Question: I have a question that I hope you can help with. Is God’s “Permissive Will” a biblical concept or just a man-made theory?
Response: We know from Scripture that God declares “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah:46:10) and that no subsequent event surprises Him. Since He is “omniscient” (all-knowing) he can use all circumstances to accomplish His will. When Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to the Ishmaelites (Genesis:37:27-28), God certainly didn’t force them to do it. Their envy and hatred of Joseph were contributing factors in what they themselves chose to do. Nor did God stop them from doing this. We can consider this an example of His “permissive will.” He allowed Joseph to be sold by his brothers into Egypt.
After the death of their father, Jacob, the brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge for what they had done. Joseph, however, had a different perspective. He told them, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis:50:20). God knew of the great famine that lay ahead, and in protecting His people, His permissive will allowed the brothers to carry out what their evil hearts imagined, and in so doing set in motion a chain of events that culminated in Joseph’s appointment to second-in-command in the kingdom. This position enabled him to assist and protect his family, and, ultimately, the promised Seed (Genesis:3:15).
Proverbs:16:9 tells us, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” When we make decisions outside of God’s perfect will for our lives, we are experiencing His permissive will. He allows us to choose, even to make wrong choices, but in so doing, we must suffer the consequences of our actions. Pharaoh was a very real threat to the people of God, but even Pharaoh was allowed by God’s permissive will to make choices and do things that brought harm to the children of Israel, as he laid on them terrible burdens. In Exodus:9:16, the Lord instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” In Pharaoh’s defiance of God, he became an example to others who might learn from the consequences he had to suffer.
In his well-loved devotional My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Always make a distinction between God’s perfect will and His permissive will, which He uses to accomplish His divine purpose for our lives. God’s perfect will is unchangeable. It is with His permissive will, or the various things that He allows into our lives, that we must wrestle before Him. It is our reaction to these things allowed by His permissive will that enables us to come to the point of seeing His perfect will for us. ‘We know that all things work together for good to those who love God…’” (Romans:8:28).