Can GOD's WILL Be Discerned?

In Thornton Wilder’s classic 1927 novel (THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY) , the hero , a Franciscan monk, ponders the fate of a group of persons who die one day, when the famous bridge collapses. The good friar investigates the lives of the victims, and tries to discern in the record of their lives, whether they “deserved” their fate (death by the random collapse of a centuries-old bridge).
As I recall, the priest delves into the details of the vistim’s lives, and finds equal amounts of good and bad in their behaviors. So his conclusion was ambigious-he couldnot see the hand of God in the poor peopl’s fates.
Has anyone attempted a similar analysis? What was their conclusions? :confused:

*Matthew 5:45
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

It’s all random whether there is a, many or no gods.

Well, IMHO, no one but God knows the true accounts of each person. The Fransiscan may have attempted to look into the lives and deeds of the individuals involved, but I don’t believe that another person (especially a stranger) can truly know everything that there is to know about the thoughts and deeds of an individual. Therefore, I don’t believe that we have all the facts to judge whether or not a person deserved their particular fate or not.

I believe that God, in the end, balances His books. That takes into account the good and bad that a person receives in this life and in the afterlife.

Zev Steinhardt

Pat Robertson and George W. Bush claim to know God’s will; why not ask them? :wink:

Depends. To gnostics, the true god’s “will”, as it were, was only that the souls of men would return to “him” (the true god wasn’t necessarily personified and definitely wasn’t masculine or feminine, AFAIK). But gnosis itself was in fact coming to know the fullness within, called the divine spark. In each man was a piece of the fullness, called plemora, and through ritual, investigation, visions, and magical rites a person could come to experience and know “god” (which was not the creator of the physical world). The only essential purpose man had was then to leave this mortal coil through gnosis. The religion, as such, was anti-dogmatic and almost infinitely flexible in terms of interpretation and cosmogony.

Unfortunately for history, the opposing viewpoint that the god that created this world was the true god, and that one couldn’t know this god as such but could only have faith, was what won the day, and documents and histories are quite lost to us except in a few rare cases. To this end, the winner was dogma and faith rather than investigation and gnosis (experiential knowledge of god).

This excludes other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism; from what I understand, these latter share some points with the gnostic tradition. My understanding of these other religions is too shallow to even be called “superficial”, however.

The question is moot.

God is nothing more than Big Juju in the sky as peddled by organized religion. The answer is no, because no such animal exists.

Actual *existence of God aside, I don’t think it could ever be objectively done, any more than you could determine my will on any particular matter - you could try to work it out from my observed actions, but maybe I’m just being tricky; you could even believe what I told you, but I might be lying or might not actually be who I claim to be.

But that doesn’t explain the death of a two week old baby from a random car crash, or the death of a two month old child from some rare disease. What exactly could they have done to deserve such a fate?

And what about the truely, truely rotton people who live long and prosperous lives? Are we to belive that they are sneaking off somewhere in the middle of the night do good deeds in secret?

You’re absolutely right.

I’m afraid I don’t have any ironclad answers to give you for that. All I can say is this… I firmly believe that everyone and everything on earth has a purpose and a reason for being here. There is nothing in this universe that is for naught. God, for whatever His reasons are, decided that this particular baby had a purpose in being here for only a short period of time. It’s not a matter of merit vs. fault, as an infant has neither. IMHO, it’s that this child was needed here for a short period, for whatever reason, and then fulfilled his/her purpose.

In Judaic thought, every good deed is rewarded, even those done by rotten people. The Talmud discusses rotten Biblical personages, but then will go ahead and describe one small good deed that the person did and his/her reward for it. So, yes, even good deeds of rotten people are rewarded. (Of course, it may well be that they are receiving their reward in this world, leaving them with nothing except their sins for the afterlife…)

Zev Steinhardt

Latest Religious Messages

In 1998, Josh Hempel, then 16, in Calgary, Alberta, became the then-latest person to be hit by lightning shortly after ending an argument by inviting God to strike him with lightning if he was wrong. (The subject of this argument was whether God exists.)

From Chuck Shepard’s News of the Wierd, July 25, 2004


So if I’m reading you correctly, Zev, the answer to the OP is no, God’s will cannot be discerned. Good things happen to good and bad people, as do bad things. In fact good and bad things happen to people who have not even had the opportunity to establish their qualities. Ultimately we can’t understand the reason behind what happens.

Hmmm… sounds like it’s all based on randomness to me. Why do you need a god to explain that?

The book of Job in the Hebrew Bible revolves, to some degree, around this question.

Job’s friends say that G-d would not punish Job if he was innocent: therefore, Job should repent and stop claiming innocence. Job claims he is innocent and, thus, does not deserve what is happening to him. In essense, Job’s friends are saying God’s will and reasoning can be discerned. Job says he doubts it’s so, because in his particular case the conventional reasoning makes no sense.

G-d then comes and resolves the issue. He says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding! Who set its measurements - if you know - or who strecthed a measuring line across it? On what were its bases set, or who laid its cornerstone - when the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of G-d shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7, NET Bible).

So, G-d’s answer: in view of His awesome majesty, power, authority, grandeury, glory, grace, and sublimity, what can humans say or judge about Him?

Ultimately, no, I’m afraid not. I’m not God and I will readily admit that He hasn’t shown me His books. I’ll be the first to admit that I take it as a matter of faith that it all works out in the end. I don’t expect you to believe it simply on my say so.

Not really random. It just may seem random to us.

For example, a throw of the dice is usually regarded as random. But in reality, the result is a function of how the dice are held, the direction and force with which they are thrown and the surface that they land on. It’s not random at all. However, since most (all?) of us are not capable of computing all these factors in our heads, the result of a throw of the dice seems random. I believe the same applies – we simply cannot comprehend the manner in which God conducts his affairs, so it seems random to us. But in reality, it’s all a function of our behavior and His plan.

Many Jewish scholars interpret Exodus 33:19 - 20 in this fashion. Moses asks to see God’s “face.” It can’t be understood literally, since God doesn’t have a face (nor “backparts” as people are often wont to joke about). In reality, he was asking to see God’s glory – how He conducts the world (i.e. the reasons for what He does). God, however, answers him that this is not possible - that a human being cannot fully comprehend God’s ways. And so God answers “I will show mercy to those whom I (choose to) show mercy and I will be compassionate to those whom I (choose to) show compassion.” He has His own reasons for conducting His affairs. And if you posit a good, compassionate and fair God, then all accounts must be settled - all good rewarded - regardless of who does it, and all evil repaid - regardless of who commits it.


I forgot to mention…the Franciscan friar comes to a bad end himself…his investigation is judged "heretical"by the local branch of the Inquisition, and all of his writings were burned.
Perhaps then (as Wilder suggests) we are not meant to understand the totality of what encompasses God’s will…seems a shame that this knowledge only comes to us when we are too late! :smack:

Whether a person lives 1 day, 18 years, or 105 years, the time spent on the mortal coil is negligible compared to the eternity of paradise or hellfire that several religions postulate. Therefore an ‘early’ death is not necessarily a condemnation since all lives are short on the cosmic time scale. So it goes.

**Zev ** - I agree that the human mind is not necessarily capable of comprehending the entirety of the universe any more than my dog can comprehend my actions. I’m also OK with the notion that God eventually balances the books either here or in the afterlife. If one wants to accept that as a matter of faith, then I will leave it at that.

The OP seems to ask if we can take this matter of faith and apply reason to it so as to understand God’s will. It appears that you and I, even though we come from very different places on theology, agree that the answer is no.


How about the child who lives a short, brutal, nasty life and dies in great fear and agony? Surely the fruition of God’s will is not contingent upon such an event.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have the answers to all of life’s questions, trandallt, because I surely don’t. I can offer possible explanations, opinions and hypothoses of why God would do what He does on any number of circumstances; but that’s all that they are - my opinions, my hypothoses and my explainations.

I could tell you that the child was brought into the world not for his own purpose, but to briefly touch and affect the lives of his/her parents. I could tell you that the child was brought into the world and in some unknowable way, made a difference in the world before his/her departure. Maybe the child was an inspiration to others. Maybe in this child’s memory research will be done that will bring about a cure to the malady that killed him/her. There are countless possible reasons why these things might happen, and I certainly don’t have all the answers as to why God does what He does in every circumstance. I’m not even going to pretend that these questions don’t frustrate me sometimes - because they do. The only answer that I have to fall back on is the one I gave earlier – that a good, benevolent and fair God (which I believe exists) does everything for the good; even that which appears to us to be not good. As I said earlier, I don’t expect others to believe it because I do; it’s just a statement of my beliefs, which I offer.

Zev Steinhardt

And I thank you for offering them. The question of why children must suffer to fulfill God’s will is one that I have never been able to resolve, and in my mind seems to refute his benevolence, which you affirm. I do apprediate your thoughful and earest reply. Thanks again.

There was a time when I couldn’t begin to understand it either trandaullt. I agree with nearly all that zev stated, but I no longer have the same frustration he experiences at times.

Our spiritual walk with our Lord and our little grandson, Dawson, was and is a profound experience. And we think it was not one without Dawson’s consent, so understanding this brings a different perspective to this situation.

I think it is possible to see and recognize God’s Will sometimes, even if you don’t comprehend it all.