they were not saved, even though trusting Christ is what they ought to have done based on God’s word. My heart is heavy just thinking about this.
Which brings us to the secret sovereign will of God. I am convinced that is what John was referring to above. God does not answer prayer outside the bounds of His sovereign will for one simple reason: nothing can come to pass in God’s universe apart from His sovereign will. Scripture tells us that He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). This means that somehow diseases, natural disasters, and the evil choices of human beings are under the umbrella of God’s will.
And what about man’s free will? James Holmes chose to do what he did, and for that reason he alone is responsible and should be punished. God did not choose that Holmes should go on the shooting rampage in that crowded theater–He simply allowed it to happen. If this is your line of reasoning my question is a simple one: could God have stopped Holmes from killing and wounding all those people? If your answer is yes then you must conclude that God chose to let it happen. It was His sovereign will to let it happen.
You will argue that God does not violate our free will. Excuse me, but there are many examples in scripture and daily life that prove that notion false. God often stops us from doing what we choose and want to do–and thank God for it. What puzzles all of us is why He doesn’t stop all of our evil sinful choices. And to that question we must all plead ignorance.
And don’t get all bent out of shape that I am reasoning thus. Don’t write this off as a theoretical exercise divorced from real life. Nothing could be more practical than relating the events of daily life, no matter how painful, to the truth of the word of God. I am not an unfeeling ogre. I know that when someone is experiencing agonizing pain you deal with the pain. Recently my daughter experienced a severe ear infection which resulted in unbearable pain. Of course what any feeling human being does at a time like this is try and find a way to relieve the agony. Just over a month ago I sat with a woman as she broke the news to her nine-year son that he would never see his daddy again, as he had been struck dead that morning with a stroke. The expression in those sad little eyes is forever burned into my mind.
But at some point that poor boy and all the rest of us must come to grips with the reality of the sovereign God of Scripture in the face of the pain and suffering that go with the territory of living in this fallen world. When it comes to evils committed against us and others hopefully we will have the spiritual maturity to say with Joseph that, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). The only other option is unbelief and rebellion against God.
God is completely sovereign and man is at the same time totally responsible. We see these two truths side-by-side in the case of Judas Iscariot:
The Son of Man goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24).
And of the role of the Jewish leaders in the death of Christ Peter says this:
Being delivered up by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:23).
For sheer wickedness all else pales in comparison with the betrayal and execution of our Lord and Savior. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10). And again: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).
But if all this is true, why even pray in the first place? The answer to this question is that we do not pray to bend the will of God to ours; but rather we pray to align ourselves with what God is doing. We pray for others because as fellow human beings we are supposed to care about their pain, and we are supposed to want to help them in their times of grief.
But God in His essence is not a human being, and we have to accept what He tells us about His ways and character–even when His truth cuts against our fleshly human notions of fairness and right-ness.