Monday, 5 May 2008

God's will and guidance

Jeff and I were talking tonight about the way that God guides us. Not His means, but His direction.

Let's try a quick quiz.

When you think of God's will for the circumstances of your life, which of the following metaphors seems to give the right picture?
A) God's will is like a tightrope that is easy to fall off - and very hard to get back on to.
B) God's will is like the one path which leads to the exit through a complex maze with numerous dead ends.
C) God's will is like the bull's eye point in the centre of an archery target to which you aim your life.
D) God's will is like a journey between two cities where there are lots of alternative routes, many of which interconnect, but some of which will be harder or more dangerous to travel on than others.

This question was not about God's will for the salvation of His chosen people. "Salvation is found in no one else [other than Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved," as Peter told the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:12). Again, this time in the words of Paul to Timothy (1 Tim 2:5-6): "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men - the testimony given in its proper time." There is only one means possible to be saved. The quiz question is about God's direction for the other parts of our lives.

(In case you're wondering, I think the most theologically correct metaphor is actually D - but I could be wrong.)

This question asks about the idea of 'fate', or God bringing about 'destiny'. Consider the following situation in light of God’s will: Jeff and I met each other and (after much argument and an Alpha course in Christianity) he stopped being a nominal Christian and became a living Christian - and I stopped being a pagan and gave in to God. Today, eight years after we met, some people might look at us and say, "It was fate that you two should be married, no one else could stand you," (or something far more polite but meaning the same thing). Yet it wasn't fate. And I don't think it was God's will either.

Theology can be difficult some times. I know that God is omniscient (all-knowing). And I also know that He is sovereign (in control of all things). But when Jeff met me, I wasn't a Christian, so it was not in God's will for us to marry. Yet we did. And since that choice was made, it is in God's will for us to be married. This is a conundrum which is only explained by God's eternal nature.

Occasionally, when Jeff teaches young adults, the subject of suitable partners for dating/courtship/marriage comes up. Actually, it’s not occasionally, it’s frequently. It used to make me feel pretty grumpy when Jeff said, “If I went back in time, I wouldn’t marry Sharon again.” (What wife wouldn’t feel grumpy at that?) But he doesn’t mean that I’m a bad wife to him now, or he’d like a divorce, or he’d prefer someone else. What he’s saying is, he knows that he made a wrong choice in marrying me because I wasn’t a Christian at the time. The first six months of our marriage were agony for him as it dawned on him that he would never see me – the woman he loved – after we died, because I was heading for an entirely different eternal future to him. The bald fact was: I was going to end up in hell. Jeff hated knowing that. It was only by God’s immense compassion for Jeff and His infinite grace to me that I became a Christian on All Saints’ Day, 2001. If Jeff went back in time, he wouldn’t marry me because it was the wrong thing to do, marrying a non-Christian. It was outside God’s will. And Jeff paid a penalty for it, for those six-or-so months. The repercussions of Jeff’s choice might have been even more difficult to deal with than they were. What if I had not been given faith in God? That is what would keep Jeff from marrying me again, if he were given the chance.

On the other hand, God didn’t have one perfect woman in mind for Jeff to marry. If we think that God has only one true path for our lives, mapped out in advance for us (like the only solution to a complex maze), we are kidding ourselves. God’s rules for Christians looking for a marriage partner are pretty simple: they should be a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:39b, cf 2 Corinthians 6:14), they should be of the opposite sex (1 Corinthians 7:2) and they should not be already married (Mark 7:11-12, 1 Corinthians 7:2 & 39a). That leaves a pretty wide field of potential Mr or Mrs Rights, from which God says a Christian is "free to marry any one" (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Now consider another area of life: choice of career. Jeff has recently begun a ‘Period of Discernment’ with our present denomination, one of the early steps to becoming an ordained minister. This is something he has been moving towards since the day we first walked into DBC together; the night we walked into that Alpha group; the day we heard a man ask for volunteer help at YFC; the night we offered to host the Bible Study we’d been going to; the day he was asked to start a Bible Study at the Uni nearby; the time that his boss agreed he could work 4 day weeks so he could be at the Uni one day a week; the day he was asked if he’d preach his first sermon at our church; the nights that he wrestled with the concept of predestination in Ephesians; the week that he went to his first AFES staff conference; the day of that conversation which first suggested his studying at Theological College; the morning that our minister preached on giving up all you have for the sake of the gospel (and I told Jeff on the drive home God could ask for anything else but our house – you guessed it, God asked for our house); the week he was sent to NUC for “mission week”; the times that he was encouraged by another student to come back to NUC to work part-time while he studied; the day the minister at NUC decided to mentor Jeff; the church history lectures with a pastor who Jeff really liked learning from; the morning when one of the other members of our congregation asked him, “So when are you going to commit to one denomination or the other?”; the morning when he was accepted as a member at our present church; the night when the elders agreed to recommend him as a candidate for ministry…

There have been so many little steps along the way. And yet, I am not sure that God has one single direction in mind for Jeff yet. At the moment, as Jeff nears the end of his Masters in Divinity, we have two options. Jeff has been tentatively offered a job working as the second pastor in the denomination which he grew up in, the denomination where both he and I first became Christians. Jeff also has the possibility of taking a more circuitous 'route', requiring further study (ouch!) and part-time work, continuing to work towards ordination in the denomination of which we both are presently members.

We know that God desires Jeff to serve Him (that’s a no-brainer, it applies to every Christian). We can appreciate God’s gifts to Jeff, especially in teaching and preaching, and see that Jeff would greatly enjoy bringing glory to God through the ministry of the word (as it’s called in Acts 6:4). This is possible in both of these job opportunities. Both of these, as far as we can see right now, are in the will of God. They're acceptable route choices for the journey of Christian life, to continue with the metaphor. But where will Jeff be able to work to the greatest glory of God? That’s the question we’re mulling over at the moment. Please pray for us.

1 comment:

Mrs. Edwards said...

I think you've hit it spot-on. I'm partnering with a Christian woman to write her remarkable life story in a book form. One thing that comes up over and over is how God used her bad decisions or choices (that were clearly out of his will) to sharpen her faith and character. In her case, she suffered from living outside of His will. But she can also say that God is using the outcome for His glory.

It reminds me of King Solomon, himself the outcome of a marriage built on disobedience. And yet, God used Solomon to build the temple and allowed him to be in the line of Christ.

Thanks for sharing your theological musings.