Summary: Understanding the difference between the sovereign will of God, the perfect will of God, the permissive will of God and the ultimate will of God.
On November 30, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School, had its security protocol upgraded, requiring visitors to be individually admitted after an identification review by video monitor. The school had 456 children enrolled in kindergarten through fourth grade. The doors to the school were locked at 9:30 a.m. each day, after morning arrivals. But on December 14, 2012, just two weeks later, Adam Lanza, age 20, shot his way through a locked glass door at the front of the school and fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members. All the children were 6-7 years old. Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were meeting with other faculty members when they heard gunshots. Hochsprung and Sherlach immediately left the room, rushed to the source of the sounds, and encountered and confronted Lanza. He shot and killed both women. Before driving to the school, Lanza had shot and killed his mother, at their home.
In trying to explain such a horrific event, we are stretched to the limit to try and understand something so malevolent. In the impossible task of trying to understand something like this, some would call it fate, or even destiny, or even, if you will, the will of God. The question I want to think about this morning is: What is the will of God? Was this act of senseless violence somehow the will of God? Did God, for some reason, intend these children to die on this particular day and chose Lanza as the one to bring his plan about? Most of us would respond by saying, “Absolutely not! This was pure evil, and no amount of psychological problems could explain it or justify it.” When we say that evil things like this are the will of God, we could be guilty of assigning to God what was actually the work of the evil one, whom the Bible says, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy”, but Jesus said that his will was, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus also said, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14). It was God’s will, not that they die, but that they live meaningful and productive lives. To say that something like these shootings, or other evil things that happen, were God’s will is our feeble attempt to explain what seems to be unexplainable. But to say this can distort who God really is.
I remember as a young pastor I was called to the hospital to baptize a baby who was dying. The child was in an incubator and hooked up to all kinds of medical equipment. I had to reach inside the incubator with sterile water to baptize her. As I talked to the young mother she asked how God could do such a thing. So I began to explain in very logical terms how this was not God’s will or his doing when she stopped me cold. “Stop, she said, “I want to believe this is God’s will. I don’t want to think it is evil. Otherwise, evil has assaulted my life. God has no part in it, there is no good in it — no meaning or purpose to it.” She comforted herself with the idea that her child’s condition was God’s doing. (By the way, I saw the mother years later and learned that the child lived. In fact, she was standing before me.”)
Was it God’s will for one of my granddaughters to have cancer at the tender age of one, and another granddaughter to have diabetes? And is it his will that now one granddaughter has a brain condition that could prove to be life threatening? If this is God’s will, are we then opposing God’s will if we seek for a surgeon who could correct her condition? I would say, “Certainly not!” I don’t believe that everything happen for a reason. But there are those who would disagree.
There are several ways of looking at these questions, and I want to talk about several frameworks by which people try to understand these things. The first framework is formed by what some call the sovereign will of God. Those who follow this line of thinking say that nothing happens that is not his will. No one can interfere with the will of God; it is absolute. God is, after all, sovereign and omnipotent — all-powerful. So, for instance, God has, as a matter of his own choice, selected those who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell, and there is nothing anyone on either side has to say about it. A mere, mortal human cannot interfere with God’s plan. A person has no power to alter God’s will or his plan in any way. Another term for this is fatalism. We are merely victims of fate; everything has been worked out in advance and there is no avoiding it. This view says that God’s will can never be thwarted. Nothing happens that he does not make happen. And some people find comfort in that thought. You did not choose who you would marry, it was fate that brought you together. No matter what you do or don’t do, the exact time of your death has already been decided. People say, “Well, it must have been his time...” All this is God’s doing. Everything has been predestined and planned before the beginning of time. If you get sick, it is God’s will.