I have been thinking about the ability to know God’s will for a while now, and have been spurred on to write about it by reading Mark Dever’s post on the T4G blog that relates to this topic. I will refer to Dever’s post in subsequent posts when it coincides with two of the systemic problems I see with an overly subjective seeking of God’s will, namely, bondage and guilt.
But for now, I want to lay the groundwork for how we may come to know God’s will for us, both individually and corporately, by looking at two realms of acquiring knowledge about what God’s will for us might be – the subjective and objective.
The Subjective Realm of Epistemology
First, there is the subjective realm. This is where most of us struggle with knowing God’s will, due to the confusing nature of our decoding signs and feelings. Epistemology is the study of how we know anything. It is subjective epistemology because the result of the knowledge is ultimately based on us, the subject, and our perception of the data.
“Where should I go to college?” We look at this questions and begin to ask God how we should feel about the options ahead of us, and then as we experience different feelings as we go through the process of deciding, we make up our minds based on the data and feelings we have, i.e. input. We like the school colors, they have a good sports team, they have good academics, while at the same time having a good social life, they have beautiful, old architecture, they have spacious dorm rooms, we had a good conversation with a professor, the food tastes good, etc. We may spend a lot of time trying to decipher what may or may not be the Holy Spirit leading us one direction or another given this input.
Given all the time we spend trying find the secret message in all of the experiential input, we could be making a good living for the CIA! Better yet, we could get a job crossing the Mississippi River on a tight rope, constantly taking in information and trying to process it quickly before we fall over to one side or another.
In short, we’ve made decision making into a ritual.
The Decision Ritual
When facing a big decision, we look at the landscape, we narrow our options, and then begin the ritual dance of decision. But note that all of this is done in your mind. Yes, you may keep lists of pros and cons, so and and so forth, but ultimately it is our perception of these inputs (i.e. signs) that make us feel one way or another. And it is this perception that is the subjective aspect of decision making.
Needless to say, making decisions based on subjective perceptions of God’s will is tenuous at best. We can never actually know it. given this paradigm. We can reach towards where we think it might be possibly maybe pointing, but we have no way of validifying that we’ve gotten it right.
How would you know that the experiential input coming in (i.e., the good feeling of decision X versus the bad feeling of decision Y) is telling you the right decision to make? What if you’re assuming that God wants you not to suffer pain, when in fact, as a move towards obedience and denying yourself, He actually does want you to suffer for His glory? Is it possible?
Given that paradigm, what if Christ had chosen not to go to the cross because He knew it would feel better to simply allude capture by the soldiers and set up shop teaching in a synagogue in Galilee? Would He have been reading His Father’s will right?
Or Paul. Would he have been right to put out a closed sign after the first ship wreck? What about the second? Third? If he were making decisions based on the “signs,” you would think that he would have gotten it through his head by that point. Not to mention the beatings, lashings, and many other sundry persecutions he underwent for Christ.
You see, our rituals are safe. That is why we do them. We can get to the conclusions we want, and still have an illusion of piety at the same time. We can look good to others, not to mention ourselves, and still get the ends that we desired to begin with.
But as is apparent, this ritual of “feeling” God’s will is fatally flawed. It is ultimately based on our perceptions, and our feelings, and our desires, therefore there is a lot of us, and little of Him.
The subjective approach to knowing God’s will, if used alone, cannot lead us to sure conclusions, and is a dangerous way to go through one’s life.
Next post we’ll look at some other aspects of this subjective realm of knowing the will of God.