Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?

By Bruce K. Waltke
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2002). viii + 187 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 298-300

 Bruce Waltke, a well-known OT scholar, has added this volume to numerous books already written on the subject of the will of God. He divides his volume into two sections: God’s will: a pagan notion, and God’s program of guidance.

He begins the first section by asking, “Is Finding God’s Will a Biblical Idea?” After demonstrating that “God’s will” in the Bible can refer to His immutable decrees, His pleasures, general providence, as well as His specific choices in perplexing situations, Waltke proposes that believers misunderstand God’s will in seeking to “find” it. He suggests that the effort at finding God’s will is really a form of divination, i.e., an attempt to penetrate the divine mind in order to get His decision on a certain matter. Although this was common in the pagan world, Waltke points out that the NT gives no explicit command to “find God’s will,” nor does it give any instructions on how to go about finding His will. Instead of seeking to “find” God’s will (as the pagans do), Waltke suggests that believers need to base their following of God on their relationship with Him. The second chapter provides an interesting overview of the tools used over the years to discern the will of God (or gods): casting lots, looking for signs, watching the stars, telling fortunes, and talking with spirits. In the third chapter he overviews six means used by the Lord to reveal His will to mankind: prophets, Urim and Thummim, sacred lot, dreams, signs, and words. He points out that there are no examples of explicitly seeking or finding God’s will after Acts 1:24-26. Waltke argues that the Lord does not administer the church in the same manner as He dealt with the nation of Israel. Consequently, NT believers should not use OT patterns for understanding God’s will as something normative for their lives.

In the book’s second section, Waltke presents six steps in God’s program of guidance (one per chapter) that he discusses in order of their priority: read your Bible, develop a heart for God, seek wise counsel, look for God’s providence, discernment, and divine intervention. In the chapter dealing with the first and most important step, Waltke makes this important statement: “God wants you to be a mature man or woman of God—that is His will for your life!” (62). He bemoans the fact that multitudes of Christians turn to the scores of books found in bookstores that deal with the Christian life rather than turning to the Scripture itself. In this regard, he gives his readers four exhortations: learn to interpret the Scriptures, learn to pray as you read Scripture, learn to memorize and meditate on the Scriptures, learn to humbly obey the Scriptures. In order to develop a heart for God, Waltke pleads with his readers to correlate their desires with Scripture. God Himself and His revelation to mankind should serve as the fountainhead for a believer’s desires, which has obvious implications for their decision-making. After one considers God’s Word and submits their desires to that revelation, a believer may need to seek counsel from close associates who are wise. By encouraging a believer to give attention to God’s providence, Waltke wants that person to understand that God is at work in each life circumstance. Along that vein, Waltke exhorts believers to accept that they may not always know why God does what He does and cautions them against putting circumstances above God’s Word. With regard to the issue of discernment, Waltke offers five suggestions: (1) make your decision in light of Scripture; (2) make your decision in light of giftedness; (3) make your decision according to your ability; (4) make your decision according to your circumstances; (5) make your decision according to an overall strategy. Waltke concludes his volume by writing about the possibility of divine intervention. Waltke emphasizes that God does not intervene in response to seeking His will in a perplexing situation. He demonstrates instances where God revealed a great truth (Acts 9—revealing the gospel to Saul), delivered a servant from an intolerable situation (Acts 12—delivering Peter from jail), and even changed the direction of a servant (Acts 10—commanding Peter to eat unclean animals).

Rather than “seeking” or “finding” God’s will, Waltke exhorts believers to follow the guidance of God. He contends that finding answers to the common questions of life (e.g., changing jobs, getting married, going to school, etc.) will require growing close to God. Waltke encourages believers to spend less time wrestling over discerning the details of God’s will and suggests that they carefully listen to God the Spirit as He speaks through His Word and obey what His Word clearly reveals.

This reviewer found the book under consideration helpful on several fronts. It is clearly written and exhorts its readers to give first place to God’s Word in their process of decision-making as well as life in general. Waltke seeks to direct the attention of his readers away from finding or seeking God’s will and toward the important issue of obeying God’s revealed will. He also demonstrates that some of the efforts made at discerning the details of God’s will come close to following the pattern of pagan divination. Whether one agrees with Waltke that a believer need not find or seek God’s will in detail, every believer can benefit from the reminder that God’s children must give careful attention to conforming their lives to God’s Word in their daily lives.