Doing what God wills

Here is a question: If you could know for certain the will of God, would you do it?

There is a famous scenario sketched by Anselm of Canterbury. He asks the reader to imagine standing in the presence of God. Someone tells you to look at something off to your left or right. God tells you in that moment not to look. Would you obey God, even if obedience meant the death of someone you loved? (Anselm ups the stakes to the destruction of all creation.)

This seems to me to be a fundamental question. If we knew what God’s will was, if we had certainty about it, would we obey it?

Traditional Protestant theology says we would not, at least not until we have had a new birth. It says our will is corrupted and incapable of obeying God. A sign of that corruption is that we do not even desire to obey God.

It seems to me at times as if contemporary theology takes as a given that we should not obey God if God does not meet our standards of righteousness and love and justice.

Of course, this whole conversation is skewed by the fact that we have revelation, but not often consistent interpretation of that revelation. So, we live in a situation in which knowing for certain that we understand God’s will is rare. Or, at least, it is rare not to encounter plausible or at least rational alternative interpretations.

But the practical difficulties do not eliminate the question. Indeed, they may make it more urgent, since only a sincere desire to know and do the will of God properly motivates our encounter with revelation.

If we knew the will of God, would we do it? No matter the cost?


2 thoughts on “Doing what God wills

  1. I have taken many steps in faith, but I have also experienced times when I was sincerely wrong. John Wesley taught that inspiration must be balanced with reason and experience. God allows death and destruction even to missionaries. The common soldier seldom knows whether the war is being won or lost. The wise soldier does not blindly sacrifice himself and his unit, but makes the best judgment for the success of the mission at every turn in the tide of battle.

    1. Sounds like despite my efforts I was not being clear. I did not want to deny the fact that we are often wrong, but I did want to establish as a foundation that if we did have certainty we would follow God’s will. I realize this is a hypothetical foundation, but I was looking to establish a point of agreement. As a point of principle, God’s will is ultimate.

      Since we have had a crisis in the last 300 years about whether it is possible to know God’s will, this issue is fraught, perhaps hopelessly. But don’t we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Isn’t that saying the same thing as Anselm?

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