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.