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America has voted, and Donald Trump has been elected to be the next president of the United States. It’s interesting to see how people have reacted to this ( and I promise this episode is not all about politics.) I think looking at the situation and how people have responded to it can be an interesting segue to talking about what God’s will is and how we know it.

It’s interesting, some people on the left have been criticizing anyone who voted for Trump and saying they’re a bunch of racists. Well, clearly this is not true. There are people of good conviction who abhor racism, who voted for Trump for other reasons and perhaps, they voted more against Hillary. It’s maybe not so much an endorsement of Trump as it is a repudiation of Hillary.

There are people who voted for Hillary who had good intentions and should not be slandered and said that they don’t care about the life of the unborn. Maybe they weighed those things differently. We need to be careful how we talk about people who fall on different side to this issue.

Actually, the one type of response I want to talk about today is the response of what you might call “the Christian who goes to Scripture” in terms of how to respond to this. I’ve seen people posting that God is sovereign, God is the one who installs kings, maybe quoting Daniel 4 and some other passages like that. “It is God’s will that Donald Trump has been elected president.”

Now, there are some people that by this mean God has his hand sovereignly on Trump such that he is kind of the ordained and anointed man for the job. That kind of sounds like Israel language. Now, I certainly don’t think there’s biblical precedence or basis for saying that Trump is the anointed man of God.

However, some people are saying that this is simply the sovereign will of God. I would agree with these people but I have a question. If we have non-Christian friends and maybe they are hurting because they’re scared. They don’t know what’s going to happen because Trump got elected or they associate anyone who could say anything positive about Trump with racism and we come along and we say, “Well, it’s the sovereign will of God that Trump’s elected,” or more that, “It’s God who installed Trump.” What does that say to this person?

This is a true factual theological statement, a statement of reality. And Trump is where he is because it’s the sovereign will of God. If you say that to someone or even if you’re the Christian saying it and you don’t have a robust biblical foundation to stand on when you say that, to many people, it sounds like you were saying, “God wanted a racist man to be president. He wanted a man with a low view of women, who talks disparagingly about them, to be president,” because they don’t have a foundation. They don’t have a context to understand what you mean when you say, “this is all the will of God.”

The question this brings to mind is “can something be God’s will that is not good” – something we don’t often talk about. I actually believed there are two wills in God. I think God has a moral will and he has a sovereign will and we don’t often do a good job as Christians at distinguishing between these two. We flip back and forth between them. Oftentimes, this makes us seem inconsistent.

Let’s look at some verses in the Scripture that reference the will of God and we’ll see what we can pull together and build an understanding of the will of God.

Ephesians 1:11 says, “God works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

That’s a very expansive statement, “all things.”

Romans 9 says, “Who can resist his will,”

This is a rhetorical question. It’s not like the answer is going to be, “Well, there’s this guy over that can.”

Daniel 4:35 says, “He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can ward off His hand.”

Acts 2:23, speaking of Jesus says, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men.”

Job even says in Job 12, “The hand of the Lord has done this,” speaking about what has befallen him.

You may think, okay, this seems to say that everything that happens is the will of God. I don’t see how that’s able to be avoided. I mean, the Psalms talk about that God does whatever he pleases. Who can resist his will? Like we saw in Ephesians 1, “God does all things according to the counsel of his will.”

We have to ask, does that mean that because something happened, it was good? Because it happened and therefore was the will of God, was it actually good? The answer has to be no. We see in numerous examples in the Scripture of things that were done and were evil and God judged the people for doing it even though it was his will.

For example, Pharaoh. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and God judged Pharaoh for having a hard heart. Did Pharaoh choose to harden his heart? Yes. That’s not a contradiction. God claims responsibility for hardening Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart and God judged him for it. Pharaoh did what we wanted to do. No one made him harden his heart against his own will.

So what we see is God sovereignly decrees things that will come to pass, all things that will come to pass, but that’s one will. Remember I said there’s a sovereign will of God and there’s a moral will of God. Let’s look at some other verses that speak of the will of God.

Well, 2 Peter 3:9 says,

”The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Does that happen? Do people perish and not come to repentance? Yes. There are people who die without a knowledge of the gospel, without surrendering their lives to Christ and they do not repent. That would be an example of “a will” of God not being done.

1 Thessalonians 4:9 says, “For this is the will of God,” your sanctification…”

and it goes on to say other things but everyone is not sanctified and more so than that, everyone doesn’t abstain from sexual immorality which is also what we’re told is the will of God.

Ephesians 5 says,

”Don’t be foolish but understand what the will of God is, to be filled with the spirit.”

We see in 1 Peter,

”Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority or to governor which is sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right for such is the will of God. That by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

Well, does everyone submit to the rulers above them? No. Does that mean the will of God is not done? Well, we have to ask “which will of God.”

Finally, the last verse we’ll look at is 1 Thessalonians 5:15,

”Rejoice, pray, give thanks for this is God’s will for you.”

I don’t always do that. Does that mean God’s will is not done? Well, which will? What we seem to have is many verses, and they seem to contradict on the face of it. “God accomplishes everything according to his will” yet “God wills things that don’t happen.” How does that work? The difference is because there are two wills in God.

God’s moral will is completely revealed in the Scripture. It is the things that we are supposed to do: live righteously, share the gospel, submit to human institutions over you, be filled with the spirit, the 10 commandments, the law in the Old Testament that tells us about God’s character. This is the will of God that we do these things. God does not hold us accountable for something he has not told us or revealed to us.

We know the will of God. If someone asked you, “Well, what’s the will of God for my life?” Read the Bible. There’s no other answer besides that. There’s no hidden, secret will of God. Nowhere are we told in Scripture that the Christian is supposed to have a sixth sense whereby they try to figure out what God has already determined we should do but just hasn’t told us like it’s some type of divine spiritual scavenger hunt. No, that’s not there. That is not a model in Scripture.

What we are told is everything we need. Isn’t it interesting? For the Christian who’s always looking for special guidance and secret revelations, Scripture itself tells us that it’s inspired by God, useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. We looked at this last week when we talked about Sola Scriptura but that’s not where that verse ends. It says, “So that the work man of God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

If you’re saying, “God, I need you to tell me these things so I can do this good work,” what would the answer be? Look in Scripture because everything you need there to be equipped for every good work—not just most situations—but for all situations, is in Scripture. The will of God for us, God’s moral will, the will he reveals, is totally in Scripture. These are the things we need to do, that we are bound by, and we will be held accountable for.

There’s this other category also. There is the sovereign will of God. This is that first category of verses we looked at. God accomplishes all things according to his will, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that it was God’s will that Jesus was crucified, that it was God’s will that everything that happened to Job happened to Job, etc. It was God’s will in Daniel 4 to make the king be transformed into a babbling grass grazer when he looked over Babylon and said, “Isn’t this the mighty Babylon I’ve made by my mighty hand for my honor?” God humbled him and made him become a beast of the field.

Yes, God accomplishes all things according to his will. There is nothing that happens that is outside of his will, but which will? His sovereign will. We need to be careful how we speak not just outside of the church, not just around non-Christians but honestly, with each other. Because when we confuse these categories, people get hurt. There are misunderstandings. It leads to misunderstandings about how to live because bad ideas about God, as J. I. Packer has said, lead to bad ideas about how to live.

We need to understand that, is it the will of God that Trump is president? Which will? If you say it’s God’s moral will, which I think is what people hear you saying when you say that “it’s the will of God for Trump to be president”, that very much could lead to a misunderstanding. Because they’re thinking that God willed for this evil person to become president. (That’s what some people are thinking. I’m not necessarily saying that. I think we’re all fallen. There’s no good person. Some people are worse than others though, that is true. Although in this election, I don’t know how you could figure out which is the lesser of two evils. That’s not nearly as clear cut as it seems. I’m not saying people don’t have well-reasoned opinions on this though.)

Anyways, my point is this, when we talk this way before the non-Christian world, they don’t understand. When Paul addresses the Corinthian church about speaking in tongues, he says there needs to be an interpretation because if an outsider comes into your midst, they need to be able to understand what’s going on. When we communicate, even communicate about God whether in church or in Facebook or in the break room at work, we need to do so in such a way where we try to minimize the misunderstandings.

I think we should mourn with those who are scared right now. There are students at local high schools in Tallahassee who honestly think that because Trump is president, they’re going to be sent back to Africa. They’re fifth generation Americans who are citizens but they’re under the impression that they will be deported. I don’t know how they got that. I can’t understand. I can probably link up some pieces to figure it out, but they’re scared. There are other people groups that are scared right now, whether rightly or wrongly, they’re terrified.

We need to communicate in such a way where we don’t link God with the thing that is terrifying them. Now, I think there are understandings about God that are correct that could very well be terrifying to people. The fact that he is just and righteous and will punish sin unless you’re found to be in Christ and in his Son, but nonetheless, let’s not add offense.

More so as Christians, let’s have this more explicit understanding of God’s will: that there are two. There’s the sovereign will of God—which is everything that comes to pass and there’s the moral will of God. These two things are not always the same.

Was it the sovereign will of God that Jesus be crucified on the cross? Yes, it was. Was it against God’s moral will for Jesus to be crucified on the cross? Yes, it was. If you say, “No, it wasn’t,” then what do you call murder? Doesn’t murder break one of the 10 commandments? Surely, if Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount that being angry with your brother is like murder, well, then surely murder is like murder. The sovereign will of God and the moral will of God do not always line up but we are held accountable for the moral will of God, what we respond to.

We should not praise something that happens that is evil even though you could correctly say it was the sovereign will of God that that thing happened. We can’t just say it’s good because it happened. Yes, God was in control of it. Yes, people chose to commit whatever evil it was. Men are still responsible. Men still make choices but it doesn’t mean God is not sovereign over everything.

What we can’t do is collapsed these categories. We can’t say that because God is sovereign, man doesn’t have a choice. We can’t say that because man chooses, God is not sovereign, and we can’t say that because something happened, it was the will of God which necessarily makes it good. You might say, these are all a lot of complicated distinctions. Why do I need to understand this? Well, I’ll return this to our central point: because we’re engaging the culture and how we speak about God matters.

We need to take seriously what we’re communicating about him and even if you’re communicating something that’s correct, if it’s not being understood by people or it’s likely to be misunderstood by people, it will not communicate correct biblical truth. I think there is a good way to make the case that God is sovereign over everything, that our allegiance is not to Caesar, it’s not to Trump, it’s not to an American flag, it’s to the kingdom of God and the king who is God. We need to be careful how we communicate those things. Let’s make the offense of the gospel be the only offense we offer.

The last thought I would leave you with is more political. Like I said, I think there are people upset about the election and I understand that. I can understand where they’re coming from but I think some of the things they’re upset about, for instance, saying that the church voted Trump in and the church is racist and all these things. There may be some truth there, I don’t know, but it’s certainly not the fact that the majority of people who voted for Trump were racists and bigots.

We can’t label them all in one category but we also need to realize that even if we had a candidate on the ballot—let’s say it was Jesus—who perfectly espoused Christian values, the non-Christian world would still call us bigots for supporting that person. They would still call us hateful and exclusionary and narrow-minded and intolerant.

We need to be prepared to wear that badge that, yes, we’re standing with Jesus but we need to make sure that when we stand and use the name of Christ that we don’t attach it to a political party, that we don’t attach it to a candidate but we only attach it to God and his kingdom. When those things get confused, our cultural engagement suffers.

Talking about the sovereignty of God is one example of that but who we link ourselves to, who we use the name of God in relation to and who we say God has anointed for his purposes and how that’s understood, those are all really important things we need to talk about. We need to be careful what we celebrate in front of the world because they’re watching and many of them are upset and many of them are hurting.

Those are just some thoughts as we come out of this election about what it means to be a Christian and to think about the will of God and I think there are some personal overlap to our lives. How do we live? How do think about the will of God personally? Is there the secret will we have to find? Well, no, because Scripture is totally sufficient. It’s the infallible word of God like we looked at last week and it contains everything we need. And just because something happens doesn’t mean it’s good but God is in control over all of it.

I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.

5 thoughts on “Episode 85 – Was it God’s Will for Trump to be Elected?

  1. Hi Brian. Your friendly pest back again to agree to disagree. First off, excellent article, and I completely agree with the main point. We tarnish the gospel by directly attributing human or demonic choices and the harm that comes from them to God. I still humbly disagree with your definition of sovereignty and thank you in advance for your gracious discussion.

    God is sovereign. On that we agree. To me that means He holds all the leashes so to speak and thus is in complete control of how long those leashes are for His creations–including the angels (thus Satan). Within the limited sovereignty He has granted to those creations they can do evil things against His will. Since He gave them the limited sovereignty in the first place you could say these evil things are within His sovereign will of course. Comes down to definition again. God cannot go against His nature though His creations can.

    My leash analogy could be roughly related to covenants. He is the covenant Maker starting with Adam and Eve. The covenants give us freedom within the boundaries He set. Even when we abuse this freedom it is not in His nature to renege on His promises or covenants and of course He knew this when He made them. Why He did it anyway is a mystery to me but I know it is partly because He is love. He has made His covenants clear in His word so we are without excuse when the results He promised come. In the new covenant of course this is eternal damnation due to unbelief. Just like the original sin it comes down to trusting God.

    (On a side note that I cannot prove at all from the Bible I wonder about covenants with Satan. I have often pondered Daniel 10 and why God allowed His message to be delayed 3 weeks. Maybe it was anthropomorphism but it doesn’t seem likely. Was it simply testing Daniel’s faith? Maybe but seems weird to relate the story. It is probably related to original sin giving human earthly authority to Satan rather than a direct covenant but it is a curious thing. Thank God for faith with so many mysteries!)

    I think most of the disagreements within normal evangelical discussions concern how long the leashes are. I think they are pretty long while you might not. Unfortunately Biblical interpretation can be affected by your going in position. To me Ephesians 1:11 completely fits my interpretation of God’s sovereignty. Giving me a fore-ordained amount of sovereignty doesn’t change the results of that verse. Romans 9 is the same way; approach it from the perspective of individual salvation and you come to one conclusion. Approach it another way and it is not about individual salvation at all but simply God’s sovereign choice of nations to bless or not bless and how can the Jews complain about His decision to allow the Gentiles to be saved? How can one side or the other say they are absolutely right?

    Daniel 4:35 is the same. In my view this was Nebuchadnezzar finally submitting to the true God. These are his words not God’s. First off God warned him this was going to happen. He had a choice to choose God first. He did not, so thus God did what He promised to do. It was still Nebuchadnezzar’s own choice that did him in. When he finally submitted to God he spoke the words recorded. Should we base a doctrine of sovereignty on his words? It’s interesting that in one translation in verse 31 God says to him "…sovereignty has been removed from you…" Of course this is probably meaning his earthly kingdom but interesting application. As verse 37 indicates God will bring about circumstances that humble the proud…He does this for the very reason He has given us the will to be proud!

    The crucifixion is an interesting study. Acts 2:23 still doesn’t convince me that God moved the hands of the people doing the nailing. Once when I was praying about understanding this very thing it came to my mind how many times Jesus had to slip away from the crowd because they wanted to kill Him and it wasn’t His time. I was wondering why God wouldn’t just change the will of the crowd at the time to just not want to kill Him at the wrong time? Slipping through the crowd unnoticed was a supernatural work of course; but why not do the other? I know God’s ways are not my ways, but still a good question. Ironically the way He accomplished the Father’s sovereign will in that instance did not involve overcoming the people’s will who wanted to kill Him. Maybe this was on purpose?

    Finally to address pharaoh: a big proof text for certain definitions of sovereignty. Once again, a straight reading in the English language certainly supports saying that God hardened His heart. You could simply say that his own hardening of his heart paved the way for God to harden without forcing Pharaoh’s own choice. But if you look deeper into Biblical languages you see that there were idiomatic uses of verbs. I am not enough of a scholar to get into the details but one example is 1 John 1:10 where it says "…we make God a liar." Obviously we cannot make God a liar but we attempt to when we deny our sinful condition.

    Some idioms were used to mean God’s allowance. The same Hebrew idiom used in Exodus 4:21 is used in Jeremiah 4:10 "Lord God surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people" and Ezekiel 14:9 "If the prophet be the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet". It is clear from scripture that God cannot lie or deceive. These passages simply mean that God allowed the false prophets to deceive His people and themselves. He could have intervened but He did not.

    So in regards to Pharaoh, the active verb could have simply meant that God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened in an act of permission not a direct action on his heart. There are other explanations for the language but for sake of time I will digress. I simply bring this up as a discussion of the fact that there is reasonable doubt to be had for a fixed definition of sovereignty based on Pharaoh. Of course as Romans 9 demonstrates, however the details of it happening, God did it for His glory and His alone.

    As I have written before, I am still searching. These are really just questions I am bringing up not necessarily answers. They may be part of an answer but God forbid that I am dogmatic about these things. There is more here than meets the eye of course! Some mysteries may not be revealed so God forbid we divide over them. The Gospel through Jesus Christ is always more important than doctrine (John 5:39-40).

    I appreciate your approach to the tension by using moral vs. sovereign. Sometimes that is helpful, but it can also be harmful like when people try to associate sanctification with growth by saying positional vs. personal or progressive. But that’s another topic. Love your posts, keep them coming. God bless.

    1. I promise I’m not ignoring you. 🙂 The last week and the rest of this one are busier than normal for me. I’ll reply and We’ll keep the dialogue going though!

      B

    2. Talking about individual points and passages is good and necessary, but we need to talk about the frameworks and hermeneutics that are being used to interpret these points/passages.

      I would humbly suggest that you may actually be inconsistent in how you work through these passages. Allow me to explain. We agree that scripture teaches that God is a trinity. But how did we arrive at this conclusion? By noticing that scripture teaches three separate things about God: 1. There is one God. 2. Jesus is God; the Father is God; the Spirit is God; 3. Jesus is not the Father; The father is not the Spirit; the Spirit is not Jesus.

      People who deny the trinity fail to see that all of those points must stand (in tension); you can’t get rid of one because of one of the others. And you can’t redefine one point to not mean what it says because of the tension with other points. We don’t understand how God can be three persons in one being, but he is.

      Now, when it comes to God’s sovereignty and such. Scripture teaches three things: 1. God is sovereign; 2. Man is responsible; 3. God is Good.

      Nowhere does scripture say that man is free in a libertarian sense. This is an abiblical philosophical idea not found in the text. This is imported into the text. Scripture consistently says that man is responsible, but never links that to an ability to choose otherwise. We are held accountable for sin, even while we were slaves to it. Sinful people cannot not sin, and yet they’re held responsible. Jesus could not sin, and yet that was still meritorious. We cannot interpret the bible with non-biblical presuppositions.

      So, when it comes to those three things above, because some have a non-biblical philosophy of what it means for man to be responsible, they say that God can’t decree everything because then man wouldn’t be free. But they have just “reconciled” a tension in an inappropriate way. On a straightforward reading, God does “work all things according to the council of his will.” and God did take credit for hardening pharaoh’s heart, and he did take credit for Jesus going to the cross.

      In attempting to address Acts 2, you don’t address it; you bring in questions and seem to do is say “he can’t have decreed that it would happen”, because Jesus had to flee people so as not to be caught at the wrong time. You have setup a distinction where there doesn’t have to be one. I am saying God is both totally sovereign and man is responsible. I am leaving a tension there. However, in trying to resolve that tension, you are saying God can’t decree everything and man still be responsible. But that is not an option scripture leaves open.

      In the same way that we can’t round off the rough edges on the doctrine of the trinity to try to reconcile things, we can’t do it here. In summary: I don’t think you can demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity from scripture with the same hermeneutic you use to interpret scripture with regards to the issue of Sovereignty and free will.

      The hinge pin, it seems, is the introduction of the non-biblical notion of libertarian freewill, something we never see in scripture.

      I hope you have a great thanksgiving; I appreciate the dialogue.

      Brian

  2. No problem! And with holidays coming up just going to get busier. I will add one more quick thought for discussion. I was always taught that Job was nearly a god-like figure in his great "righteousness" but in the last couple years after Christ brought me to a place of cutting out the legalism and seeing His grace in everything I have re-studied Job. First comment is in Job 1 it is interesting that a literal translation like Young’s changes the meaning of the conversation between Satan and God. Rather than saying "have you considered my servant Job" God says in the literal translation "Hast thou set thy heart against my servant Job". Maybe a distinction without a difference but I’m not so sure. Seems like God is recognizing the role Satan is playing rather than sort of egging him onto Job. Viewed that way it almost seems like in his response Satan is tempting God to strike Job Himself while God is simply saying I am lengthening your leash Satan.

    The second new thing in Job that stuck out to me is Elihu. I have always heard the other 3 friends preached how terrible they were (and God himself called them out) but turns out Elihu majorly called Job out and God did not correct him. To me this means that God agreed with what Elihu had to say. God also called out Job himself. This lends itself to thinking that we might want to be careful creating doctrine out of the words of Job. Everything in the Bible was inspired to be written by God but that does not mean everything written is spoken from His perspective. In other words it is God’s word but not always God’s words. Caution is needed.

    On a side note, read Job 35-37 carefully. It is pretty amazing. Elihu preaches grace and goes against Job’s self-righteousness. He accuses Job of blaming God for his afflictions when it was not God’s direct judgment at all. The rest is just an amazing display of the glory of God. I love Job 36:5 (HCSB). "Yes God is mighty but He despises no one; He understands all things." What grace; even as we rebel He doesn’t despise us. He only has good for us.

    Love the discussion; if you don’t get time to comment before Thanksgiving then please have a very grateful holiday! God has richly blessed us all even in this broken world.

  3. Brian,

    Thank you for your dialogue. I think it is probably in both our best interest to agree to disagree. I agree with your 1,2,3 statement about God. I just think you have a harder-line interpretation of sovereignty than God Himself indicates in scripture. I cannot fully accept what seems to be the notion that God in His sovereignty has not allowed for some level of free will in His creation. I think scripture allows for this though I recognize the tension and so thus am still questioning how "libertarian" it actually is and still be scriptural. I believe we both affirm sola scriptura but as with many others in the last 2000 years interpretive differences exist and I am happy to leave it there. Have a Christ filled Christmas and thank you again.

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