Saturday, November 11, 2017

According to his will

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11).

What does it mean to say God does all things according to his will? 

i) There's a tradition of theological voluntarism, attributed to Scotus and Ockham, in which God acts according to his sheer will–where his will is independent of his other attributes. But there's no indication that that's what Paul means.

ii) Paul's language is someone redundant by piling on synonyms for emphasis.

iii) To answer the question, we should ask what constitutes the implied point of contrast. What would it mean for God not to do all things according to his will? What's the opposing thesis?

The alternative to God acting according to his will is for God to act contrary to his will. And in context, that's a significant distinction. Paul is addressing Gentile Christians living in a pagan city. Christian converts from Greco-Roman heathenism. 

In Greek mythology, even a god did not do all things according to his will. Sometimes a god was forced to act under duress, against his will. Even Zeus had to bow before the supremacy of the Fates. Likewise, in pagan witchcraft, the gods can be manipulated and coerced through magic rituals. 

So at least one contextual point of contrast is the resounding affirmation that the Christian God isn't subject to any higher power. He has no effective opposition. That stands in contrast to pagan fatalism and sorcery. 

iv) This has modern counterparts in freewill theism. According to freewill theism, God is often forced to act against his will, because demonic and human agents have the ability to veto God's will. They can and do thwart his best intentions. So God must try to work around his obstreperous creatures. Like the Greek gods, his plans are often frustrated by rival power centers. 

Likewise, witchcraft and folk magic remain widespread in the Third World, while pockets of the Western world are reverting to the occult in a post-Christian culture.  

v) This also explains the link between God's will and "all things". The reason all events take place according to God's will is because there's no other agent equal to or superior to God to counteract his will–unlike pagan fatalism or freewill theism. Since God has no competition, then by default, every event unfolds according to his will, rather than only some events happening according to his will because his power is checked by other agents, who have their own way some of the time, despite God's ineffectual wishes. 

1 comment:

  1. You substituted "does" for "works." I don't know about Greek, but in English "does" and "works" have different shades of meaning. A shepherd works things out according to his will when he herds the flock out to pasture to feed, keeps the wolves away, pulls sheep out of the thickets, then herds them back to the sheep pen.

    It is not the shepherd's desire that the sheep get caught in the thicket in the first place, but if all the sheep make it back to the pen safely, the shepherd's will is done.

    It is not that baffling to me. You are trying to put too fine a point on it.