“[God] has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1:9).
In many of my posts thus far I have been repeating myself on various themes, such as the primacy of Christ or the question of God’s purposes. Here the two notions are put together. God made known the mystery of His will in Jesus Christ. How should we think of this?
It is important to emphasize what Paul says here about the “mystery” of God’s will. On the one hand, God’s will is a mystery; on the other hand, it has been revealed. It is possible to fall into excess on either side.
One such excess would consist in an overconfidence in one’s ability to know God’s will. Some persons are so confident that God wills this or that, or that God has put this or that idea in their mind (or “on their heart,” to use the typical evangelical parlance). They talk about feeling moved by God to begin this or that project, to take up this or that activity, and so on. My own inclination is to think that what God wills is not always so clear. Sometimes even persons who talk about God putting this or that desire on their heart meet with profound disappointment when it turns out that the thing they set their mind to do does not come about. Then they ask, Why would God give me this desire if He did not will for it to come about? I think a better question to ask would be, Why am I inclined to think that whatever desire arises within me must necessarily come from God?
This line of thought raises important questions about discernment and providence. How do I know what God wills for me? How am I supposed to live my life in light of God’s providence? Do I simply do what seems right to me, guided by biblical and Christian values and principles? Or do I wait for some kind of internal direction from God? Do I consult with Him as to what, specifically, I should do? I am still thinking about these questions for myself.
On the other hand, there is the extreme that consists in an excessive agnosticism about God’s will. These persons say that what God wills cannot be known, that God Himself cannot be known or understood at all, that He remains a mystery forever. This way of thinking has the effect of making God irrelevant for human life. If God cannot be known and His will cannot be understood even a little, then He makes no difference to human life and we do not have to pay Him any attention.
Against both of these extremes, the Apostle insists that the mystery of the will of God — a mystery which cannot be avoided, granted that God is God and we are mere creatures — has nevertheless been revealed, made known, discovered, laid bare, presented to us, shared with us, etc. in Jesus Christ. Many things remain mysterious about God and about His purposes for this world. But at the very least, there is one thing which has been made clear, according to Paul. And the “medium” by which it has been made clear is the person of Jesus Christ.