My mother writes asking me to explain the difference between God’s perceptive will and His decretive will. (This is payback for all the times I didn’t make my bed).
God’s will is revealed through His precepts. His precepts tell us how He wants us to live our lives. We don’t have to wonder if we should covet because God’s precepts, as revealed in the 10 Commandments, make it clear that to covetousness is against God’s will.
God’s will is also revealed through what He has decreed. His decrees are what He has determined will be. The prophet was able to prophecy that Jesus would be born of a Virgin because it was decreed by God and no man or power can prevent what God has decreed.
The mystery for us as mere mortals is when God’s precepts are broken but God’s decrees are still fulfilled. The ultimate example of this is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Judas broke God’s precepts of loving your neighbor as yourself when he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Yet God had decreed before the foundations of the world that Jesus would be betrayed and handed over to sinful men. Yet Judas was not ordered by God to betray Jesus so he was responsible for the evil that he did. The Scripture says that Satan had entered his heart so we cannot blame this act on God. And yet it played perfectly into God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of the world. (I know….at this point the mind starts to run out of RAM).
Where this becomes more than a theological mind game is when we apply to our daily lives. You hear people all the time say “I believe things happen for a reason.” The Scripture says that they do and that should be a great comfort to us. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:28. So even if bad things happen to you as a result of man breaking the precepts of God, no one can derail what God has decreed for you. And what has God decreed for you? The next verses tell us. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
You don’t have to live very long to know that life is very difficult. There is heartache and tragedy all around. But because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that nothing can stop God’s ultimate plan for our lives, then we can live life with a quiet confidence (Rom 8:36-38). Of course this confidence is not in ourselves, but in Him who will perfect the work that He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). Or our approach to life, to put it in more familiar words, can be, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”