A Message to the Class of 2016 (and for Everyone)
(Adapted & Re-Printed)
Over the last two centuries, a popular but troubling theology has emerged in Christian churches. The doctrine of God’s perfect will suggests that our Creator has a hidden plan for our lives that we must somehow find. Woe unto thee if you step outside of this hidden will, for doing so may bring great consequence.
I become profoundly unsettled when this misapplication of Scripture paralyzes godly believers with fear. So, as the class of 2016 prepares to graduate and sets out to ‘find’ the will of God, I cannot think of a more appropriate time to revisit the topic.
Although theologians look at God’s will from a number of angles, two are particularly helpful when it comes to our desire to find God’s will for our lives. First, His ‘preceptive’ will is that which God desires for the way we live and behave. He has already told us how things work best in the world. It is His will, for instance, that we not kill or steal; that we love our enemies; that we worship Him; and that we care for others. These are all biblical precepts, clearly stated in Scripture (and in no way hidden).
The second type of will is his ‘decretive’ will – that is, what God decrees. The distinction between these two glimpses into the complexity of God’s will is a critical one. To better understand the decretive will of God, it helps to remember that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. At the very least, He sovereignty permits (dare I say ‘orchestrates’ or ‘ordains?’) every event that comes to pass in human history.
An example will help differentiate these two views of God’s will. Was it His will (preceptive) that the Fall of mankind might take place in the Garden of Eden? No. God never said to man, ‘It is best for you to choose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ Man did it anyway. On the other hand, was the Fall of mankind God’s will in the second (decretive) sense? Absolutely; our God is both all-knowing and all-powerful. He ordained that it would come to pass, and it did.
Confusing? The study of theology reminds me that I am a finite being with limited understanding. So, I move to the practical application for this mini-lesson in Christian doctrine.
I vividly remember being a senior in high school, staring my future in the face. I was incredibly anxious. Where does God want me to go to college? What does He want me to do with my life? How will I know when I’ve found the one I should marry? Where should I work?
I would have benefited from a more complete theological framework. Since that time, I have learned two lessons that may help the class of 2016 (and others) to sort out their own future. First, I am increasingly aware that God has already decreed a perfect plan for my life. I don’t have to ‘find’ it; it has already been ordained. You may ask, “What if I marry the ‘wrong’ person?” You won’t. “What if I pursue the ‘wrong’ career path?” You can’t.
One must pause for only a moment to recognize the flaws in each of these questions. If you accept the wrong job offer, for instance, then that means that the person who was to have the job you now occupy is also in the ‘wrong’ place in life. And, what about the person whose job he took? She is in the wrong place, too. And what about the person who took the job you were ‘supposed’ to have? And so the dominoes fall.
You see, if we accept the notion that God has a secret perfect will that we may or may not mystically find, then when we make a misstep in finding that will, we also cause everyone else in the world to miss it for their lives. I submit to you that we simply do not have the power to make such a cosmic mess. Our God’s sovereign, decreed will will come to pass. Period.
The second lesson I learned after high school was that, through Scripture, our God has provided principles and precepts that we can (and should) apply to daily Christian living. The preceptive will of God is comprised of principles that should guide life’s decisions, both big and small, because they explain how God’s world works best. These precepts are anything but hidden or mysterious, for they are revealed in His Living Word. Our task, then, is to study His Word diligently under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we might learn more about what He has set forth for us. While you cannot alter His decretive will, you certainly can ignore His preceptive will.
What if you one day realize that you failed in this area? First, you must know that chances are good that you will do just that. When it happens, rest in His sovereignty, knowing that you will never fall out of His plan for your life. Even if you make sinful choices that do not align with His precepts, He has a purpose and a plan for those choices (in Romans 8:28, Paul says that God ‘works’ all things together for the good of those who love Him; this does not mean that everything will ‘be’ good). When you discover that you have not followed His precepts, repent. When sinful choices cause lasting effects upon your life, learn from them. Yet, as you learn, also rest in the knowledge that this was part of His plan for your life. Do not be paralyzed in fear. Instead, know that whatever happens and whatever decisions you make are part of His grand plan. As Psalm 139:16 puts it, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
So, the sum of the message I share with this year’s graduates (and with our broader community) is this: As you consider your future, find God’s will for your life by delighting yourself in Him, and make choices that adhere to His biblical precepts. This requires continuous study of Scripture and wise counsel from godly men and women who thoroughly know His Word. So, do not choose your future spouse based primarily upon your feelings (which are neither consistent nor reliable), but choose him or her based upon the individual’s godliness, integrity, and character.
Instead of selecting a career based upon a ‘feeling,’ choose your career path by examining your God-given gifts; the integrity of your prospective employer; and the opportunities for you to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. There is no mystery here: apply sound biblical principles to your daily life, and watch God work.
Matt Mitchell, Head of School, Dominion Christian School