God’s “Permissive” Will

As far back as, at least, 2006 I can remember hearing this terminology used, quoted and taught on the radio and other media. This phrasing has always been a little perplexing to me and it hasn’t gotten better since. Frankly, I flatly believe it to be theologically unsound. I bring it up today only because it bears correction in order for us to have some solid understanding, in a foundational and ongoing sense, of our sovereign heavenly Father.

According to those who promote this doctrine, it is meant to convey that part of Almighty God’s character which allows or permits (hence, the term “permissive”) bad or sinful things to happen in this world. Specifically, it is oppositionally linked with His “sovereign” will. Since we know and are grateful for His sovereign, absolute and autonomous will, we use that term in association with such things as forgiveness, redemption, salvation, godly love and discipline, revelation from His Word (“Rhema”), spiritual maturity and grace, among other blessings.

God’s “permissive” will, however, is used to explain things which do not fit His character such as murder, sexual sin, theft, bribery, lying, stealing, but still occur. The reasoning behind it is that since the Father is in ultimate and self-governing control, He alone can cause it to happen, allow it to happen, or stop it from happening. I can follow this logic and could be tempted to agree with it at face value. Many commonly embrace this attitude and question or blame God when something awful occurs. They do this as an automatic, outward manifestation of the innate knowledge that He is all-powerful and in control. The issue I take with it is the wrongly used word “permissive” along with the misunderstanding and propagation of the word “will.”

Let’s unpack this a little to digest and better comprehend that misnomer. So when we mention the word “will,” we are not referring to the future tense (I will go shopping this afternoon), nor are we alluding to a dying person’s last wishes (Grandpa left my brother his war medals in his will). We’re not even talking about the capacity of a human’s resolve or determination (His first son was a strong-willed child). What we are expressing is a “deliberate desire or intention” and “what one desires or ordains.”

God does not permit or allow sin to happen in the general and vague sense that we understand it. Can He stop it? Yes, and no. He is able to stop it. But He cannot or does not do so because we are made in His image. One of the manifestations of that blessing is that we have freedom; the freedom to choose. Since we are sinful, we are flawed and incomplete. Did God make us sinful? No. Did He make us with the opportunity to choose good and/ or evil? Yes. So is He to blame when we opt to sin? No. Responsibility and freedom are inextricably linked. We have the freedom to choose and to act and, due to that, we have to accept the positive and negative rewards and consequences which result from our exercising that freedom. So, God in the simple sense does not allow sin to happen. He does not “permit” it. We do. We have been given liberty and charged with the responsibility to use it well. When we don’t, we alone are charged with the accountability of its misuse. As far as His “will” is concerned, God is all-good. He is pure. He is morally perfect. He is excellent and completely virtuous. He is holy and full of AGAPE love. Humans do not have this kind of love, apart from being born again spiritually. And, even then, our cleansed hearts battle our body’s fleshly nature, so we cannot express it all of the time.

Look at two seemingly similar words, but they are a world apart much like twins can look identical but act with strikingly different personalities. The first is the word “tolerance.” In today’s world this means the acceptance of many, if not all, types of attitudes and behaviors. Indeed, one is considered a bigot or hateful if they are intolerant of these same worldviews and lifestyles. One correct definition says it is the ability or willingness to put up with opinions or behaviors that one does not agree with. This is human.

The second is at the very heart of the Creator. “Toleration” is the endurance and forbearance of evil, especially that which one has the power to abort, quash or prevent. The Bible testifies of Jehovah that He is longsuffering, which means to “show patience in spite of troubles, especially those caused by other people.” This is quite true. God does not allow or permit sin to happen. This is our human perception (which is faulty due to our less-than-perfect nature) of a godly trait. God has given us, in our freedom, the capacity to choose good or evil, to follow our God-given conscience or to ignore it. It is we who allow or permit our own sin and that of others. God’s WILL—“the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action,” “diligent purposefulness or determination,” “deliberate intention or wish”—is not inclined towards sin, evil, self-gratification or anything of the sort.

To say, write or believe in these three words, “God’s permissive will,” is to paint the Lord as something He is not. It will taint one’s understanding of, and belief in, God. It will not necessarily stand in the way of one receiving the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into their hearts and lead them into salvation, but it may hamper one’s walk (relationship) with Him unduly. It may cause one unnecessary grief and frustration in understanding and living out their faith. And it may get in the way of them sharing their faith with others. These are obstacles and stumbling blocks we must do without.

God bless you.

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