The hour was late and not a soul stirred in the Carter house—except an anxious high school senior mulling over his college decision. For an 18-year-old accustomed to low-impact decisions (what to eat, how much studying I can get away with not doing, etc.), picking a college was the biggest moment of my adolescent experience.
As I paced around my dining room table, I carefully weighed the pros and cons of my top two choices: Geneva College and Southeastern University. The former school was close to home and promised academic rigor. Southeastern, on the other hand, was ideally situated in sunny Florida, boasted a vivid campus, and offered a robust campus life. Though I leaned heavily toward that latter school, one gnawing question gave me pause: how do I know going there is God’s will?
The question of how to know God’s will lurks in the minds of many Christians. We want to know where to go to college, what job to take, or who to marry. Many hours of study, prayer, and counsel get poured out to answer these perennial questions. Often, we won’t move until a heavenly light opens on us and the voice of God booms command in the proper direction. Our concern is that one misstep could cause us to crash and burn out of the Lord’s favor. What if we’re missing the point, however, of knowing God’s plan?
A Blurry Image
Our lives are often characterized by a litany of hasty choices and decisions made on uncertain prospects. Clarity is a luxury we covet, yet frequently lack. Sometimes we can barely discern the future beyond today.
St. Paul reflected this prospect in his own ministry. He could often be found languishing in prison, almost drowning in the Mediterranean, or receiving an undeserved stoning from enraged mobs. Clarity about the future was a luxury he frequently lacked as well. The King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13:12 poetically captures Paul’s thoughts on his circumstances. “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” the persecuted apostle wrote, “but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.” Though today is uncertain, God offers us an alternative to our anxious efforts to divine his will.
In our earnest quest for God’s direction, we usually pursue information. While we long for propositions, God provides a simple alternative: love. The totality of his will for lives can be summarized in two commands: love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). This paradigm gives us certainty for how to live today and the freedom to move into tomorrow. In any given moment, I can be sure that God wants me to make choices that will honor him and bless those around me. Looking into tomorrow, I don’t have to be anxious about where I’ll move, who I’ll marry, or what cereal I’ll have for breakfast. If I can love God and my neighbor through my decision, I am happily in his will. While we should pray about decisions and seek out wisdom, the call to love frees us from the anxiety of pursuing propositions God never promised us.
In the Father’s Hand
As my nervous pacing wore a rut into my parents’ kitchen floor, I felt very strongly that God wanted me at Geneva College. Reflecting on that moment, however, I wish I could give my younger self the advice I offered above. If I had attended Southeastern, I wouldn’t have been stepping out of the Lord’s will because I could have loved him there. But I also loved God at Geneva College, and I don’t regret that.
When we’re walking with God through decisions, we’re like tiny babies trying to hold our dad’s hand. Our little palms are so tiny they can barely latch onto his finger. As we grow, however, we will be able to grab more of his hand. While this process is happening, we can be confident that our Father’s hand is guiding us. All we have to do is hold on.