I recently watched the film “Higher Ground” directed by and starring Vera Farmiga. The film catalogs a woman’s lifelong struggle with her faith in God. Throughout the film many events are attributed by characters to the will of God, leaving the audience to ask:
Does God have a will for me or do things just happen?
The answer, in reality, seems to be YES.
In Christianity, we often talk about God’s Perfect Will and God’s Permissive Will.
God’s perfect will is for Christians to be conformed to the image of Christ. God’s permissive will is most easily defined as his will to allow sin to occur. Some theologians have spent lifetimes trying to comprehend the will of God, for more info on these ideas visit: Bible.org or Got Questions. Theologically it is easy to say that everything that happens in life is God’s will, but as we experience life’s ups and downs, it becomes more difficult.
As we question our choices we make and wonder if we are making the right decisions, we question whether or not we are doing God’s will. We ask whether we are doing what we desire to do and writing it off as God’s will or if our desires are God’s will.
When life is hard and bad things happen, we struggle with the idea that our current sufferings are part of God’s will.
When we pray and ask God to protect us from certain events or happenings and he does not, we wonder why he is willing us to go through them.
In the film, Corinne (the main character) has a close friend (Annika) who seems to have a deeper walk with the Lord than any of the other characters. This friend is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors operate on the Annika and she lives, but she is reduced to a somewhat vegetative existence. At church the husband of this now vegetative character says he is thankful God saved her life in the hands of the doctors and he attributes her now incapacitated state of being to God’s will. The question this raised for me was, “Did God really will for her to live in a vegetative state or was her tumor and our inability to cure her without brain damage simply a result of living in a fallen world?”
This is where we now turn again to look at the idea of God’s permissive will. Why does God allow sin to occur? Why does he not save us from all the effects of sin? If God knows every choice we will make before we make it and he knows exactly what are life will be before we live it, why does he not intervene and keep us from harm?
It almost seems like calling something God’s permissive will is a cheap way of assigning meaning to things that just happen. But even if things do just happen, isn’t God powerful enough to stop the things that hurt his children who have been adopted into his family through Christ?
When we ask these kinds of questions, what we are really asking is this: If God, why evil?
I believe that God allows evil and that he has a very good reason for doing so. I don’t purport to know why he allows certain bad things to happen and why he prevents other bad things from happening, but I do know that his ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8). He transcends our logic (as Dr. Mark Boone once taught me).
When bad things do happen, we must remember that these things are a result of sin and while God allows sin, it is not his perfect will that they occur. As we walk through times of suffering, let us remember that God is beside us walking with us in our pain. We do not have to attribute suffering to God’s will, we attribute suffering to the effects of the fall–to sin. Sin is the enemy of God, and while we often draw closer to the Lord in the midst of suffering, even he plans to redeem us. He plans to renew us. When the Lord returns and the perfect comes, Jesus Christ will reshape everything. He will reverse the effects of the fall and we will no longer face pain, toil, suffering, or death. Jesus is making all things new.
Instead of looking at our present situation as God’s will, look at it as opportunity to grow closer to the Lord. When we see someone diagnosed with cancer, instead of proclaiming God’s will, think about how God hurts for us just as much as we hurt in those situations. Then look to see how God can take these seemingly bad situations and use them for something good. In this fallen world, God continually brings rays of hope to the lives of people living in poverty, sickness, and and pain. He has not redeemed everything yet, but as he uses bad situations for good now, we see glimpses of what things will be when the world is no longer under the curse of sin. There will come a day we when no longer are left wondering whether or not what we are doing is actually God’s will.
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.