Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip is my favorite. In one strip, Lucy, watching rain, says, “What if it floods the whole world?” Linus replies, “God promised Noah that would never happen again.” Lucy says, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Linus tells her, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”
I remembered that comic strip a while back when the media was in a dither over a politician who described some sinful human activity as God’s will. The reporters waxed eloquent over what could and could not be the will of God. Could wicked things be the will of God?
Sound theology is a prerequisite for answering this question. We must view God’s will both from the perspective of His decree and His precept.
The decree of God is what God has determined before time should come to pass. Ephesians 1:11 says He works “all things according to the counsel of his will.” As the Westminster Confession says, “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity . . . freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (3.1).
Here is a summary of this statement: God decrees all things that happen. He is never the author of sin. People make real and valid choices. In this, God displays His wisdom and power.
The preceptive will of God is what we should do for our good and for His glory. The precepts are God’s commands.
So we use the phrase “the will of God” in two ways: God’s decree—what will come to pass—and God’s precept—what we are commanded to do.
Here is where it gets tricky. Sometimes God’s decretive will operates contrary to His preceptive will. For example, someone may invade your house and steal your silverware. The decretive will of God is a comfort. You can trust Him because He ordained the theft for your good and His glory. In God’s will (decree), you are the victim of robbery. But since this thief has violated God’s commands (precepts), you should call the police to see that this man is arrested.
Did this thief break the will of God? Yes and no. He broke God’s will (precept) while he fulfilled God’s will (decree). This is an important truth. Our lives get messy because we and others break the preceptive will of God.
It is a comfort to know that even when God’s will (precept) is violated, His will (decree) is being done. That is the comfort of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” To know that God is always working for my good and His glory takes a load off my mind. Sound theology has a way of doing that.