“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Two “Wills” of God

In a sense, God must approve of everything that exists. If God has exhaustive knowledge of reality and has power to do whatever he wants, and if everything he brings into existence is there for a purpose, then God must think the existence of this reality better than that of any other logically possible reality, and he must approve of the difference made by the existence of each element in this reality. September 11, cancer, the holocaust, the murder of Jesus Christ – all these, God allows purposefully.

In order to understand how this could be – how a good God could possibly tolerate the existence of evil, and in particular the murder of his Son – let us turn to the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards has, like many other theologians, described God as having two “wills.” God’s “will of command” is his will in the sense of what he commands morally or those things he approves of in and of themselves. When his moral standard is broken he is angered, and when his creatures find joy in him, he is glad. These are simple truths.

But Edwards describes a second ‘will’ of God. He says, “his will of decree is his inclination to a thing not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with reference to the universality of things, that have been, are or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things… So, though he has no inclination to a creature’s misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality…For all must own, that God sometimes wills not to hinder the breach of his own commands, because he does not in fact hinder it” (Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees”).* This is similar to Edwards’s description of two “lenses” through which God observes reality: through the narrow lens he condemns evil and sin in and of themselves, but through the wide lens he sees them (as passing and defeated realities) in relation to all reality. Through the wide lens God sees each component of reality as a contribution to the whole, the great tapestry or story or symphony. In the words of A. W. Tozer, God’s deep wisdom sees “each in proper relation to all.”

*How, one might wonder, can God simultaneously hate evil and rejoice in the difference its existence makes? Here we must remember our limited state as finite creatures. God transcends not only time, but all that he has created. One would only expect his mental and emotional life to be on an incomparably higher level of existence than that of human emotions or thoughts (see John Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 72, “The Infinitely Complex Emotional Life of God”). Using C. S. Lewis’ comparison, we can understand God no more than people in a two-dimensional world could comprehend a cube. But this is only an analogy to physical spacetime dimensions. God transcends ALL – all things that exist, even dimensions themselves! We would be foolish to think we can come close to comprehending the mind of God.

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