For my last (rather delayed) post on Karl Barth’s doctrine of providence according to Darren Kennedy, I want to briefly address the way that heaven and, interestingly, the angels function in the whole structure. According to Kennedy, heaven and the angels are actually quite important to Barth’s providence. Why this would be the case might not be obvious at all to us, but once he explains it, the coherence is evident.
So, what do angels and heaven have to do with providence? Recall that in my last post on this I mentioned that Barth rejects the idea of miracles which violate natural order, but he understands the natural order in a broad way that allows for many things to take place which we might not be inclined to consider natural. This is where heaven and the angels come in. For Barth (and, basically, N. T. Wright of all people), the term “heaven” does not refer to the uncreated presence of God, but to the second sphere of creation, the other side from earth which is hidden from our perception. The angels belong to this created heavenly sphere, and thus strictly speaking are a part of natural creation. They are not properly supernatural, but simply belong to a different created habitat, the habitat of heaven rather than earth.
In his first brief explanation, Kennedy explains:
If God does not disrupt the causal nexus, how can one account for the specific ‘miracles’ in Scripture? Barth’s answer does not envision a violation of the causal nexus, but an expansion of it to include heaven. This explanation will help to clarify Barth’s interpretation of heaven and angels in III.3. While fully a part of the creation, heaven remains imperceptible to humanity. Nevertheless, as part of the cosmos, heavenly creatures can act and reveal in the earthly realm. Thus God directs angels—whose nature is to obey perfectly—to behave in ways that seem to disrupt creation, but violate no ontic laws of creation.1
So for Barth, then, there is nothing about miracles which necessarily violates the natural causal order. He does not overrule, bypass, undo, or contradict the “laws” by which He governs creation (since, after all, in double-agency they are His own doing, and He cannot contradict Himself). Instead, heaven and the angels are part of the natural, created world, and God from His presence in heaven sends the angels to do His will in ways which affect earthly realities. A blind man, for example, may receive sight not by earthly physical processes but by angelic action, which is nonetheless “natural” in the sense that angels are a part of the created order.
Thus Kennedy argues that the realm of heaven and the angels serve as a so-called “causal joint” in Barth’s theology of providence, the point where God’s action enters into the created world. Many theologians have traditionally had a very difficult time identifying this point, explaining how and where God’s providential action is effective in the natural world. Barth by no means overcomes the mystery altogether, which would be speculative and presumptuous, but he does point to this answer grounded in biblical stories and teachings.
To understand this better, we should see how Barth sees the difficulty in the relationship of the Wholly Other God to the created world. In his understanding, God only is able to act in our world through a particular created “midpoint,” the realm of heaven which He has made to dwell in and to unite with earth. Kennedy cites this from him:
Without this special place of God, and the distance therewith posited between Himself and man in his own place, there could obviously be no genuine intercourse between them. There could be no dialogue, but only a monologue on the part of God (or perhaps of man). There could be no drama, but either God or man could only live in isolation with no relationships to others or significance for them. If this is not the case; if the theme of Christian witness is neither the life of an isolated God nor isolated man, but the history enacted between them of isolation, estrangement, reconciliation and fellowship; and if this history is really enacted in our world, then this means that God as well as man has a distinctive sphere in this real world of ours.2
This is rather similar to N. T. Wright’s view, at least at the descriptive level, of heaven as “the control room for earth..the CEO’s office, the place from which instuctions are given.”3 Kennedy does not specify whether Barth thought God acts on the world through heaven only by the angels or also by other means, but in any case the point is a mediating realm between God and man’s world.
There are oddities to this account, though. For Barth, only God and humans are truly personal beings. Angels, although superficially similar to persons, are actually not. They have no free will (of any kind), and they are used by God similarly to simple tools. On this account, he also denies that demons are fallen angels, instead incorporating them into his doctrine of Nothingness (on which I have written here). If angels have no personal agency, then they cannot have sinned unless God caused them to do so, which of course is absurd. Thus demons are placed into their own category.
This last issue is odd, and I think compromises this apsect of Barth’s providential project on Biblical grounds. Could it be reworked without it? Perhaps. In any case, it is thought-provoking, and I think as a whole Barth’s doctrine of providence seems superior to the traditional Reformed formulations.
I recently read a dissertation by Darren M. Kennedy entitled, “A personalist doctrine of providence: Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.3 in conversation with philosophical theology” (which can be downloaded here). It’s really interesting, and I’ll probably do a few posts about the discussions therein. But one of the first things in the work which caught my attention was Kennedy’s treatment of Karl Barth’s view of providence and the divine will.
In his thesis, Kennedy argues that Barth’s doctrine of providence in CD III/3 has been misread by too many as if it basically regurgitated the traditional Reformed, quasi-determinist position, and that in fact a correct reading taking into account Barth’s ad hoc employment of conceptual tools from personalist philosophy reveals it to be, in Barth’s own words, a “radical correction.”
Having finished his 238 pages on the subject, I would certainly agree that if his reading is at all correct (which seems likely enough, though I’d need to study more firsthand Barth to be sure) it does make for a radical correction over the traditional Reformed doctrine of providence. One of the places this struck me the most is the covering of the issue, “Is everything which happens (including human evil) God’s will?” The traditional Reformed answer to this question is “yes,” and Kennedy argues that Barth does agree. But the difference between how this is explained and constructed in classical Reformed thought and in Barth is, in fact, a major and brilliant one.
Classically, the answer tends to take the form of a distinction between God’s “sovereign will” and His “revealed will” (or “will of command”). The latter tells us what God individually demands from us as general rules of moral and lifestyle conduct, but the former includes everything which comes to pass (by God’s sovereign ordination). These two can sometimes be, and are in fact often, very different, with God decreeing by His sovereign will something which is forbidden under His revealed will. Difficulties tend to arise when the question is posed of God’s disposition towards sinful acts, e.g. “God disapproves of this and it incurs His wrathful displeasure, but nonetheless He was pleased to bring it to pass to fulfill His will.” Different thinkers address the details of this in different ways, but usually, God’s self-glorification is invoked as the basic motive behind all of God’s sovereign will. Thus God ordains human sin which He forbids, such as the Fall, in order to bring about a greater display of His glory. Note that even though two wills are mentioned, it is supposed to be understood that God only has in essence one will, multifaceted in its applications, including both moral prescriptions and sovereign decrees.
From this doctrine tend to come a few major criticisms:
First, the usual: how does this avoid making God the author of sin? The use of secondary causes doesn’t seem sufficient to protect against the weight of the Holy God Himself freely and unconditionally choosing by decree to ensure that, even if by means, sin occurs and enters His creation. Regardless of the creaturely role, all evil is ultimately the product of the mind and design of the One who is goodness itself. At this level permission language does indeed become flimsy, and thus Calvin’s reluctance to use it makes sense. The creation narrative must include, “And God said, ‘Let there be sin,’ and sin was, and God saw that it was good [in the grand scheme of things].”
This leads into a next issue, namely the introduction of ambiguity into the character of God. For the only real response to God’s decreeing of evil is, like Calvin’s, an appeal to divine inscrutability. But if we appeal to a mystery in God at this point, the very point of His intentions for and in all things, of His benevolence and apparent hostility, then we find that our big theological question mark is located over just who God is toward us. Of all the places to leave theological uncertainty, this is not the place. Ironically, this move undermines Calvin’s stated beginning for theology, in which the question “What is God?” is replaced with “What is God like?” This latter question seems forever clouded if we affirm in providence the good God’s direct, positive intent to render evil certain in created history.
Of course, this also ties in with Christological issues. If this established question mark is hung over God’s will toward us, then the true fullness of God’s self-revelation as Jesus Christ is obscured. In the Jesus of the Gospels God confronts us exclusively as against evil, as willing not for it ever but in combat with it in each moment. In Jesus, we see the opposition between God and evil as one unto death. A doctrine of providence in which evil is, however grossly and unwillingly, something God brought into the world (even if from a distance) freely and to bring about His glory is one in which God’s true relation to evil must, in fact, remain hidden even after and in the Cross, splitting off the revelation of God in Christ from His secret reality. For this to work requires an implicit Christological heresy in which Jesus of Nazareth is not actually Himself the God of providence but instead a mere instrument of that God behind which God conceals much of His will and purpose toward us. This would leave us at the very best with a hidden Nestorianism.
If these criticisms are valid (disregarding other possible issues), then a “radical correction” may be warranted indeed. So how does Barth articulate providence in a way that escapes these problems without denying that all things are covered under God’s will (and for bonus Reformed points, without making God a mere passive observer)?
To fully engage on Barth v. Reformed orthodoxy on providence would require many more posts (some of which I will be writing), but for now, I’ll zoom in on the concept of all events as God’s will. Barth replaces the sovereign/moral will distinction with one of an altogether different structure, namely positive/negative will. These are of course explained as one will with two sides, the positive side being primary but in a certain sense being constituted by the negative. God’s positive will is all that He actively decrees, loves, approves, and creates from free grace. Yet these things are also defined by God’s negative will, that which He actively rejects, hates, judges, and refuses to bless or respect as having a proper place in creation. In choosing His positive will, God rejects His negative will.
So, to cut to the chase, what happens in this setup when people do evil? How does it relate to God’s will? It relates negatively, as man’s will seeks to actualize what God has rejected. But man’s existence and will depend on the creative and sustaining grace of God. This man’s evil intent is confronted in every instance with divine opposition. Yet it is this very opposition by which God actively grants to the creature the reality of His evil choices. Precisely in saying “No!” to the creature, God acknowledges their wicked action and thus imparts it with existence. Nothing can be apart from God’s Word, but in choosing to say, “I abhor and oppose act X,” God says by implication, “Act X is” (similarly to how Cogito necessarily implies sum). Kennedy explains it in this way:
Crucially for Barth, this human capacity to utter No in the face of God’s Yes does not fall outside of the ‘will of God’. This is essential to Barth’s doctrine of providence. Barth claims that both divine and human willing in world-occurrence can take two—and only two—distinct meanings based in the established covenant of election. Barth uses the rubric of the right and left hand of God for this two-fold willing. Barth writes, ‘Clearly that God will make us obedient and set us at His right hand, but no less clearly that even in our disobedience, when we must stand on His left hand, nothing except His will may be done to us.’ Barth explains the twofold willing of God this way,
God’s willing something can therefore mean that He loves, affirms and confirms it, that He creates, upholds and promotes it out of the fulness of His life. His willing it can also mean that in virtue of that same love he hates, disavows, rejects and opposes it as that which withstands and lacks and denies what is loved, affirmed and confirmed by Him and created, upheld and promoted by Him.
Accordingly, Barth can write, ‘God wills everything’ (i.e., in this twofold fashion) without implying that God wants everything to happen that happens. Clearly, if God wills by rejecting and opposing something, this action cannot imply guilt. Likewise, far from determinism, Barth sees God’s willing as a positive or negative determination of creaturely occurrence; there is no neutrality. Solidly anchored in God’s electing will in Jesus Christ, God wills by affirming and confirming creaturely occurrence or disavowing and rejecting it. Either way, no creaturely-occurrence happens without God’s active determination.
That God’s will ‘determines’ sin through hating, disavowing and rejecting it sets Barth at a safe distance from making God ‘the author of sin’. The human, not God, remains responsible for sin, though both act in double-agency. When God wills in this way,
He still wills it in the sense that He takes it seriously in this way and takes up this position over against it. He wills it in so far as He gives it this space, position and function. He does not do so as its author (Urheber), recognising it as His creature, approving and confirming and vindicating it. On the contrary, He wills it as He denies it His authorship…In this way, then, in His turning away from it, He wills what He disavows. It cannot exist without Him.
Darren M. Kennedy, “A personalist doctrine of providence: Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.3 in conversation with philosophical theology” (doctoral dissertation, The University of Edinburgh, 2008), 37-38.
In this way, then, evil acts acquire reality precisely through divine opposition. Thus God cannot be the author of sin at all, for His providential establishment of human sin is what it is precisely because He rejects evil altogether. Evil is not justified in any way (e.g. as part of a plan to glorify God or maintain free will) but instead utterly condemned as unjustifiable from the start.
This solves the Christological problem of providence, as well. There is no split between God’s action in providence and His action in Christ because the Cross is the climax of God’s providential opposition to evil. Rather than obscuring God’s true relation to evil, Jesus authentically reveals that God’s only relation to evil is negative and inimical. The whole history of providence can be seen as God pushing evil towards its defeat on Calvary and then subjecting all evil to Christ’s victorious rule.
The end result of this doctrine is the triumph of the divine will in all things. Even that which God negatively wills, the reality which He gives a place through His opposition, finds itself gripped by the victory of Christ. Sin can only achieve the opposite of its intention, for at its strongest when it crucified God it was found to accomplish only its defeat in the Resurrection. And since Christ has ascended to reign over all things in all of time and space, this pattern is universalized so that all evil, no matter how strongly it appears and asserts itself in opposition to the positive will of God, finds a singular fate under God’s negative will: destruction in the dying flesh of Christ.
Of course, there are certainly potential problems or concerns with this account, and much remains to be addressed in future posts. But I think the Biblical and theological advantages of this approach should be immediately clear. God’s character toward us is clear, determinism is averted, and the account is necessarily Christological. There is surely more work to be done, but certainly Barth was moving in the right direction.
One of the primary goals of Evangelical Calvinism is to further reform the Reformed tradition. As I mentioned the other day, the Reformation will never be truly over, and EC focuses on what work still needs to be done. And if we’re going to try to keep reforming the Reformation, we might find it useful to extend the iconic Five Solas, the defining marks of Protestant theology. Here, then, is my proposal for four additional, Evangelical Calvinist solas.
Sola Incarnatio: The Incarnation Alone
The Incarnation alone is the meeting point between God and man, the only possible connection between the Creator and His human creatures. Jesus of Nazareth isn’t just in fact the only way to God, but He is in principle the only way to God. No other way could exist for God and man to have a relationship. There can only be communion between God and man because of the hypostatic union between God and man in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This all is meant to apply even to sinless man. Had Adam never sinned, his destiny would still have been found only in Jesus taking on flesh. Had man never chosen death, his life would still only be fulfilled by coming of Life Himself in human nature. Why? Because God is above, we are below, God is Creator, we are creature, God is infinite, we are finite, God is transcendent, and we are dust. There is an infinite qualitative difference between God and man, a gap that could only be bridged by God’s omnipotent power in becoming one of us.
Sola Apocalypsi: By Revelation Alone
God can be known by revelation alone, His personal self-revelation. The idea of general revelation is a mixed bag: surely the whole creation testifies to its Creator, but among fallen, fleshly men this means little or nothing. There are no ears to hear. If we are to find God at all, if we are to reliably know anything true and certain about Him, we need to be directly confronted by His personal Word. This happens in Christ, the Old Testament preparations which were bound up with His Coming, and the Apostolic witness to Him in the New Testament, by the Spirit.
Sola apocalypsi means that we can’t trust things like natural theology, general revelation, or philosophical arguments to know anything about God except in retrospect. We can see light in these ways through Christ, but apart from Christ it is all darkness.
Solius Benevolentia: Of Goodwill Alone
All things, particularly all men, have been created by God of goodwill alone. There is no malice, no darkness, and no deviousness in God’s plans for His creation. This is meant specifically in contrast to the doctrine that many people have been created not out of God’s kindness per se, but instead were created specifically for God’s wrath or (in a more positive framing) to glorify God by highlighting His justice in punishing their sins. God’s eternal design and desire for no man is doom. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
This may seem like a polemic especially against classical Calvinism, but it is not unique to Calvinism. It also applies to the theology of election (actually, for him it was more about providence) in Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. As Evangelical Calvinists, we deny that God’s will for any man terminates in their eternal destruction, regardless of who says otherwise.
Sola Vita: Life Alone
Closely related to the last suggested sola, we affirm that life alone is the end to which God has predestined all people. There is only one singular destiny God has created for His creation, and that is eternal life by the glory of God. No one is predetermined apart from their actual rejection of God to anything else. As Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is living man.” Thus this follows from the traditional soli Deo gloria. God’s glory is the end of all things, and He has sovereignly chosen to manifest His glory precisely in giving His eternal, imperishable life to human creatures.
This destiny, of course, has been proved in Jesus Christ, the archetypal human and new Adam. In raising Jesus from the dead, God has displayed before the world His singular plan for the world. The resurrection and restoration of all things, but particularly humanity, is His design. Anyone who is damned and lost (and there will be many such people) are not so because of God’s will but their own.
I’ve been in the habit for some time now of praying the Lord’s prayer first in my devotions. I know that not all people do this; many people think of it more as a general model not necessarily meant to be prayed exactly as is. Yet historically praying the Lord’s prayer has been a common and unifying part of Christian devotion, and so I do.
Anyway, my actual purpose in this post is to simply offer some thoughts on the lines of the prayer given by Christ, and so I will waste no more time and do that:
Our Father in heaven
God is Father. This is key to approaching Him. He has been known in many ways and by many names, but when we come into His presence we must remember that He has adopted us graciously as sons and daughters. Because we are united by faith with His only-begotten Son, we are fully and truly His children, and so we can expect Him to listen patiently and lovingly to our prayers. We can trust Him to respond with bread, no snakes or stones.
Hallowed be Your name
This comes first for good reason. God is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Life-giver. The Son upholds the universe by the word of His power. For this reason alone, even if there was nothing else, God deserves His name to be known and cherished. Praying that God’s name is hallowed is essentially to pray, “Let the whole world know who You are and worship in that knowledge.” But why so important? Is God simply vain? Is He merely a selfish monarch demanding praises just because He can? By no means! Rather, God is light, love, and salvation itself. Jesus Christ is eternal life. Therefore there is absolutely nothing more conducive to human flourishing than the global hallowing of the name of God. It is for love that God wants to fill the earth with knowledge of Him, just as love compels a father to announce his presence and saving abilities when he finds his children alone and in danger.
Your kingdom come
There is no greater hope for Christians and the world we live in than the kingdom of God. This is not, as some imagine, spiritual heaven people go to when they die. Rather, the kingdom of God is His rule in the world, redeeming and transforming it to make it into the kind of world He desires. It is God subjecting all things to Christ, and putting all His enemies under His feet. The kingdom was officially established in the world in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and now expands after His ascension through the advance of the Church. Ultimately, the kingdom’s coming will be complete when Christ returns Himself to rule in person. When we pray for the kingdom to come, we are asking God to advance the work of His Church in the present and bring Christ’s return ever closer from the future, so that finally the world may submit fully to the gracious design of God.
Your will be done
I believe people generally misunderstand this phrase. People tend to use it as, “God, I pray for all of these things, but just in case You want to do something different that’s okay with me.” That’s not a wrong attitude to have, and can be expressed in such a way (see Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), but I do not believe that is what we are praying for in this case. Coming right after the request for the coming kingdom, I believe that this is a prayer for the world to come into alignment with what Scripture reveals to us is God’s will. It is a prayer not for a secret series of events, known only to God as His will, but for what God has told us is His will. This means salvation, healing for the sick, freedom for those in bondage, help for the poor, good works from God’s people, missions around the world, peace on earth, life for the unborn, and the defeat of sin, death, and Satan’s hordes. We can pray boldly for these things. We can pray for them without adding, “if it be Your will,” because all of them are God’s will.
On earth as it is in heaven
Heaven, as the word is used in Scripture, refers to God’s domain, apart from our world. In God’s sphere, the angels minister perpetually, keeping things in accord with God’s will. We pray on earth that God will extend that grace by the ministry of angels and His Church He will extend His will into our world, making earth more like heaven. The ultimate goal of this process is the new creation, where God’s heaven and man’s earth become one in perfection.
Give us this day our daily bread
Sometimes the hardest thing is to simply trust God for our provisions. It is easy not to worry sometimes, but it is difficult to not worry because we’re trusting God. We usually trust our jobs, our families, or the government or anything else, confident that they will keep us fed and sheltered. “Give us this day our daily bread” both invokes on God to provide and reminds us that He, not whatever else, is ultimately the source of what we live on,
Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors
We ask God daily for forgiveness, because of our clear sinfulness. Yet in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to only expect forgiveness inasmuch as we give forgiveness, something Jesus makes more explicit right after providing this prayer. Yet this is not making our salvation something we earn by forgiving people. Rather, our forgiveness and our ability to forgive others have one source: the life of Christ imparted to us by His Spirit. Only by grace can we be forgiven and can we forgive us successfully. This prayer, then, holds us accountable to that fact. We ask for forgiveness, recognizing that it comes as part of a package which spreads forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one
This sentence can also be translated, “lead us not into trial, but deliver us from evil.” Both are probably correct, English just letting us down by not having a good way to say both meanings. The point is that we, especially as God’s people, find ourselves subject to many trials and temptations, days of testing by evil forces, people, and events. We pray to God to deliver us from them all, bringing us safely around, through, or beyond the troubles of this life. Evil is ever present, wishing to hurt us, yet we plead with God not to let it, or even to give it an opportunity.
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
“What is God’s will for my life?” This question consumes the minds of many believers perpetually. Taught from birth to seek God’s will in everything, many find themselves stuck on major (or minor) decisions trying to discern what God wants them to do.
I come to free you.
Okay, as dramatically as I imagine saying that in my head, I’m really only trying to point out a Biblical truth which actually is somewhat liberating. Ready for it? Here it goes.
You don’t need to constantly seek out “God’s will”—i.e. mysterious plans God has for your future—to actually be in God’s will.
What is the meaning of this? See, we have to be careful about how we conceive of God’s will. As given in Scripture, God’s will does not refer to the secret plans of the future which God has ready for us. In popular usage, though, people seem to imagine that God’s will is just that: a secret plan for their future which they are obligated to follow but can only be found out by intently praying and listening to God (a suspiciously Gnostic-sounding notion). Yet when the Bible speaks of God’s will, it is actually pretty clear cut. For example, 1 Thessalonians is one of a handful of places in Scripture which explicitly speaks of God’s will for us:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
In this case, we are given specific instructions that are called “God’s will for us.” Avoid sexual immorality. Control your body in a holy and honorable way. Don’t wrong or take advantage of each other. Not much is left to the imagination, or left to be sought out by prayer.
People seem to imagine that God’s will is a secret plan for their future which they are obligated to follow but can only be found out by intently praying and listening to God.
See, the idea we have of “phoning home” to God to figure out what we need to do is just not right. Consider parents: do they raise their children to call them every time they need to make a decision, or do they raise them to have the wisdom and teaching needed to make good decisions on their own? Likewise, God is not interested in teaching us to sit around waiting for Him to tell us everything to do, but instead wants us to grow in wisdom and love so that we can make the right decisions on our own using the tools He has given us.
Having said this, I want to give a simple, five-step method for finding God’s will for your life. It’s pretty straightforward, and I believe it honors the order God has given us for making decisions.
Check with Scripture. The first and most basic step is to submit to the authority of Scripture. If you are trying to make a decision, start by verifying that what is in alignment with what God has revealed to us of His will. After all, everything we need to be told explicitly about God’s will can be found in Scripture. For a blatantly obvious example, if you are trying to decide whether to kill someone or not, you should know what to do as soon as you read “You shall not murder.” As a more practical example, if you are wondering whether you should give more to people in need, you may very well have your answer when you read, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Listen to your conscience. Sometimes you just know that something is wrong, even if you’re not sure why and you can rationalize it away. Don’t go that way. If you have that niggling voice of “no,” they don’t do it. On the flip side, sometimes you know you should be doing something, even if you’re good at convincing yourself otherwise. Don’t keep fighting it. When you already know what’s right or wrong, and you have already checked this out with Scripture, just do what’s right.
Submit to the authorities over you. If something is okay with Scripture and with conscience, you still need to verify that it is right by the people God has put in authority over your. Maybe it’s okay Biblically and wouldn’t violate any dictate of conscience, but you shouldn’t share a beer with friends if you’re under 21 because that’s illegal. And perhaps there is no reason why it should be wrong to watch Frozen 18 times in one week, but if your parents tell you to knock it off you need to obey them.
Use your brain. If you still have options after checking with Scripture, conscience, and your authorities, now it’s time to check with your own brain. Be reasonable about your decisions. Don’t be an idiot. Sure, maybe the Bible doesn’t say “Do not jump off of a bridge using rubber bands for a bungee cord,” but God did give you reason, and reason should tell you to stop. And honestly, sometimes this can be the most difficult step, because sometimes you just can’t seem to figure out what is the smartest choice (I’m thinking especially of picking a college here). I should also point out that following your reason isn’t always the same as doing what intuitively makes sense. For example, selling everything you have and giving to the poor may not seem to make any sense, but when you reason it out and realize that you will gain better treasures in Heaven, the rational choice is to give.
Follow your heart. What? Did I really just say that? Yes, I did, but I put it as the last step for good reason. Seriously, if something is good with Scripture, checks out with your conscience, leaves you in good standing with your authorities, and is a reasonable decision, then you should just do what you want with it. Now, just because you want something or feel something doesn’t mean you can disregard the higher priorities in this process, but if it makes it all the way down to this step 5, just do what you want to do. There is seriously no reason not to.
At the end of this, you’ve probably found God’s will. Of course, it’s possible that you still missed it. Maybe you messed up on the way down, or maybe God’s planning something that wasn’t even on your radar before. But in the former situation, God gives us grace and will work it out for your good. In the latter situation, I am convinced that God will control the doors. If what you conclude by the end of this process isn’t what God wants, you are not doing wrong; instead, God will open the doors He wants open and close the doors He wants closed until you end up where He wishes. But if you really follow through these things well, you cannot go wrong in any meaningful way.
Of course, just because you try to go this route doesn’t mean you will find it easy. Steps 4 and 5 can be particularly difficult sometimes. That’s okay. When we get stuck, God has an answer. See, the ability to navigate these steps and arrive at a good decision has a name: wisdom. Wisdom is what allows us to see things properly so that we understand what we should do. It will help you with every step of this process, and fortunately God has promised to provide us with it if we ask Him. So if you need help making a decision, the solution isn’t necessarily to pray, “God, tell me what to do” or “God, show me Your will,” but instead “God, give me wisdom to make good decisions.” This, after all, is why wisdom is “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Proverbs 3:14).