The following is the fifth part of a series written by one of our members, David Carrico. Previous parts can be found at the links below:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As with the last article, there’s quite a bit that can be said about this phrase, and I don’t intend to attempt to cover all of it. We will only meditate on one of the aspects.
“Thy will be done…” Have you ever really stopped to think about what that phrase means? Because it’s part of the Model Prayer, most believers have heard it so often that it has become part of the “churchy” vocabulary. It’s something we hear at church, that you frequently hear in prayers, and we’re so used to it that we don’t even think much about it.
But what exactly does “will” mean in this context?
First of all, since “will” is a word that can be both a verb and a noun, we have to determine which form is in use in this phrase. That’s pretty easy—in this context it’s a noun. So how do we define “will” as a noun? Well, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, some of the possible definitions are:
2 a : something desired; especially : a choice or determination of one having authority or power
b (1) archaic : request, command
(2): the part of a summons expressing a royal command
3 : the act, process, or experience of willing : volition
So as used in this verse, “Thy will…” would seem to be an expression dealing with the concept of God choosing/determining/willing something. Is that something out of line for God, something we shouldn’t expect to see from Him?
On the contrary, scripture contains many references to God’s will, either in the verb form where God is willing something, or in the noun form to express the will of God. For example, consider the words of Jesus:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
We need to be careful, though; oftentimes when we use this word “will” among ourselves, we use it in a context of wishing or hoping. That is not a context we can apply to God. God neither hopes nor wishes. God has desires, yes. But those desires are not wishes or hopes. The difference between our desires and God’s desires is that God’s desires will always be accomplished, whereas all too often our own will not.
But “will” in the sense of the dictionary definition: a choice or determination of one having authority and power, or a royal command—oh, yes; those are definitely consistent with the scriptural premise of the will of God, as is given in the above verse. And a good concordance will show you many verses that are in line with that thought.
For our purposes at this moment, though, how can we discern the will of God, and what does that mean for us in prayer? Well, walk with me through this, and I’ll try to show you what I see.
Let’s begin by asking how and where God has revealed Himself to us? And there are two basic answers: in His creation, and in His word, the Bible. God is revealed in His creation in a general way, for us to view the complexity of life and the universe and realize that there must be a Creator. God is revealed in His word in a very specific way. Everything that we know about the nature of God—about His characteristics, emotions, and makeup—is revealed to us in the pages of the Bible.
Actually, that last statement should be rephrased for maximum accuracy. It’s not just everything we know about God that is revealed in the Bible; it’s everything that God wants us to know about Him that is revealed in the Bible. And that is an important distinction.
From the very beginning of this series of blogs, I’ve tried to set forth the idea that God, especially God the Father, is so much more than our human minds can possibly contain and comprehend. Now I’m going to say it bluntly: we can never comprehend the totality of God in this life. Attempting to know and understand all aspects of God, all of His nature, all of His characteristics, is an exercise in futility.
Do you understand what I mean when I say that God is not human? Yes, He has some characteristics that are like human characteristics: emotions, will, thought, even the gift of singing. (See Zephaniah 3:17, where the majority of translations have God singing over His chosen ones.) But as I implied in the first couple of blogs, the God whose mind can contain the full design of the universe and everything that is in it, the God who has the power to speak that universe into being, that is a God who is as far above us humans as we are above squirrels that run around in my front yard looking for acorns. And just as the squirrels have no hope of understanding me and everything about me, we have no hope of understanding everything there is to know about God.
Why am I belaboring this point? Because there is something we truly need to understand about the will of God. In scripture, particular in the New Testament, it almost appears that God is schizophrenic, because in some passages it appears that God has predestined all of creation throughout all of history (for example, see Ephesians 1:3-12), yet in other passages the writers stress that mankind has choices to make and is responsible for the choices that are made (for example, see Ephesians 6:6, Acts 16:29-31, James 2:14-26).
The problem that arises is that most people perceive these two positions as being in conflict. This is sometimes contrasted as predestination vs. free will, or as divine sovereignty vs. the responsibility of man. But both of those statements are wrong, because they are presented as if the two concepts in each proposition are in an either/or relationship: that one must be true and therefore the other may be false. Again, that is our human perception and rationality at work.
But if one of those concepts is true and the other is false, then we run into the problem that the Bible presents both of them as being true. And that’s where we humans get into trouble. We insist that one or the other—but not both—must be right, when the truth is that both are contained in God’s word, and therefore both are right.
Some people consider this sovereignty/responsibility issue a paradox, and try to present it as such. But this isn’t truly a paradox. Look the word up in a dictionary, and you’ll see something similar to the following:
2 a : a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true
b : a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true
c : an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
None of those definitions truly apply, not even 2a, because both concepts in the sovereignty/responsibility issue are true. The condition created by this issue is actually an antinomy. That’s a fancy word that we don’t even see used in church, which means a contradiction between two equally valid principles, which in turn is exactly what we have when we consider the sovereignty/responsibility issue.
God gave us His word, and everything contained within it. Both the teachings of divine sovereignty and of the responsibility of man are contained within it, therefore they have to be part of what God wants us to know about Him and His will. God gave them both to us, and they must both be true, or they wouldn’t be in God’s word. But in our human understanding they seem contradictory.
In our human understanding… That’s where the real problem lies. Whereas in God’s mind these things are both true and both valid and there is no conflict between them, in our minds that’s not so much the case. And instead of acknowledging that God’s mind and God’s will are so superior and so much larger than ours that He can understand and proclaim something that we can’t understand, we usually choose sides and argue and bicker.
The truth is that not only can God’s mind contain both of these concepts without conflict; He actually has two different wills in play at the same time.
Someone years ago tried to describe these two wills to me as God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will, and their explanation was that God had a perfect will of what He wanted to occur, but that in His permissive will He would accept our choices when they were less than they ought to be. I thought about that for a long time, and I finally rejected that explanation as being very sloppy theology.
I recently ran across a better explanation, however; one that does work for me. In this thought, God has a precept will, and God has a purpose will. The precept will contains everything that God has revealed about Himself and about how man should behave in relationship to Him and in relationship to each other—as contained in the Bible, in other words. The purpose will contains everything that God Himself will do, and this will has not been revealed to anywhere near the extent of the precept will.
Another way to look at it is the precept will is God’s Law, and the purpose will is God’s Plan. One deals with what man ought to be; the other deals with what man will be. And although our poor human minds tie themselves in knots trying to reconcile the antinomy, in God’s much more capable mind and understanding there is no conflict. And if there is no conflict in God, then we should accept this as just as much a mystery as why God bothers to offer salvation to anyone.
That’s enough for today. Think on these things, and we’ll pick up and finish the meditation on this phrase next blog.
Grace and peace to you.