God’s two wills.
Clinging to the one who “upholds the entire universe by the word of his power.”
On page 334 of Millard J. Erickson’s Christian Theology, the author culminates his extensive discussion about how humanity perceives the expansive plan of God’s sovereignty by distinguishing between “God’s ‘wish’ (will1) and God’s ‘will’ (will2).” For Erickson, this is no mere esoteric distinction that plays well in seminary corridors, but is, in fact, the prevailing paradigm by which one is able to comprehend that which remains far beyond one’s finite understanding — namely, the persistent presence of evil and tragedy and sin.
Those who espouse the belief that the end of all things is known and reckoned by God alone before such things come to pass are, likewise, obligated to account for the upheaval and injustice that occurs in the world. Erickson offers the solution of God’s “wish will” and God’s “will will,” with the former constituting that which God esteems and in which he delights and the latter denominating that which he determines will occur. The thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8) does not, of course, delight or desire (or “wish”) that unholiness would transpire within his creatures and among his creation. However, unholiness does occur because man in his perfidious self-sovereignty chooses such an end.
This, to be sure, is how the tragic Fall in the Garden can be interpreted. It was not the Creator’s desire that Adam and Eve be beguiled and, ultimately, betray his goodness. But, in a wisdom that only he knows, God permitted “the tree which is in the midst of the garden” (Gen. 3:3) to function as somewhat of a crossroads of faith and obedience for Adam and Eve. And even with all of God’s incalculable blessings and benefits surrounding them, humanity’s first parents willfully chose to bring forth death into God’s good world. Their choice was not at all within what God wished to occur. But, by the same token, he willed that choice to be one which Adam and Eve were compelled to discern.
This gets to the heart of the origination of sin. “We must understand,” Erickson says, “that the will of God permits rather than causes sin” (334). While sin and unholiness are the antithesis to the resplendent righteousness of God, they are allowed to occur in his divine “will-will” in order that mankind’s unmitigated inability to effect righteousness might be unquestionability revealed. This is a helpful paradigm for understanding and exegeting much of the Old Testament, but especially the historical narratives. The cataclysmic 1 Kings 12 might come to mind, as the kingdom of God’s united people is thrown into disarray and disunity. Once again, the choices made throughout the narrative run opposite to God’s wishes, but are permitted in order that might know that “it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (1 Kings 12:15).
Choices, then, still exist, but the choices themselves are extant by the one who “upholds the entire universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). And, in the end, as the church is assured, “all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Despite the havoc in which humanity relishes, the purposes and plans of the Triune God can never be thwarted. His will is always done.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).