THE WILL OF GOD
T. PIERCE BROWN
Since God is “longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish,” (2 Peter 3:9) cannot God carry out His will? Can puny man do anything to thwart the will of an omnipotent God? The answer to those questions can be understood better if we are aware that two different words are used in speaking of the will of God. Though there is some difference among scholars about the exact difference in the use of the words, any person who has a Young’s or Strong’s Concordance can look at all the references where the word of God talks about the will of God and the will of men and can tell there is a difference in many cases in the use of the words.
The word “will” is both a verb and a noun, so in the Greek language it may be “boulomai” or “boule” or some form of those. My conclusion, after examining every use in the New Testament, is that this word has to do with a determined or fixed purpose. The other word is “thelo” or “thelema” which has to do with a wish or desire.
In Romans9:19Paul says, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who withstandeth his will (boulemati)?” When God has a fixed and determined purpose, no man can prevent it from taking place. Yet man has often resisted God’s will or desire (thelo).
When Jesus said in Matthew 18:14, “Even so it is not the will (thelema) of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones perish,” He indicates that God does not want them to perish, but it does not suggest that his fixed purpose is not to allow them to perish.
An interesting use of the two words in the same context is found in Luke22:42, “Father, if thou be willing (boulomai), remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will (thelema), but thine, be done.” To paraphrase, “If it would fit into your fixed purpose for redeeming mankind, I would rather not go through the agony of the cross. However, whatever I may wish could take place, your desire is foremost.”
In the reference in 2 Peter 3:9 where it is said that God is not willing that any should perish, the word is “boulomai.” This means that God does not have a fixed purpose that any person perish. He has not, as Calvin assumed, “predestined and foreordained some men and angels to condemnation,” but wants all men to be saved as Matthew 18:14 shows.
It was according to the “determinate counsel (boule) and foreknowledge of God” (Acts2:23) that Jesus came to die for us. No act of man or wish could prevent that. When the Hebrew writer talks about the “immutability of his counsel” (Heb.6:17), he uses the same word. However, in 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul says, “Who would have (thelo) all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” God wants or desires all men to be saved, but it not his fixed purpose to save all men regardless of their response.
Of course any student of the Bible can tell that without knowing the Greek words that so plainly reveal it. One does not have to be a theologian and make up terms that may confuse rather than clarify. A theologian might say that when “thelo” is used, ad ultrumque paratres applies (that is, God is prepared for either event, rejection of His wish, or acceptance of it). Or he might use a term like “prescriptive will” by which he would mean that God prescribes or commands something, but does not make anyone conform to that will. Then he would probably come up with some Latin or German phrase, or settle on some other English expression like “decretive will” to suggest that God decreed some things that cannot be changed. Since I know very few Latin or German phrases, and about as few theological ones, I would rather try to show for the scripture references that when God wants or desires some things to happen, but leaves man the freedom to do God’s will or reject it, He uses the word “thelo” or its cognates. When He planned or purposed a thing and it will happen regardless of what man does, he used the word “boule” or some form of it.
The “bottom line” is that although God can and does get what he wills (boule), He often does not get what he wills (thelo). We should be sure that our will (both our wish or desire and our fixed purpose) conform to God’s, whether we recognize it as merely a wish or desire of God, or His predetermined fixed purpose. It is thrilling almost beyond expression to think of the power that we can have when all our wills (both “thelo” and “boule”) conform to God’s. This may be what Paul had in mind when he said, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me” (Phil.4:13).