“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29
In the last blog we looked at part one of this brief theology regarding the two wills of God, namely the secret will of God and the revealed will of God. In part one, all that was outlined was the secret will of God and today we will briefly look at a theology of the revealed will of God.
With respect to the revealed will, also called the “will of command,” we may remark as follows; God’s revealed will is the rule given to his rational creatures by which they are to regulate their lives. The revealed will of God tells us what we must do while the secret will determines what God does, whether through man’s agency or not. What, we ask, is the relation between these two?
First we may say that it cannot be flatly contradictory, as is often asserted. It should be noted first that a large territory of the secret will of God as realized in history is not realized through the will of command at all. Everything that happens in the universe in which man does not act as an agent offers no possible opportunity for conflict. In the second place, we hold that, in the territory in which either wills, or the two aspects of the one will of God are operative, there can be no opposition unless it be maintained that God cannot overrule evil for good, and that evil is a power not under God’s control. If God does control evil, if it did not get into the universe in spite of him, the fact that evil comes to expression in the action of finite personality makes no difference. In the third place, the assumption of any position which maintains that there is an insuperable dualism between the secret and the revealed will of God is that, unless man could oppose God absolutely, man would not be a morally responsible person, and the commands given him would be meaningless. This would mean that responsibility cannot reside in a finite or dependent person, since one would have to be able to withstand an absolute God in order to be considered responsible. Thus, only God could be responsible, and God cannot be responsible because he must be the source of responsibility. We conclude therefore that there cannot be contradiction between the two aspects of God’s will because they are expressions of the same God, the God of absolute veracity. To say that there can be contradiction between the secret and the revealed wills of God is to presuppose that man can act independently of God.
The actual cases of transgression by man of God’s will of command do not prove that there is contradiction between these two aspects of God’s will. The disobedience itself is not in spite of, but useful to the realization of God’s secret will. The case is here precisely the same as the problem of the entrance of sin above discussed.
To say, however, that the two wills cannot be contradictory, does not mean that man can rationalize, harmonize them without residue. The difficulty is again the same as the difficulty with respect to the entrance of sin. How was it possible that God could hate sin and still permit its entrance into the universe? How is it possible that God should forbid murder and yet permit the perpetration of it? The difficulty is not solved, in the sense of made logically penetrable to man, by saying that God overrules evil and transgression for good. Scripture itself tells us that he does. Yet the difficulty is fully solved by means of this assertion inasmuch as it points to the fact of God’s wholly self-contained character. And only on the basis of the idea of the self-contained God of Christianity does the very idea of human responsibility have any meaning at all. No non-Christian system of thought can find a solution of the question of human responsibility. None can find sufficient independence for their own requirements. Many have given up the problem as hopeless of solution. They regard man as the helpless, irresponsible victim of fate. Such pessimism is to be expected when men refuse to accept the solution God offers them.
God’s secret will is often realized directly through his revealed will. A great part of God’s will is to be realized positively through the secondary agency of man. God commands obedience. Man does obey and God is therewith greatly glorified. We may note in passing that the same logical difficulty presents itself here that we met with in the preceding paragraph. If then the objections were valid in the one case, they would be valid in both. If one maintains that through sin man can really frustrate the secret will of God in any sense, then, to be consistent, one must also maintain that through obedience man does not actually enhance God’s glory. Rationalism is consistent in denying both.
The religious significance of a sound conception of God’s will can scarcely be over-estimated. This is true both in the field of creation and in the field of redemption. It is readily seen that Christianity cannot long endure if, e.g. evolution undermines the biblical conception of creation. A sound conception of creation is in order to a sound practice of Christianity. All the anti-biblical conceptions of creation are pantheistically structured. They seek a necessary instead of a free relation between creator and creature. For this reason we must stand guard in defense of the freedom of the will of God, and the freedom of God’s will cannot be maintained unless it has also the other characteristics that have been mentioned. Secondly, in the field of salvation, the sound conception of the will of God saves us from discouragement. If the sinner could frustrate the secret will of God, heaven would remain empty and God be robbed of glory. Moreover, it also makes us strong in the assurance that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.