Summary: Being "in" the Will of God doesn’t necessarily mean that we aren’t distracted by human concerns and relationships.
Personally, I have a lot of trouble with the theological term, “the permissive will of God.” We usually apply it whenever someone has done something wrong or merely made a foolish, but not deliberate, choice and then, God makes something good out of the human mess. My problem with the term is that it implies that God has given overt permission for humans to sin and fail. I don’t think that’s what happens at all. God doesn’t WILL for sin to occur. Rather, I believe that God ALLOWS it to occur (via the inexplicable miracle of an all-powerful and all-knowing God nevertheless limiting Himself to guarantee authentic human choice) with a heavy heart. God knows the price to be paid, but God believes authentic free choice to be worth it.
The Catholic archbishop and novelist, Andrew Greeley, brilliantly describes God’s redemptive work and holy clean-up as God’s big crayon making crooked lines straight, but this only addresses the result, not the process, of what many call “the permissive will of God.” It reminds me of when, as a young boy, my mother and I would color at the same coloring book--she on one page while I colored on another. Her work was beautiful. My work was that of a child with lousy motor skills. The grain would change direction and the colors would go outside the lines. I would look at her work and back at mine, then shove the book over so that my work was in front of hers. "Fix it!" I would plead. And she would go over my crossed grains to smooth out the texture and use a big crayon to enclose my mistakes in bigger lines. It never looked as good as her work, but it looked much better.
That is how I look at forgiveness of sin. It would have been better if we hadn’t, but God has already taken it into consideration and can "Fix it!" The good news is that he can fix it better than my mother could fix my coloring book.
This week, I feel led to consider a little more of the process because the text God set aside for me to consider requires such consideration. So, before your eyes glaze over and you think I’m going to talk about theological terms that don’t seem relevant to your everyday life, let’s consider the text of which we’re speaking.
[Read Exodus 4:18-26 KJV] [Pray]
If you’re like me, you see a lot of things in this passage that are tough to understand. Why does God try to kill Moses after He commissioned him in the first place? Why was Moses’ son still uncircumcised well after the eighth day had passed? Why did Zipporah understand the need for the emergency circumcision when Moses, God’s representative didn’t? Why didn’t Moses tell Jethro what he was really planning to do in Egypt? What does the phrase “bridegroom of blood” mean? Was it “fair” for God to say that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart before anything happened? Why is “firstborn son” or “firstborn sons” such an important theme in this passage?
And as I ask these questions of the text, I suddenly see why so many pastors and teachers zip right past it and get on to the drama between Moses and Pharaoh. Fortunately, one of the important facets of preaching through a book means that you ignore these little transitional or bridge passages at your own peril. We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired both the writing and the preservation of the Bible, so we’d better make sure that we prayerfully consider the whole Word instead of creating our own “canon within a canon” by only considering the passages with which we’re comfortable.
I’m not sure that you’re going to get definitive answers to these questions in this message, but I’m sure that God is going to speak to all of us as we struggle to understand this difficult text and its significance for believers today. Immediately upon his call experience, we read: (my translation from the Hebrew) (v. 18) “And Moses proceeded to return to Jethro (variant spelling used here), his father-in-law, and he proceeded to say, ‘Please let me go and let me return to my brothers who are in Egypt and let me see if they are still living.’ And Jethro (normal spelling used here) proceeded to say to Moses, ‘Go (in) peace.’ (v. 19) And Yahweh proceeded to say to Moses, ‘Go! Return to Egypt because all the men who sought your soul [to kill you] are [themselves] dead.’”
Here, as in many places in the Bible, we see Moses setting off from two lenses of tradition. The first lens is that of the human perspective. He asks permission of a human authority and receives a blessing. The second lens is that of the divine perspective. He is commanded to go by God and gets a bonus reassurance that circumstances in Egypt have changed (his old antagonists are dead) and the timing is right for God’s purposes to be done.