One of my favorite scenes from the greatly underrated film “Kingdom Of Heaven” is a scene just before the climactic (and decisive) battle at the Horns of Hattin where the Crusader army shouts out “God wills it!” over and over again as they are glad to be fighting a decisive battle against Saladin and not engaging in the prudent behavior that had been undertaken before. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, what God allowed was a massive slaughter that led to the loss of Jerusalem and most of the fighting power of the Crusader states in one harrowing day. Engaging in risky behavior because a belief that God wills your success is a deeply unwise course of action to take, and there are many people who have not survived that sort of massive blunder, and far more who have deeply hurt themselves and others in so doing.
Today there was a Bible study in my local congregation on the subject of God’s will. What struck me as particularly interesting was the division of everything that happens into three categories by virtue of a trilemma. Since God claims to be all powerful, in control of everything , everything that happens must be the result of one of three possible wills of God: the decreed will of God–that which God purposefully enacts, the preferred will of God–that which God clearly prefers, and the allowed will of God . Everything that happens in this world, given the fact that God is all powerful, must fit into either one of those three categories. This is the statement of a problem that has tested the minds of hearts and faith of many, and one that has presented me with a particularly heavy challenge, but to say that God is all powerful is to state a problem that demands a solution, even if that solution is likely to include some rather dark elements .
When we examine God’s will, we tend to focus most of our attention on the first and third of these categories. We are often a bit too hasty to conclude that a lot of things are God’s decreed will when we have not in fact seen those decrees. This is especially true when it comes to matters of great personal or social importance. The winning or losing of a war, the decision to marry such and such a person or seek such and such a job or move to such and such a place can seem like an element that God decrees. Especially when a situation appears particularly providential, the circumstances dire, and there is no ulterior motive or plotting on one’s part to seek a particular answer, it is hard to escape the suspicion, especially as coincidences mount, that there was some element of design, which makes God in many ways responsible for a given outcome, especially as He would know exactly what He was doing far more than any of us. The other element that we focus our attention on is what God allows, which is itself a question of rather deep importance for many of us. God allows a lot of horrible events to occur–whether large scale horrors like the genocides of World War II or the 1990’s (among many others) or small scale horrors like the rape and incest of innocent and helpless small children by family members. These are the sorts of horrors that people have to wrestle with and seek to understand well enough to believe that God’s will is in fact good.
Given the fact that so many focus their attention on the decreed or allowed wills of God, I would like to discuss at least a little the preferred will of God. Often, when this will is expressed, it is with regards to repentance and salvation. For example, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 tells us to pray for all people, especially those in authority (which is not always easy to do): “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This desire is not a decree, but God desires all people to be saved, it is certainly how he would prefer it. Given the ability we have to rebel against God and resist His kindness and his love, it is not a decree, but it is a strong preference. Ezekiel 18:30-32 makes this same point: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”” God will not force anyone to be saved, but he clearly does not desire to punish others and takes no pleasure in condemning and judging others. He does not desire anyone to die because of their rebellion, even if He will allow it because of His justice. We tend not to make life easy on God, ourselves, or others. I know this is a problem of mine.
We may never know the precise lines of what aspect of God’s will different events or situations in our lives are a part of, at last not in this life. As human beings, we have an incredible ability to make blunders, and God will allow many of them at great cost to ourselves. Likewise, God will allow others to do some pretty horrible things to us, not because we are any more wicked than others, but simply because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it is written in Luke 13:1-3: “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Let us take comfort in the fact that this is not all that we will experience, and that we who suffer and mourn now will be comforted and glorified when the time and situation are right, whenever that is.
 See, for example, Luke 12:5-7:
“But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
 See, for example:
 See, for example: