The Mystery of God's Will: What Does He Want for Me?
Author: Charles Swindoll
Publisher: Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1999
View: Traditional with Wisdom Leanings
This is a typical Swindoll book-wonderfully written, edifying, and full of practical wisdom and illustrations.
The emphasis in the book is on the "Mystery." The book is almost exclusively about God's sovereign will. The key to understanding sovereignty is that you cannot. It is a mystery held in the hands of a faithful God. Swindoll divides the sovereign will into what God decrees and what He permits (p. 26). What He permits includes evil things, but He is sovereign over all.
Swindoll believes in the moral will of God. He says that the will of God in the Christian life is all contained in the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:16-18; 1 Peter 2:13-15) (pp 28-30). Much of the book focuses on trusting God, and so Swindoll draws excellent teaching from the Scriptures to increase our trust.
He also believes in the individual will of God espoused by the traditional view. How does God lead today? (1) Through His Word; (2) through the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13; Jude 1:3; Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 32:8) ("The inner prompting is crucial, because much of the time we just can't figure it out" [p. 48]); (3) through the counsel of wise, qualified, trustworthy people; (4) through an inner assurance of peace (Colossians 3:15). Later he repeats this theme: "God wants us to understand what His will is" (p. 103). And he repeats similar guidelines: openness, Bible investigation, clarification from the Holy Spirit ("an inner compulsion"), peace, and God's "surprises" (pp. 103-9).
The book follows the traditional view, but it only incidentally addresses the moral and individual will of God. Swindoll's main purpose is to explain the mystery of God's sovereign will. How can things go wrong when we obey? Why do bad things happen? Why are we constantly surprised at what God brings into our lives?
These questions cannot be fully explained, so Swindoll wisely urges us, "Run toward Him. And rather than looking for someone to blame for the pain that you're now enduring or the change that's on the horizon, look heavenward and realize that this arrangement is sovereignly put together for your good and for His glory" (p. 181). And what about our unanswered questions? "It's called God's inscrutable plan. I suggest it's time we stopped trying to unscrew it. Face it. It's beyond us. So? Deal with it. That's my advice, plan and simple" (p. 216).
Since Swindoll does not delineate the three ways he uses the term "God's will," the reader may well become confused. He defines God's sovereignty as His "decretive will," but does not use the term again. He normally just talks about "God's will." Yet the subject matter switches back and forth between God's sovereign will, moral will, and individual will. He uses the categories of the traditional view, but he mainly pursues a topic that is common to all views of guidance-God's unexplainable sovereignty.
While this book can be confusing, it is also very comforting. It addresses well our interaction with a God who can be trusted, but never answers all our "whys?" Think of it as a primer on relating to a sovereign God when things go badly. From that perspective you will find a book filled with reality, hope, comfort, and no easy answers.