Laius and Jocasta were the King and Queen of Thebes.
They gave birth to a son.
But even before their son had been given a name,
they received an oracle from the god Apollo.
Through a divine messenger, Apollo spoke about this newborn son.
Their son, he said, would grow up and kill King Laius and himself become king.
More than that, he would then replace Laius at Jocasta's side,
and be married to her.
This unnamed infant would kill his father,
become king of Thebes,
and marry his mother.
Well, Laius and Jocasta didn't like this prophecy.
Faced with the will of Apollo, they decided that they would kill their newborn son to prevent this from occurring.
Because they were not willing to kill their own son directly,
they ordered one of their servants to take him out to the edge of their kingdom
and simply leave him exposed in an open field.
To prevent the baby from crawling away,
an iron pin was driven through his feet.
All this the servant did.
But the servant could not leave the baby to die, so he gave to a friend of his from another kingdom
- a shepherd from the kingdom of Corinth.
This Corinthian shepherd was not part of Thebes,
he did not serve King Laius and Queen Jocasta.
This Corinthian shepherd served the King of Corinth,
a man by the name of Polybus.
The shepherd presented this unwanted and badly injured baby to King Polybus.
The King and Queen were childless and took this unwanted baby in as their own.
Because of his swollen and injured feet, they named him "Swollen Foot",
which in Ancient Greek is called Oedipus.
Oedipus grew up as the foster son of the King and Queen of Corinth,
though they never told him he was adopted.
The King and Queen loved their foster Son,
and he was in line to succeed his father as the King when the time came.
But the god Apollo decided to send to Oedipus a messenger.
This messenger told Oedipus of the oracle concerning him
- that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother.
Oedipus was repulsed by this prophecy,
and immediately left his kingdom.
Oedipus wandered far,
and was one day confronted by a man in a chariot who whipped him.
In his anger, Oedipus killed this man,
and eventually made his way to Thebes.
The city of Thebes was being terrorised by a magical beast called the Sphinx.
Oedipus sat down with the Sphinx and answered the creatures riddles,
and thus saved the city.
Since the king of Thebes had disappeared and was then found dead,
Oedipus was made king and married the bereaved queen.
What was the name of the queen he married?
It was Jocasta, his real mother.
Who was the man on the chariot he killed?
It was King Laius, his Father.
It wasn't long before Thebes was hit by another problem.
Drought was ravaging the land.
Sheep and Cattle were sick,
and the Theban women were unable to prevent miscarriages.
Oedipus consulted with Teiresias, a blind prophet,
who informed Oedipus that these awful events were happening
because the gods were angry at Oedipus' sin.
Oedipus is confounded at this revelation.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the truth was eventually revealed to Oedipus that his wife, Jocasta, was in fact his real mother
and that the man in the chariot he killed was his real Father.
On hearing this news, Jocasta hanged herself.
Oedipus responded by gouging out his eyes and leaving Thebes in disgrace,
with only his daughters Ismene and Antigone.
What I've briefly described to you is the basic storyline of Oedipus Rex,
a play written in 425 BC by the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.
Sophocles didn't actually write the play,
he simply preserved the play in written form from the traditions at the time.
Oedipus as a play was performed during religious festivals.
Its main message is that no one can escape the will of the gods.
Even if you try to confound their plans by your actions,
you will discover that your actions are actually part of their plan for you.
In the end, you cannot escape the power that the gods have over your lives.
To us in the 21st century, such an idea sounds quite silly.
We are free, we say.
We can do whatever we want.
We don't believe in fate.
In the end, modern man believes that he has the power to do whatever he chooses.
Besides, what about the injustice we see in the story of Oedipus Rex?
Thebes suffers because the gods are angry at Oedipus' double sin of patricide and marrying his mother.
But weren't the gods responsible for putting him in that situation in the first place?
Why should they blame Oedipus when they are ultimately responsible for the situation?
- that we have free will and not even fate has the power to change that
- is very popular in modern texts.
It can be found in modern films like "The Matrix" or "Minority Report".
In the end, "We make our own fate" is the message we are given.
So how does that affect us as Christians?
The passage we are looking at today is 1 John 5, verses 13-15.
What I want to talk to you about is this strange idea called "God's will".
What is God's will?
How can we discern it?
Is God's will some form of fate that no one can avoid?
Or is it simply an expression of God's desires
- desires that ultimately will never come to pass because of our freedom?
As Christians the starting place for all truth is God's revealed word in scripture.
It doesn't matter whether we like it or not,
Scripture contains all the truth we need to know about God and how to live our Christian lives.
The verses we're looking at today are important because they concern God's will.
What I'm doing today is an examination of what the Bible teaches about God's will.
I'm not strictly giving an exposition of these three verses,
but looking at one of the important ideas behind them
- the topic of God's will.
When I come back next time,
I'll be looking at these 3 verses again, but with the aim of trying to examine how our understanding of God's will fits in with prayer and how God answers prayer
- which is what these three verses are really talking about.
Hopefully our foray today will help us understand these verses next time I'm here.
I have three points I want to look at today.
The first point is an examination of God's Sovereign will.
The second point is an examination of God's moral will.
The third point is an examination of God's saving will.
1. God's Sovereign will
The first point - God's sovereign will.
Let me just state the Bible's position very clearly.
The Bible makes it very clear that all things happen because God makes them happen.
From the beginning of time,
God has ordained all things to occur.
It was he who decided that I would preach here today.
It was he who decided that you would be here today.
It was he who decided what time you woke up this morning and what brand of toothpaste you used
- that is, if he decided that you brush your teeth.
There are many verses that back this up.
Psalm 135.6 says
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Proverbs 21.1 says:
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, he turns it wherever he will.
Matthew 10.29 says:
Are not two Sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this concerns Moses and Pharaoh in Egypt.
You all know the story
- Moses goes to Pharaoh and says "let me people go".
Pharaoh says no, and so the Lord sends a plague upon Egypt.
Pharaoh then says "yes you can go"
but then changes his mind.
Moses talks to him again
- and the process starts all over again.
What is interesting about this process is that when Pharaoh changes his mind,
the Bible actually describes it as God doing it.
"The LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart" it says in Exodus 11.10
and in many other verses in that part of the Bible.
The point is that the Bible describes God's actions in both the big events and the small events of history.
Nothing happens that happens outside the will of God.
Anything that happens happens because God made it happen.
Now of course the problem with this concerns sin and evil.
If God is in control of everything, then why is there sin and evil?
This issue has been debated for centuries.
If you're sitting there having these thoughts,
don't think that they are somehow unique to you
- people have been debating them for a very, very long time.
The problem goes like this.
If God is totally in control of everything that happens
then is he also responsible for every sin and evil thing that has occurred in our world?
We have three options open to us:
Since the Bible says that God is good, we have to either
1) stop believing in God, or
2) we believe in a God that is somehow limited and powerless to stop evil and sin, or
3) we believe in a good God who is not to blame for sin and evil, even though they form part of his ultimate plan.
Option 1) is favoured by most non-Christian philosophers.
Option 2) is favoured by most Christians.
Option 3) is favoured by a significant minority of Christians.
Where do I fit? No. 3.
It is the only serious option we have if we believe in the Bible
- we believe in a good God who is not to blame for sin and evil,
even though they form part of his ultimate plan.
In other words, does God determine everything that happens? Yes.
Does that mean he is to blame for sin and evil? No.
Now logically that doesn't seem to work.
But we need to remember two very important things.
Firstly we must understand that our human minds cannot fully comprehend God's majesty.
We might think that our understanding is wonderful,
but in the end we have to admit that our minds cannot come to terms with the majesty of God.
Secondly we must understand that the Bible gives us all we need to know about God.
The Bible tells us that God is in control of all history.
The Bible also tells us that God is good
and there is no evil in him
and that he is not to blame for sin and evil.
Christians who believe in option 2)
- that God is somehow limited and powerless to stop evil and sin
- are those Christians who hold on to the Biblical teachings about God's goodness,
but who ignore or re-interpret the Biblical passages that teach that God is in control of everything.
There is a modern heresy going around Christian churches today that states that God does not know the future.
It's called "Openness Theology".
God knows the present and the past,
but he is incapable of knowing the future.
The logic is that if God did know the future, he would have stopped things like the Holocaust during World War 2,
or the attack on the World Trade Centre, and so on.
The fact that he didn't stop these things from occurring means that he doesn't know the future.
Let me say this clearly - that is not the Bible's teaching.
God not only knows the future, he makes the future happen.
He can do this because God exists outside of time because time itself is part of the creation
- something which even Albert Einstein found out when he came up with the theory of relativity.
Time and space are all part of the universe we live in.
For us as Christians, it proves that God is the author of time itself,
and is therefore not limited by it.
But one really important thing we have to realise about God's Sovereign will is that we are not somehow passive, nor are we robots.
Yes we act out of our own so called "free will",
but that is in fact an illusion
- God is the one who causes us to act the way we do.
Yet we are not robots,
and we are still ultimately responsible for any evil or sin we commit.
So how does that affect the way we make decisions.
Let me read to you a recent news article from a Christian Website.
Its title is "Man, 91, dies waiting for will of God".
TUPELO — Walter Houston, described by family members as a devoted Christian, died Monday after waiting 70 years for God to give him clear direction about what to do with his life.
"He hung around the house and prayed a lot, but just never got that confirmation," his wife Ruby said. "Sometimes he thought he heard God's voice, but then he wouldn't be sure, and he'd start the process all over again."
Houston, she says, never really figured out what his life was about, but felt content to pray continuously about what he might do for the Lord. Whenever he was about to take action, he would pull back "because he didn't want to disappoint God or go against him in any way," Ruby says. "He was very sensitive to always remain in God's will. That was primary to him."
Friends say they liked Walter though he seemed not to capitalize on his talents.
"Walter had a number of skills he never got around to using," says long-time friend Timothy Burns. "He worked very well with wood and had a storyteller side to him, too. I always told him, 'Take a risk. Try something new if you're not happy,' but he was too afraid of letting the Lord down."
To his credit, they say, Houston, who worked mostly as a handyman, was able to pay off the mortgage on the couple's modest home.
Now if you haven't worked out already,
what I just read to you was one of those false news reports.
It wasn't real, it was done as a joke.
But it does have something quite important to say.
Christians today want to do the Lord's will.
If we are serious about our faith, then we want to listen to his guidance and wishes rather than our own.
In James 4, the writer has a go at people who make plans to do things without acknowledging God.
Now all this is true
- we should always pray about major decisions and ask God for guidance about what he wants us to do.
Now the problem with saying this is then is what the Bible says about God's sovereignty.
After all, if God wants us to be somewhere then we'll end up there
- we can't escape God's will on this matter.
So why pray about it?
Why worry about God's will?
Well, we must remember that our prayers and our willingness to listen to God's guidance are actually part of his sovereign plan anyway.
The thoughts and desires we have are simply one of God's ways of ensuring we make decisions that will lead us to where he will put us.
An example of this is myself.
About 11 years ago I believed that God wanted me to come to Newcastle and to preach the gospel here.
9 years ago I believed that God didn't want me to.
Now here I am.
It really didn't matter what I believed because, in the end,
God got me here and I've been preaching the gospel.
Sometimes God opens doors and allows things to happen in order for you to make certain decisions that will,
in the end,
not end up in the place where you thought God wanted you.
I heard a story about a Christian man who felt that God was leading him to be a missionary.
I think he wanted to go to Pakistan,
but my memory of this story isn't clear.
Anyway he prepared himself for the whole thing,
he was sure that God wanted him to be in Pakistan.
When he got there he was kicked out for some reason
and ended up being a missionary in Egypt or some other country for the rest of his life.
God wanted this man in Egypt,
and used this man's desire to go to Pakistan
in order to get him to Egypt.
One last thing before we move on.
If you feel that God is leading you somewhere
and you don't go there,
don't be worried.
It is not sin to do that.
It is only sin when you disobey God's moral and ethical laws.
Imagine, you're travelling up the Pacific Highway
and you get near Taree.
You suddenly feel very strongly that God wants you to take the Taree turn-off,
but you don't take it.
Are you sinning? No.
It doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you should take the Taree turn-off.
If God wants you in Taree,
then you would've taken the turn off.
And you would have taken the turn-off whether you felt that God was leading you there or not.
The fact that you didn't take the turn-off shows that God doesn't want you there.
2. God's Moral will
Next point - God's moral will.
God's moral will can be defined as the thinking and behaviour that God wants people to obey.
In order to find out God's moral will, we need to turn to the Bible.
The Bible is full of information about what to do and what not to do.
If we want to find out the mind of God in terms of his thinking about certain issues,
the Bible gives us all the information we need for us to make the correct decision.
When it comes time for us to make important decisions
- either in our own lives or in the life of our church or nation
- then we should pray that God gives us wisdom to make the right decision.
Sometimes this is hard, but sometimes it is easy
- if your decision involves breaking one of God's moral laws
then it's a no-brainer, don't make that decision.
Does God want you to kill your next door neighbour?
Does he want you to cheat on your spouse?
Does he want you to lie on your tax return?
Of course he doesn't.
Each one of those involves breaking one of the ten commandments.
This is why it is so important for us to understand the Bible.
If we fill our minds with God's word, then God's Spirit will more strongly lead us to make the right decisions.
Let me give you an example.
The other night (Christmas 2003) some friends and I went off to Glendale to see The Lord of the Rings.
We were waiting for someone to turn up with our tickets,
but they were running late.
The queue for the theatre was getting longer and longer.
I was then given the option of taking an available ticket and waiting in the queue.
The idea was that I would save a spot in the line for the other 7-8 people who would then turn up when they got the tickets and get a good seat.
But I had a problem with that.
It would mean that my friends would actually be "pushing in"
simply because a mate of theirs was in the line.
There was no written rule to inform me,
but I just thought it would be unfair to other people in the queue.
So I said no.
It was hard because I really wanted to see the movie,
but the guys who were with me, Christians, saw the problem as well and the idea was ditched.
It didn't matter anyway because we saw the movie and we all enjoyed ourselves.
Let me give you another quick example.
Many years ago I was working at a company as an internal sales rep.
I was encouraged by many others to lie to customers on the phone but I resisted that urge.
One day, however, it slipped through and I had to lie in order to prevent a customer for getting mad at me.
It was wrong of me to do that,
and I felt terrible as a result.
Fortunately I left the company soon afterwards
and didn't get the opportunity to lie at work again.
Now I'm not telling you these stories to show you how wonderful and godly I am.
All I'm saying is that if you're a Christian you have to make decisions based upon God's moral will.
No decision we should make should ever require us to sin.
We have to fill our minds with God's word so that we can make those practical everyday decisions.
God's Sovereign will and his moral will work together.
The fact that God allows evil things to happen in his sovereign will,
while still maintaining his moral will,
does not mean we worship a God with multiple personalities.
I cannot honestly answer how this works out in the end
because it is beyond any of us to understand.
As soon as we try to apply it logically,
we end up either denying God or ignoring part of his word.
3. God's Saving Will
The final point I want to raise with you today is the issue of God's saving will.
In verse 13 of 1 John 5, the Apostle John says these words:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
It is very tempting for us as we examine both the issues of God's sovereign will and his moral will
to forget that one of the most central parts of both wills of God is the issue of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life.
While we may think about things like
the World Trade Centre or World War 2 or other big things
as being part of God's sovereign will for human history,
we have to remember that when the Bible speaks to us about God's will,
it is focused very strongly on how and why God brings salvation and forgiveness to his people.
Lots of big things have happened over the years.
Go back centuries and you have the French Revolution,
the colonisation of America,
the black plague,
the destruction of the Roman Empire
and on and on and on.
All these things were major events
and I'm certain that there are more major events to come.
But in the context of God's view of history,
what do we see at the end?
Well, there is no end to history
- it is God's people living in paradise.
That is one of the biggest things in history.
And when we consider how that was brought about,
we need to then go back in time to around 33AD when Jesus was crucified.
It was that event which is the most amazing in history
- that God sent his own son to die on the cross
as an atoning sacrifice for God's people, the church.
There are many passages which show that God has chosen us from before we were born to be his followers.
Ephesians 1.4 says
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."
These verses and others remind us that it is God who chose us to be his followers
- we, ultimately, did not choose him.
But we also need to remember that salvation is essential when it comes to God's moral will.
1 Timothy 2.4 says that:
God our saviour wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
This verse has been interpreted by some to show that God will saved everybody,
and that everybody will go to heaven.
Christians who don't believe in predestination or election also use that verse to show how illogical such a thing is.
But we need to remember that this particular verse in 1 Timothy is an expression of God's moral will
- God wants everyone to turn to him and to repent,
even though he has actually decided that many will not.
Again, a confusing thought
- but again we have to believe it because the source of all the correct information is God himself,
who wrote the Bible through the work of the Holy Spirit.
For some reason God chose not to explain all this to us,
and I even doubt whether we'll understand it when we meet him in heaven.
But let's take the Bible.
What is it?
If you look at the Bible as a whole,
you realise that it focuses upon how God creates a people for himself
- the church
- through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So when you're trying to work out what to do.
When you're trying to discern God's will,
you need to keep the cross of Christ at the forefront.
What sort of things should I do to enable people to hear the message of the gospel?
How should I spend my money to ensure that God's church has enough finances to continue its work that God is doing through it to bring people to faith?
These are the big things we should be looking at.
Let me finish up.
God has two wills - his sovereign will and his moral will.
His sovereign will is his ability to control and determine all events in history, from the biggest to the smallest.
His sovereign will means that all events in history were made by him,
yet it is clear from Scripture that God is not the author of sin and evil,
nor is he to blame for determining certain evil events.
God's moral will is the expression of God's mind on how people should think and act towards him and towards each other.
In the Bible, God's moral will is shown everywhere,
and includes the Ten Commandments,
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount,
as well as the rules for Christian living written down for us by Christ's Apostles.
But we need to remember that God's will is focused most strongly upon the person and work of Jesus Christ
- that by dying on the cross as an atoning sacrifice,
God brings his church into being
by choosing some to come to faith and repentance.
It is also how we should understand God's will now
- that the growth of God's church
by the preaching of the gospel of salvation should be our ultimate priority in life,
and should be at the forefront of all decisions we make.
Almighty God and Heavenly Father, we stand in awe and wonder at the majesty. We cannot comprehend even a fraction of your being, so limited we are in our human understanding. And yet you have graciously given us enough information to speak to us about how much you love us, and that you have chosen us from before the creation of the world to be your holy people. Thank you that your Spirit works in us, and we ask that he helps us to accept these teachings even though they are impossible for us to understand. We thank you that you are in control of all history, and that we worship a God who is totally in control of his creation. Thank you that we are given clear instructions from your Word, the Bible, in knowing what to believe and how to live. We ask that you Spirit work in us continually, bringing us deeper into your love and keeping us safe until the day you send you Son back to us. Give us guidance and wisdom when we make our decisions, and use them for your glory.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.