On the “secret will of God”

The common view of the multiplicity of wills of God (revealed and secret) has several flaws. Namely it seeks to resolve the apparent paradox posed by the view of God’s sovereignty wherein God MUST get his way without fail (and his way is the only way any situation or event may come about) and the view that man possesses responsibility and therefore the power of limited free choice.

So when we read about events such as God repenting for creating man or for saving Israel we are forced to call into question the initial presupposed definition of sovereignty (as stated above and affirmed throughout Calvinistic literature). However, rather than reject this view of sovereignty God’s will is seen as divided and hierarchical such that God MUST (by necessity) have a “hidden” will that can somehow freely subvert and even contradict his revealed will.

We can see this further when Jesus tells us to love our enemies. This seems to stand in stark contrast to the late Calvinistic notion that God gleefully damns sinners to hell “for his glory” even though he (limited atonement) never died for them in the first place. This can only be resolved by positing a hidden or secret will that freely contradicts the revealed will (Scripture).

After many long hours of studying this whole view of God’s will as being multiplied beyond a single unified will that is revealed in part, I am forced to wonder whether this whole “secret will of God” is not, in the end, much different than the hidden knowledge the Gnostic were so infatuated with.

In summation; I find the attempt to resolve the apparent conflict between the Calvinistic understanding of sovereignty (as God being the sole causal agent in the universe) and man’s responsibility before him (which, itself, requires a limited view of freedom that causal determinism explicitly prohibits) by way of hidden or secret wills to be insufficient at best and downright subversive (intentional or not) at worst.

For more information about the problems posed by dividing God’s will up, see:

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15 responses to “On the “secret will of God”

  1. What exactly are you arguing for here? I can't even tell.

    Jeremy Pierce had a nice post on this not too long ago (see here). Perhaps reading this will clear up your confused thoughts.

    "This seems to stand in stark contrast to the late Calvinistic notion that God gleefully damns sinners to hell “for his glory” even though he (limited atonement) never died for them in the first place."

    Can you quote some Calvinists who say that God gleefully damns sinners to hell?

  2. The nomenclature of "hidden" and "revealed" wills of God are really quite a sad use and not really clear in expressing what is necessary. Does God have two wills? Absolutely not.

    He has declared the end from the beginning. We don't know all that he has decreed, that is we don't know the future, insomuch we do not know his will in this area; it is then "hidden" as some say. But to class his precept in the same category as his decree is a mistake for sure. His precept is a definition of what is fitting and right for men created in His image to do, viz. to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind strength, and their neighbor as themselves. His decree is what has, is, and shall be happening. They are far from being the same sort of "will." (M-W.com cites 7 different definitions for the word "will." A brief & casual perusal of a Strong's concordance shows several different words from Hebrew and several different from Greek translated into the single English word "will.")

    The bible isn't written in consistently technical language. In one place what is referred to as "will" may be decree, in another it may be precept, it could even refer to another meaning of "will." The context is king and must be noted to determine what exactly in each case is meant.

    A representation of Calvinist doctrine stating that God "gleefully" damns sinners to Hell is plainly not a faithful representation. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that God has no delight in the death of him that dies. That is not in itself. There is nothing inherently delightful about a being created in the image of God dying or suffering. If you examine the context of the passage in Ezekiel you will learn that God tells us that He delights not in the death of the one that dies because there were many in Israel were making proverbs that claimed that God did delight in such things of themselves, even making claims that God would be unjust and punish the sons for what were the sins of the father. But we are told by God that he does delight in judgement and righteousness and even laughs at the calamity of the wicked. God by no means delights in "gleefully" damning sinners to Hell, but doe so for particular purposes that are his own. It may seem strange to a man's mind, but what if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

  3. [the problem fixed itself?]

    You said,

    Thanks! That link is an excellent example of how the notion of God having two opposing wills is ultimately incoherent in almost every respect.

    It's not obvious to me what exactly the incoherence is. It is obvious that at times even *we* have opposing wills: when we want to do a thing for some reasons, and don't want to do it for other reasons. Examples would include times when we struggle with temptation to sin–we want to do the sin (that's why we're struggling to not do it), but we also don't want to do it. If it happens to us, then the notion cannot be incoherent.

    When a Calvinist says that God wills the damnation of the reprobate while at the same time (he might say) that God wills that all men be saved, he's clearly not using "wills" in the same sense. The first use is in the sense of a volition, an intention. The second use is in the sense of a preference, a desire. And intentions are not the same as desires (cf. Mele's Free Will and Luck, p31).

    Of course, having two wills in the sense of having two simultaneous volitions (at once willing to A and willing to not-A) is incoherent and impossible; but no Calvinist claims that this is what God does.

    You said,

    I notice the author runs to the "speech acts defense" wherein a difference is supposed between God's illocution (speaker's intention revealed in his speech) and his perlocution (the effect or intended effect of the speech act). But even here you are still left with a severe problem. Actually, an even greater problem than you started with in my estimation since you run the risk of destroying language itself, not to mention such a view does great damage to the perspicuity of Scripture.

    I'm not sure where it is in the post that he offers a "speech acts defense", but I'm not sure I understand how speech acts theory destroys language itself. This is a side issue and unimportant, though.

    You said,

    John Piper and RC Sproul has a several lessons which state that God gains glory from the damned/reprobate. That is actually a rather common sentiment throughout Reformed writing. Here is an article from A.W. Pink that chronicles the same sentiment.

    God gains glory through the just punishment of sinners, right, but this is hardly the same as saying that he does gleefully and happily with a smile on his face.

    And I'm still not sure what your problem with the two-wills view is. You point to some books on the subject on your blog post, but it's not as if I'm going to go and buy them just so that I can understand your mysterious 5-paragraph musing on your blog. I'd like to understand your argument, but you have to be more clear.

  4. "In the most simplest form my argument is this: Positing that God has multiple wills, one revealed and the other hidden is not helpful or edifying and is actually quite spiritually damaging."

    Then the argument fails on two counts. First, because no one posits two wills. That is, your argument only works if both precepts and decrees are called the will of God. When the terms are rightly understood, your argument completely evaporates. Second, whether or not something is edifying is (1) not yours to decide* (2) no evidence as to whether something is true or not.

    *II Timothy 3:16-17 says, "Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work." Since Scripture does make a distinction between precepts and decrees (though men have called these two senses of "will"), a Christian must conclude that it is, in fact, edifying.

  5. I'm not a theologian (though I read widely, and am always interested in books that people recommend; thanks for the links), so maybe I have no right to say this… but …

    1. wow, after reading all that, I am really confused, and
    2. are you guys really even listening to each other?

    (Sorry if you think I'm being rude…)

  6. It's par for the course around here, norma.

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