Abuse and Decision-Making: Are Our Traditional Methods of Discovering God’s Will Really Biblical?
One of our readers wrote the following, and it is excellent stuff! She questions whether or not the traditions we have been taught in our Christian circles about discerning God’s will for our lives just might be pretty seriously flawed:
How was the enemy able to deceive me into marrying a violent, sociopathic abuser? I was a Christian, from a Christian family and I understood that I could not marry– or make any sort of big decision like that– without prayer and finding God’s will on the matter. I was 18 when I got engaged with no support from parents or other strong believers and I’m sure that played a part. But the fact is, I did pray— a lot. Not just once or twice. I understood the principle of seeking continually until God answered.And I did wait until I was certain I’d heard from the Lord. So what happened?
One thing that came to me recently is this. I remember being taught that you pray until you have peace. That peace on a subject was the hallmark of God’s blessing. His fingerprint, so to speak. That in ourselves, we may be anxious or in turmoil but the Holy Spirit would give us peace. So I prayed until I found peace.
I’m seeing a serious issue with this peace business right now. I came from a family in crisis. Chaos was normal. My mother was nuts (manipulative, controlling, selfish, etc. She controlled through anger, shame and fear), my father passive. So for me, normal equalled peace. My abuser was therefore, “normal.” All of my brothers and myself married some version of my mom. My oldest brother married her three times!
Living in the same general location all these years, I’ve been able to see how some of the young men I knew grew up. There were some nice young men from my church that wanted to go out, but I always broke things off. They now appear to be stable, loving husbands. Not perfect, but their wives and family seem loved and cared for. But, when I dated them, it just felt ‘wrong’– I went out seriously with 2 other versions of my future “husband” before settling down to three decades of hell on earth with him. I wonder if others have been taught this? To pray until you have peace?
How on earth can you know discern God’s will this way if you have no idea what peace really looks like?
Whoa! These questions should really make us sit up and take notice. Perhaps, just perhaps, we have been acting pretty doggone foolishly in this entire matter of discerning God’s will — and paying the price for it. Let me suggest two books that might be of help.
First, Decision-Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen is excellent. I remember being a student in Friesen’s class about the time this book came out and it really ticked a lot of people off. Friesen rejects our traditional views of seeking God’s will and people don’t like having their traditions messed with! The following review is taken from Amazon:
You’ve heard it all before. You want to ask a girl out, but you don’t know whether God wants you to ask that girl out. A friend wants to spend his summer on a mission trip, but after praying to know God’s will in the situation he has received no clear response, so he lets the deadline for application pass. Another friend doesn’t know whether God would have him go to university or Bible college. Conventional Christian wisdom says that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; the secret to the victorious Christian life, you think, is discovering what God’s ideal is for you and following it.
At least, that is the message of Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. This wonderf ul book is a critique of what Friesen calls the “traditional” view of decision making: that God has an “individual will” for each life, a sort of agenda. To be within the will of God is to discover (through, prayer, inner peace, seeking mature counsel, laying out “fleeces,” and so forth) what that agenda is, and stick to it. Missing out on God’s agenda isn’t necessarily living in sin, but it is settling for God’s second best.
Friesen points out many of the serious deficiencies in this model. First, it is not to be found in the Bible. The proof-texts given by traditional-view proponents to defend God’s individual will are often better interpreted as referring to God’s moral will – that is, right and wrong. While the traditional view is stressed for the “biggie” decisions, such as marriage or vocation, it is ignored for the regular decisions we make every day, such as what to eat or wear. When faced with otherwise equal choices, the traditional view insists only one of them is God’s will, causing indecision. Since subjective impressions are self-justifying, there is no basis for disputing an immature believer’s impression of God’s will for his life, even if that decision seems foolhardy. And subjective impressions are just that, subjective – the traditional view cannot allow for conflicting impressions amongst equally sincere believers.
Instead, Friesen provides an alternative model for decision making that he calls “the way of wisdom.” Truly, however, this is only an “alternative” because the “traditional” view is taken for granted. The way of wisdom goes like this: Apart from the circumstances of any individual decisions, all the tools needed to make those decisions are to be found in the Scriptures, which reflect the moral will of God. The Bible encourages believers to pursue certain values and attitudes, and to avoid others. Beyond these regulations, choices may be freely made. God does not micro-manage the life-paths of each believer, but like our earthly fathers do, he expects his children to mature and to learn to make wise decisions for themselves. The Bible admonishes its readers to seek not God’s individual will, but the wisdom to make good decisions. Consequently the apostles rarely made any decision based on supernatural revelation or subjective “leading”; rather, they decided based on the good, wisdom, expediency, or available opportunities.
Bruce Waltke, in Finding the Will of God?: A Pagan Notion?, proposes that much of what we call biblical discerning is actually nothing more than pagan superstition. Here is a review also taken from Amazon:
When one starts to read this book one will be shocked to find out that many professing Christians today practice the same type of paganistic rituals that they condemn. Waltke shows the reader in this book that “tapping” into God’s will through various silly routines and rituals to find out what career to launch into, who to marry, what school to attend, etc. is no different from a pagan offering a gift to his god to look for divine knowledge. The book is divided into two main parts. The first part investigates the idea of “finding God’s will.” Waltke nicely summarizes the various ways Christians seek God’s will and concludes that the methods often employed are nothing but paganistic (e.g., blindly opening up the Bible and pointing to a particular passage as God’s word for you today). The second part deals with how Christians can TRULY know what God wills. Waltke’s main contention is that God’s Holy Word (Scripture) and the Holy Spirit that lives within us (who gives us holy desires) offer believers guidance in pointing to what God wills from believers. It is refreshing to read a well-respected scholar bringing us back to the Bible when it comes to discerning God’s will.
Too many Christians these days do silly rituals or look for “divine signs” to know God’s will. However, as Waltke points out, God does not give his revelatory light if we are searching for it. Other key points Waltke makes is that we must seek wise counsel from mature Christians when we are at a fork on the road in our lives, that God’s providence provides us with information (even though we may not understand at the beginning why God allows, sometimes difficult, events to occur), and that Christians must use their common sense (which is part of common grace) when making a decision. In all of these points, Waltke’s main point is that we cannot allow circumstances, “signs”, other people, etc. to usurp the authority of Scripture and the Spirit’s illumination when reading it in finding God’s guidance for our lives. Though God did employ supernatural methods to speak to the saints during biblical times, Waltke states that this is not the norm.
Even if God can employ supernatural methods to speak to his children he has given us ample information in Scripture. Therefore, God does not need to come down and appear as a light to reveal what he requires and wills. Too many modern evangelical churches (especially of the radical charismatic sorts) have allowed Scripture to be buried underneath the fantastic and spectacular. Waltke, however, rightly points us back to Scripture and rightly points out that what God wills for ALL Christians is that they be faithful and holy during their Christian pilgrimage. I highly recommend this book to all Christians. It will help Christians realize what to sift out of their so-called Christian practices and how to employ biblical methods in discerning what God wills for our lives – which is to be a holy priesthood in a world ravaged by sin.
So let’s take care. Praying for “peace” in order to discern the will of God may very well lead us to claim “peace, peace” when there is no peace.