Believing God’s Sovereignty in Sickness – and in Health, too?

I am saddened to hear of Joni Eareckson Tada’s breast cancer and only wish her the very best with her surgery and following treatments.  In the video, Joni said:

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

We believe that God can and does heal.

Given her own words, I sense that doubt is revealed and a lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal is displayed because Joni has sought out medical assistance through surgery and (presumably) subsequent chemotherapy and/or radiation.  According to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer.  The question I seem to ask of Christians who make the assertions that God inflicts some with life-threatening disease (or any other kind of malady or calamity) is; do Joni’s actions in seeking medical treatment indicate that she really does rest in her stated view of God’s sovereignty and God’s will in the matter of her healing?

Update: From the latest video and posting on her site above, it’s good to hear that Joni appears to be doing well after surgery.

Update (7/6): Joni continues to recover after her surgery.  I’ve enjoyed reading the comments that people have posted.  Although I have my doubts that it was God who brought about cancer within Joni, it is apparent Joni that has peace about the whole situation and her faith is a testament to God working out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28)


A Specific Will for Each Believer?

As noted before, I have been trying to determine the truth regarding a personal will that God would have for Christians. From my previous post on John Piper’s interpretation of Rom 12:1-2, I wish to better summarize and clarify some points:

John Piper offered two aspects of the will of God:

  1. The will of decree: God’s “control of everything that comes-to-pass” such as how it was God’s plan for Christ to be crucified.
  2. The will of command: Those things God has told us to do by way of His moral law – the Ten Commandments.

My preference is to separate the moral and individual aspects of God’s will. In part, this is because it has been my observation that nearly every Christian relates to three distinct aspects of the will of God. Those three aspects and some definitions are:


  1. The sovereign will of God: I understand this to be God’s overall or “cosmic” plan. It will happen no matter what we do or even if we do not believe in it. Jesus’ second coming would be an example of the sovereign will of God.
  2. The moral will of God: I understand this to be God’s revealed plan and truth for all of mankind. In essence, it is basic morality – the Ten Commandments
  3. The specific will of God: I understand this to describe God’s detailed plan for each believer. The specific will of God is revealed by the Holy Spirit, is specific for each believer and is not found in the Bible. Examples would be such things as what school to attend, whom to marry, whether or not to go on a mission, which job offer to accept, which house to purchase, etc.

Personally, I do not believe that God has a specific will. I simply do not see that concept taught in scripture. However, perhaps to some greater or lesser degree, virtually every Christian I have ever met does believe this. In general, Christians seem “married” to the idea that God has something already planned out for them.

Noted Christian author, Josh McDowell, clearly believes in a specific will that God has for each believer. Below are some quotes from his book, God’s Will, God’s Best for Your Life (the italics are mine):

· Pg 39: Understand that there are two big areas where God shows His will. The first is His will for all Christians. The second is His will just for you. God’s will for all Christians is what we can call His universal will. God’s will specifically for you is His specific will.

· Pg 61: Scripture is the first place you to go to know God’s specific will just for you.

· Pg 61: God isn’t going to tell you everything right now, and detecting His specific will is an ongoing process. Don’t be frustrated that you have to work at it. God usually leads you little by little.

· Pg 92: What you discern to be God’s specific will for you isn’t likely to come just from one source of guidance. (Mr. McDowell goes on to talk about making use of scripture, prayer, counsel and understanding circumstances.)

· Pg 112: Reading your circumstances will tell you a lot about God’s specific will for your getting things.

· Pg 113: God uses circumstances to direct us.

Here are some examples I have come across to help illustrate how people seem to actualize God’s specific will:

  • The many times that our pastor and members of the board prayed for God to reveal His will whether or not there should be a building program.
  • A letter to the congregation regarding the hiring of a children’s director; “However, we do not know what the Lord has in His plans.”
  • An email from the church secretary regarding a couple trying to adopt a child: “God may have presented this couple an opportunity out of the blue”.
  • Another email: “Due to the death of (name withheld from the church family): “God has opened this door for us.”
  • Printed in the church bulletin: “(a former intern and his finance’) are waiting on God’s timing for setting a specific wedding date.”
  • A letter to the congregation: “God has confirmed to (a staff member) that it is time for him to pursue other ministry avenues.”
  • My daughter-in-law’s belief that God led them to the house they purchased.
  • A 2006 candidate for mayor in Eagan MN who said, “The Lord told me I should run.”
  • Joni Eareckson Tada’s comment: “It’s no mistake that you got that bad medical report last week, that the economic downturn is affecting your retirement fund, (that) your children are not turning out the way you’d hoped they would, or that your grandchild was born with a disability.”
  • “Discover God’s Direction” – the cover page of an Indiana Wesleyan University admission brochure.

None of the above examples is in reference to a moral decision. Certainly, there are instances in scripture where God led or otherwise directed people. But, does that mean that God has a plan for each and every decision one encounters? As far as I can determine, evangelism seems to be the main motivator whenever God is leading or directing – not the ordinary and mundane things we earthly mortals confront everyday

A Desire for Truth Pertaining to the Will of God

The issue of God having a specific plan for each believer is something that I have been trying to understand for a long time.  Until recently, I would “agree to disagree”.  I accepted that I did not have sufficient understanding to comprehend this issue and I was content to leave it at that.  Then, I came across a book entitled Decision Making and the Will of God.   For the first time, I found myself (I think) thinking Biblically about the nature of God’s will in my life.  I did not have to “discover” what God had planned for me.  I did not have to figure out what His personal will is for my life.  Per Garry Friesen’s book, God’s will is clearly stated in scripture.  I did not have to deal with those proverbial open or closed doors anymore.     

As the saying goes, a funny thing happened on the way to church.  I kept hearing what sounded like (to me, anyway) “Christian speak” type statements.  Many devout believers are convinced that God has/had shown them a plan for their lives.  They have “peace in their hearts”, “a clear conscience”, and scads of verses to support their contention that God had given them a particular house, led them to their spouse, children, opened the door for a job, gave them a disease and then cured them of it, etc.  I’ve never experienced anything like this.  Was I missing something?       

This issue began to “fester” and really gnaw at me when the pastor and members of the board at our church were talking about whether or not it was “God’s will” to have a building expansion program.  I asked the obvious question, “What are the criteria to determine whether or not a building program would be part of God’s specific plan for this church?”  It seemed a simple enough question.   However, this led to many conversations and emails with the pastor and many others in the church over the next couple of months.  In the end, I became uncomfortable with the pastor and the church leadership and left to worship at another church.       

So, what is my point: much as a chemist sets out to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis, I am trying to validate my belief that God gives the believer freedom to make any choice that is within His moral boundary (His law).  I do not believe that God has a predetermined objective for us to discover.       

A good question as been asked of me – am I in pursuit of truth?  In addition, am I willing to follow the truth wherever it leads?  I wish I could give a straight-up “yes!” answer.   However, I think I am coming to grips with how little faith I truly have.  I am confused and I can no longer swallow the nice little expressions of faith – the “Christian speak”.  For example: in an Aug/Sept 2003 Focus On the Family article on Joni Eareckson and Ken Tada, Joni says, “But God has a plan.  It’s no mistake that you got that bad medical report last week, that the economic downturn is affecting your retirement fund, that your children are not turning out the way you’d hoped they would or that your grandchild was born with a disability.”  Certainly these are things that can draw individuals and families closer to Christ.  And certainly God can use any situation for His glory.  But I am not convinced that God has brought about those situations.              

Well, I trust that I have provided a little perspective regarding my concern and confusion as to the will of God in the life of the believer.  I welcome thoughts, opinions, and the opportunity to engage in a dialog.  I look forward to posting on various books I have read, and statements that I have come across where I find myself in disagreement as to the will of God from people such as Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Josh McDowell, Ray Pritchard, and Rick Warren.  So, stop back from time to time and we will see where this journey leads.