Throughout the annals of time, many people have struggled to define the will of God. When we talk about God’s will today, we tend to speak about things in reference to ourselves—usually good things such as our spouses, our children, our jobs, our finances, and our hobbies. Historically, however, when theologians have discussed the will of God, they have done so to say things primarily about God—usually about deep things such as God’s nature, God’s decree, God’s freedom, God’s sovereignty, and God’s wisdom. This wasn’t to ignore life’s big decisions but to locate them in the vast expanse of the eternal purposes of God.
Defining the will of God is important for us as Christians because it unveils who He is as the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God. Geerhardus Vos describes God’s will as “that perfection of God by which in a most simple act and in a rational manner He goes out toward Himself as the highest good and toward creatures outside Him for His own sake.” Stated negatively, God’s will cannot be separated from God Himself. Since God is one is essence, His will is undivided. As Richard Muller concisely states, “God is what he wills.” Viewed from our vantage point, the will of God reflects His character, reveals His design for His creation, and manifests His wisdom and power in ordering all that comes to pass for our good and His glory.
A key biblical text for defining the will of God is Deuteronomy 29:29. It states, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” This verse encapsulates “the words of the covenant” that God gave Israel at the end of Moses’ life and ministry (Deut. 29:1). It also provides a biblical-theological framework for understanding the divine will.
The context of Deuteronomy is instructive. As the Lord prepares Joshua to lead Israel into the land of Canaan after the death of Moses, He reminds His people of the necessity of His Word to know His will. This would prove to be a message Israel needed to hear. The anticipation of the promised land would press the limits of Israel’s faith as it navigated the obstacles that often lie in the gap between promise and fulfillment. In the face of the uncertainties that attend life in a fallen world, Israel needed to be reminded that obeying God’s Word was at the center of knowing God’s will for their lives.
At the heart of this passage in Deuteronomy 29 is a distinction between “the secret things” that belong to God and “the things that are revealed” that belong to us and to our children. Building on this distinction, theologians often refer to God’s secret will and to His revealed will. While this point may seem obvious, it is crucial for defining the will of God. There are countless things that we don’t know as humans, since we are finite. But the same cannot be said of God, since He is infinite and all-knowing. God’s knowledge is exactly like Him: absolutely perfect. Unlike us, God does not need to work out problems through deduction. He has no need of counselors to determine what to do in a crisis or to help Him cope with moral conundrums. Since God is infinite and incomprehensible, He has perfect knowledge of Himself and of all things. But this “secret” knowledge belongs to God alone. We might call this the inscrutability of God. There are things known only to God that are past our finding out (see Rom. 11:33–36).