The Will of God

Author: Leslie Weatherhead
Publisher: Nashville: Pillar Books for Abingdon Press, 1979 (first published by Whitmore and Stone, 1944)
View: Miscellaneous

This book is a printed sermon series given by Weatherhead during WW 2. He wrestles with the evil in the world and does not want to call such horrible things “God’s will”. The book is filled with pastoral wisdom, but also filled with theological confusion. His goal of clearing up the confusion and heartache is only partially achieved.

He begins with stories of tragic events: the death of a man’s wife, the death of a son fighting in Berlin, the death of a baby (pp 9-11). In each case someone seeking comfort called it “God’s will”, but Weatherhead objects vigorously. Calling a human murder “God’s will” is equal to accusing God of murder according to Weatherhead (11).

To clarify his view, he explains three ways that the term “God’s will” can be used. (1) The intentional will of God which is His “ideal purpose” (12). Weatherhead is close to the concept of God’s “moral will” with this term and uses Matt. 18:14 to illustrate. On the other hand, he uses intentional will similar to the traditional view’s individual will. (2) The circumstantial will of God. This is sort of a plan B when things are messed up by evil. Since the intentional will cannot be achieved the circumstantial will takes its place. Later he calls this a “will within the will of God” (24). (3) The ultimate will of God. Nothing defeats God in His ultimate will. Even in sin and difficulties, God will achieve salvation for man and His glory. This concept is close to God’s sovereign will though not exactly. It seems to only include the good that God brings from a messy sinful world (12-13).

Weatherhead never tries to define God’s will by biblical categories. The categories of intentional, circumstantial and ultimate are his own and fall short of the biblical usage. I believe that even evil things are properly called “God’s will” in the sovereign sense including Weatherhead’s opening examples. But he denies this. “Call these things evil, call some of them inevitable evil because of wide-spread sin, but don’t call them the will of God (17).” This he says, “is a greater blasphemy than denial of the Holy Trinity (16).” Unfortunately, Weatherhead is confusing God’s moral will with His sovereign will. For “all things” (Eph. 1:11) are under the superintendence of God’s sovereign will (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). Weatherhead does not want us to think that God is evil or a murderer of children, but denying God’s sovereign will is not the way to do it.

Weatherhead illustrates the three senses of God’s will in the death of Christ. The intentional will of God was not death, but belief and obedience by those who heard Christ. When men were moved by evil then it was the circumstantial will for Jesus to suffer and die rather than run in fear. Through His obedience the ultimate will of God, man’s salvation, was achieved (24-26).

In chapter 4 he discusses “Discerning the Will of God”. It appears that he creates a fourth sense of God’s will that is identical to the traditional view’s so-called individual will. However, he may be using the term God’s will in this chapter as God’s intentional will though he never makes it clear.

He concludes that you can never be sure ahead of time that you have discerned God’s will for your life (46). Mistakes by man do not stop God from achieving His ultimate purpose (52). He lists “signposts” (46) to finding God’s will: friendship with God (47), conscience (48), common sense (48-49), advice of a wise friend (49-50), reading biographies and the lives of biblical characters (50), the direction of the local church (50-51), the “inner light”. Peace will be associated with finding God’s will as Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates (chp. 5).

In the end, this book is more confusing than comforting. He correctly recognizes that God hates evil and loves righteousness, but this concept is better captured in God’s moral will than in any of his three categories. He correctly recognizes that God is sovereign and will work all things together for good for His ultimate purposes. But this concept is better captured in God’s sovereign will rather than “circumstantial” and “ultimate” wills. In “discerning God’s will” he seems to assume the traditional view, but his “signposts” are mainly wisdom sources. Here he would do better to drop the whole concept of a personal will.

Weatherhead creates his own terms for God’s will, but they are not drawn from clear biblical usage. He would do better to stick with the biblical concepts of sovereign will and moral will. There is no ultimate comfort in a God who is not sovereign over evil. It is best to say that evil is included in God’s sovereign will, evil is hated by God and that God’s moral will condemns all evil.