Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

FoundThis is a book written to help Christians understand God’s will in the life of the believer. The first 66 pages list out numerous scriptural references showing five elements to God’s will for one’s life – which include:

  1. Saved
  2. Spirit-filled
  3. Sanctified
  4. Submissive
  5. Suffer

After which, paraphrasing MacArthur – if you’re doing all five of the basic elements and wanting direction for something, well, do whatever you want [68]. MacArthur explains that if those five elements of God’s will are preeminent in your life, then you can trust that according to Ps 37:4, God is giving you the desires of your heart.

MacArthur goes on, 

You may bounce off a lot of closed doors, but that is God’s way of forcing you into His open one. [74]

Hmmm – time to pause. In my estimation, at least, the belief that God uses “open” or “closed” doors to direct us is an easy way out of the responsibility of decision-making. Personally, I find decision making hard. For me, it’s much easier to be the “worker-bee” on the manufacturing line. On the other hand, it’s all together a lot more complicated (and difficult!) to be responsible for decisions made to ensure that the manufacturing line is operating at maximum efficiency. Hence, “decision makers” [aka managers] typically earn more money. It’s almost as though people aren’t necessarily paid for the work they do. Rather, people are compensated by the kinds of decisions they make. Therefore, the greater one’s responsibilities and magnitude of decisions made, the fatter the paycheck – at least on average. But, perhaps that’s a topic for another conversation.

Still, the concept of “open doors” and “closed doors” is foreign to me. My own understanding of verses within the Bible coupled with life-events has brought about numerous times when differing counsel, conflicting scriptures, hard to understand circumstances and even the good-willed intention of other people provide, at best, ambiguity with regard to personal direction.

Ultimately, we make the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have at the time. We can ‘decide yes’ or ‘decide no’. And then, like it or not, we have to deal with what is best described as the natural occurring outcomes (or consequences). And, those naturally occurring consequences can be good, bad or even indifferent. Lots of examples come to mind i.e. purchasing a house, investing, going back to school, taking a new job, whom to marry, having children, moving to a new city, etc. All too often I see Christians feeling duped or otherwise “beating themselves up” over decisions they’ve made wherein they suffer from the “I must have missed God’s will” syndrome. The ironic commonality amongst so many believers, however, is the belief that if something works out well then it must have been God’s will. And conversely, if something didn’t work out so well, then the poor schlep feels as though God is bringing about punishment for their going around God’s will. To me, this is nuts!

I think we can trust the writings of Paul in Rom 12:1-2 that:

  1. We are to present our bodies as a living an holy sacrifice
  2. This is our spiritual service of worship
  3. We are not to be conformed to this world
  4. Rather, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind
  5. So that we may prove what the will of God is

Subsequently, experiencing God’s will in one life is not complicated. We are to:

  • Work hard
  • Live in peace
  • Warn those who are idle
  • Encourage the timid
  • Help the weak
  • Be patient with everyone
  • Don’t pay back wrong for wrong
  • Be kind
  • Be joyful always
  • Pray continually
  • Give thanks in all circumstances

Because [all of the above] is God’s stated will for us (1Thess 5:12-18).

I respectfully disagree with MacArthur that God is using the experiences in our lives to shape us into his will [75]. I remain unconvinced that God has a ‘blueprint plan’ for each person’s life. Nor do I believe that God reveals that ‘blueprint’ through open or closed windows. I have no doubt as to Paul’s account of his Damascus Road experience. However, such events are exceedingly rare within the Bible. To which, where are the verses teaching how to interpret and understand circumstances?

In conclusion, God wants our hearts and our minds. The details relating to what I decide (or don’t decide) will take their own course and therefore I don’t need to concern myself with specific outcomes or trying to figure out if something is (or is not) his plan via open or closed doors. So, simply put, God’s will is living our life as he intends and making decisions that honor him. It’s not anymore complicated than that.


Gifted Mind

Raymond DamadianA recently published book entitled Gifted Mind is an interesting read about the life-story of Dr. Raymond Damadian. He is credited with having invented the MRI. A key element throughout the book is Damadian’s adamant belief that he experienced God’s intentional  leading into a “new truth” through the invention of the MRI. A quote on the back cover of the book is testament to Damadian’s belief:

To me, the highest purpose a man can find for life is to serve the will of God.

As becomes obvious in the book, this will of God is not a general will of salvation. Rather, the will of God is personal and specific for each person.

With an admitted bias towards Open Theism and a completely different understanding of the nature of God’s will in the life of the believer, I tried to read Gifted Mind in an open and honest manner. Aspects of Damadian’s life and the invention (along with the explanation) of how MRI differentiates K+ (potassium) and Na+ (sodium) structures of normal and cancerous cells are fascinating. There’s no doubt that Damadian possesses a ‘gifted mind’. And, throughout the book, Damadian comes across as a humble guy dealing with day-to-day difficulties and coping as best he can.

As noted above, an important element in the book is that God gives or otherwise doles out specific knowledge to particular people at given times throughout history. If that’s true, it could reasonably be argued, then, that there’s a basis to believe God has intentionally withheld medical advances which would have otherwise helped or benefited people. And, as one who struggles with Calvinistic doctrines, I unfortunately find such a concept of God benefitting some but not others consistent with the Calvinist teaching of election wherein only some people are created for salvation and others are to be reprobate.

Damadian’s scriptural references are, to me, poorly interpreted and only vaguely tied to applications he puts forth. Some examples include:

  • John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [10-11]
  • John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. [11]

Damadian uses these verses to show that God is the author and creator of all truth and that God ‘allowed’ (or chose) Damadian to unfold a ‘new truth’ – namely, develop the MRI. To me, the very clear intent of these verses have to do with salvation and not the development of a high-tech widget.

  • Prov 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. [164]

The clear inference is that God determined that Damadian was the one who would bring MRI into the world at a certain point in time. Can I then infer from Damadian’s understanding of this verse that God also directs the steps of the wicked? I personally don’t think so. However, I would submit that God is able to ‘use’ man’s plan – and direct those freely chosen steps to that which God wants.

The book is replete with numerous and specific claims of God “directing Damaian’s steps” i.e.:

  • “Astounded by the coincidence” [89]
  • “I was meant to construct the first MRI” [91]
  • “I knew what God wanted me to do in that moment” [129]
  • “[The invention of the] MRI was the unfolding of God’s plan for my life” [164]

In spite of the number of claimed instances where Damadian believes God was “directing his steps”, however, I remain unconvinced. To which, I’m often troubled that good-willed Christians can have such divergent thought as to the nature of God’s will. Two books I’ve found which underscore that variance are:

  • God’s Will, God’s Best – Josh McDowell
  • Decision Making and the Will of God – Garry Friesen

McDowell’s book goes into detail as to using various “tools” such as circumstances and counsel in ascertaining whether something is indeed part of God’s will for one’s life. Friesen, on the other hand, believes that anything we do (or decide) that is not in conflict with Scripture is perfectly acceptable to God. Furthermore, Friesen encourages ‘Kingdom thinking’ such that should a decision be required between A or B, do that which will bring about greater glory for God.

I don’t doubt the difficulty as to the nature of the work that Damadian and his team did. However, it seems curious for one who’s adamant as to God’s specific leading to also express doubts about that leading and there are numerous examples where Damadian appears to doubt God’s leading:

  • Sought help from President Carter [96]
  • Chasing ‘ghost theories” [107]

To which, it’s unclear as to why in these instances (and likely many others) Damadian didn’t claim John 14:14 to ‘ask anything in my name’. [91]

In conclusion, I believe this book will likely enhance or otherwise confirm what one already believes about matters of faith and the nature of the will of God in the lives of believers. People who are comforted by God’s sovereign decree(s) over his creation will likely agree with Damadian being led by the spirit and periodic revelations of “new truth” (in this case, the MRI). For myself, I struggle with the overt generalization of scriptural references being applied to concepts and notions for which the writers had no intention. I did, however, enjoy reading the book and learning about this man. But ultimately, I find that this story is not compelling that God was indeed leading Damadian. And therefore, I am not convinced that this book provides compelling evidence that God has a specific will for believers.