God’s will and providence

by Barry Newton

If God answers prayers by dramatically opening doors, this proves God has revealed his individualized plan for that Christian, right? The stream of popular Christian culture pointing to Proverbs 3:5 tends to respond with a resounding yes.

Wait a moment. Every parent knows this is not necessarily so. Just reflect with me upon your own ubiquitous experiences.

Like every other parent on this planet, my wife and I strove to provide our boys with what we deemed to be the best. As they grew revealing aptitudes and interests, our resources and efforts opened doors for them to grow and develop. We intentionally and specifically entered into shaping and guiding their lives in various situations.

Does this mean that when they were born we had determined what particular magnet school we desired our oldest to attend, or what specific ministry projects we wished for them to pursue, or where we wanted them to eventually be employed, or at which congregations we wanted them to worship? Of course not.

To be sure, we did guide them according to a paradigm of general principles. But the specific details of what, where, when and how remained undetermined. They have lived knowing our will for their lives through general principles. Our boys never needed to discover some mysterious individualized tapestry we had constructed for their lives.

Likewise, scripture clearly outlines God’s general will for Christians: their lifestyle, their character, their values, their purposes, and so forth (1 Thessalonians 3:3-8; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:13-15; Matthew 28:19-20). Proverbs 3:5 fits into a larger theme in Proverbs of walking in God’s counsel for righteous living, rather than depending upon one’s own worldly wisdom.

So if God, in response to a disciple’s desire to be a missionary, might open doors and provide encouragement toward serving in Brazil, how does this prove God possesses an individualized predetermined will for everyone?  Might not this simply be evidence that God enters into life with his people assisting them to live out his general will?

This article can hardly be considered conclusive on whether Christians must discover God’s individualized will for their lives. What it does achieve is calling into question a popular interpretation of Proverbs 3:5. To assume that God’s providence proves a divine personalized plan fails.

When God answers prayer, this reveals God’s power at work. This does not automatically substantiate that each of us must discover God’s mysterious individualized divine will for our lives.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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