Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?
Author: Bruce Waltke
Publisher: Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002
View: Wisdom View in Traditional Vocabulary
The title of Bruce Waltke's book makes it look like the traditional approach-Finding the Will of God. The subtitle, however, reverses that impression-A Pagan Notion? Waltke concludes that seeking to find God's will for a decision is a form of unbiblical, pagan divination.
Waltke uses divination as a neutral term meaning to seek the will of a supernatural being. Thus there is bad divination (pagan practices) and good divination. In the Old Testament, good divination includes prophets, Urim and Thummin, sacred lots, dreams, signs, and direct words from God. He concludes that none of these avenues to God's will is appropriate for today. "The common idea of divining God's will is either a pagan notion that we Christians need to let go of or a mode of administration that God no longer uses."
Waltke's view of guidance is summarized in six principles.
- Follow the Word of God
- Follow your heartfelt godly desires
- Listen to wise counsel
- Take circumstances into consideration
- God expects us to use our good judgment.
- God does not normally intervene with direct revelation.
These principles could be interpreted either in the traditional fashion or more likely, the way of wisdom. Waltke's book clearly comes much closer to the thesis of Decision Making than to the traditional view. He agrees with the traditional view that there is a will of God for guidance that is different than His sovereign will and more specific than God's moral will. He differs by saying that we should not try to find it or use divination.
Waltke gives four definitions for God's will: (1) "God's plan and decrees" (which I have called God's sovereign will); (2) God's "desire or consent" (which I have called God's moral will); (3) God's "general providence" (which I have included as the outworking of God's sovereign will); and (4) God's "specific choices in perplexing situations" (pp 8-10), which seems to fall into the category of the individual will of the traditional view-that is, God's perfect will or the center of God's will.
A quick look at his six principles shows an emphasis on wisdom in "wise counsel" and "sound judgment." While Haddon Robinson (see below) recognizes a concept of "freedom," Waltke seems to assume that there is one right decision for each situation. So in that sense he seeks an individual will in each decision, but disagrees with the traditional view on how it is to be found.
His second principle says to follow heartfelt, godly desires. I argued that personal desires should be viewed as an aspect of wisdom. What we desire to do is often a reflection of our gifts and talents, our temperament and our circumstances. Vocational counselors say that the one best question to ask someone choosing a vocation is, "What would you like to do?" Waltke, however, gives desires a more important role than simply being a source of wisdom.
His argument is this: God has desires for our life decisions. As we grow closer to God our personal desires become more and more like His desires. As we gain intimacy with Him, our desires will ultimately become exactly like His. At that point, the believer only needs to ask, "What do I desire to do?", and the answer will be God's will for him. This view could be paraphrased as "Love God, and whatever you please will be God's individual will for your life." Psalm 37:4 is used as a foundation for the concept: "Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart."
As I stated at the end of chapter 17, I think this view of desires will work very well in heaven. But for now, we must examine and filter desires to be sure they are godly. They will never be perfectly righteous until we are with God. What about desires that are in harmony with Scripture, but not with sound judgment? A desire to sing solos for God without the ability is not ungodly, but it is unwise. So we should evaluate our desires in the light of Scripture and wisdom. If a desire does not harmonize with Scripture or wisdom, it should be ignored-not viewed as a new source of truth.
It is better to say that our desires are never perfectly godly or wise, but they do often reflect wisdom about ourselves, which is very helpful in making a godly, wise decision. The more godly and wise a person is, the more his desires will reflect godliness and wisdom. Waltke's view is an improvement on the view that says, "Empty yourself of all desires before you seek God's will." But elevating personal desires to a place where they equal God's individual will is probably going too far.
In practice, Waltke's view is a great improvement over the standard traditional view. It emphasizes wisdom in areas where the Scripture does not determine our specific choices. However, it still seems to be looking for "God's will"-but trying to get there through the back door. In essence, it says, if you do the right things you will be in God's will without officially looking for it. This approach uses the categories of the traditional view, but in practice it will usually act like the wisdom view.