Does God Have a Perfect Will And A Permissive Will?

Post Author:  Darrell

Over the past few years, I have heard several Christians I know utter statements such as, “I need to find out what job God wills for me to have.” or  “I’m praying to find out who God wills for me to marry.”  These statements are from people who believe that God has a “Perfect Will” for certain aspects of their lives, e.g., what job they should have, whom they should date or marry, or where they should live.  God’s Perfect Will is contrasted with His Permissive Will, i.e., that which falls outside of what He Perfectly Wills for us, but which He permits to happen.  God’s Perfect Will is seen as the goal for Christians, and finding it and living within it lead to blessings, while not seeking it or finding it leads to living inside God’s Permissive Will and missing out on blessings.    

How realistic is this viewpoint?  Does God have a Perfect Will for aspects of our lives such as the jobs we hold and the person we marry?  A couple of months ago I heard a wonderful podcast by Matthew Gallatin on Ancient Faith Radio where he shared a story that illustrates a serious challenge with the idea of God having a Perfect Will versus a Permissive Will.

John is a 24 year old Christian, and Jill is a 23 year old Christian.  God’s Perfect Will is for them is to meet, fall in love, marry one another, and raise a beautiful family together.  After meeting and going through 2 years of courtship, they fall in love, John proposes to Jill, and she happily accepts.  They are both excited for their future and set their wedding date.  When the big day comes, John waits at the altar while beautiful music plays.  However, while sitting in the dressing room, Jill gets cold feet and changes her mind.  She secretly dashes out the back door of the Church and catches the next flight to Las Vegas where she starts a new life.  She walks away from her Christian faith, meets Jack, a casino owner, and marries him.  She spends the rest of her life in an unhappy marriage with Jack.  Eventually, realizing that Jill is never returning to him, John moves on and marries a very nice Christian girl named Tammy.

God’s Perfect Will was for John and Jill to marry and raise a family together.  However, Jill chose to rebel against God and follow another path, living her life outside of God’s Perfect Will and inside His Permissive Will.  As a result, she missed out on the blessings God had prepared for her.  But where does this leave John?  John was seeking God’s Perfect Will for his life, and he found it in Jill.  He made the right decisions, asked her to marry him, and waited for her at the altar.  However, though no fault of his own, John is forced to live outside of God’s Perfect Will and inside His Permissive Will.  Because of Jill’s decision, he will now spend the rest of his married life in God’s Permissive Will, and he too will miss out on the blessings that flow from walking in God’s Perfect Will in relation to his marriage.

Does this seem right? Should John, who is seeking to live His life and follow God, be forced to live the rest of his life outside of God’s Perfect Will simply because Jill chose to rebel?  I would suggest not, especially given the fact that God has promised us that “…all things work together for good to those who love God…”  John loved God and was seeking His Perfect Will, so God would not hold out blessing him simply because Jill chose to rebel.  That makes absolutely no sense.

So what is God’s Will for our lives?  Bill has addressed this in a previous blog post here.  I will just add my thoughts that I believe God’s Will for us is pretty well summed up in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17:21-23:

That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

God wants us to be one with one another and one with the Holy Trinity.  He wants us!  That’s all… nothing more… nothing less.

  • Mick Curran

    Gallatin is a former Arminian. Did he explain what he meant by “Perfect Will”? Did he mention “Sovereign Will”?

  • Sterling VanDerwerker
  • Darrell

    I understand his view of God’s Perfect Will to be similar to the way I have heard other people describe it. To use an anthropormorphism I would say it is “that which God Perfectly desires for us.” I don’t recall him saying anything about God’s Sovereign Will.

  • Darrell


    Thanks for the links.

    There are several resources that address God’s WIll, Finding God’s Will for your life, etc. While I have only read a handful of things that have been printed on this issue, I have to admit that I have yet to encounter what I would say is a reasonable solution to the dilemma that this story illustrates. I’m certainly open to listening though. Would you mind explaining Koukl’s and Friel’s solution?

  • Mick Curran

    When you use the phrase “God perfectly desires” do you have in mind absolute perfection or relative perfection?

  • Darrell


    When speaking of God’s Perfect Will in reference to a job or a marriage, I think we are describing what God desires or wills for us in those areas, i.e., marry a specific individual or have a specific job. I don’t see how there is room for relative perfection in areas such as this. That is one of the things that creates problems with this idea.

    Maybe I am missing something?

  • Mick Curran

    I’m not thinking of any particular area of human endeavor. I have in mind God’s Will as it engages or opposes the human will. If we take it as given that created beings can and do override God’s Will doesn’t the question arise as to whether God’s Will can be absolutely perfect? Absolute perfections involve no imperfection while relative perfections involve an imperfection. Right? So isn’t there a case for stating that God’s Will is relatively perfect?

    To my mind this is where the Calvinistic system of thought scores big. Calvinists believe in God’s Sovereign Will, don’t they? Matthew Gallatin was never happy with Calvinism but it seems to me that if western questions are to be posited then Calvinistic perspectives cannot very well be excluded.

  • Boz

    Are you saying: “It is unfair therefore it is false” ?

    or: “It is unfair therefore it is more likely to be false” ?

  • Darrell


    You asked: “Are you saying: “It is unfair therefore it is false” ? or: “It is unfair therefore it is more likely to be false” ?”

    My response: Neither.



  • Kevin Ramsammy Keyz

    OK consider this for instance a man meets an lady they both fell in love then married . now after two months they break up and they in the third month got divorce man say your too had to understand and just so different the lady thinks of him the same , isnt this and excuse to get divorce i i believe there is such and perfect will

  • kensito

    I do not subscribe to the notion of a “permissive will” where God is concerned. I understand the concept. It implies that since our Father is sovereign and has all power, then everything that happens is subject to His allowing it to happen even if it is contrary to His nature or character or design. Maybe it is merely semantics, but i don’t think so. I think it arises from not knowing God well enough. The word “will” (the noun) in Greek describes the wish, desire, intention of someone; in our case, the Father. Does He allow things such as sin to occur? Obviously, yes. But is this His will by any stretch of the imagination because He lets it happen? Obviously, no. So the two words “permissive” and “will” should never be conjoined where the Lord is concerned. It has much more to do with having been given a will of our own and how irresponsibly and corruptly we handle it. God did not create evil, but to be truly free, the tree with the knowledge of good and evil had to exist. The Lord warned, even commanded, us not to eat of it. We had a simple choice and we had our knowledge of our relationship with God and our experience of His goodness in creation, providence, protection and provision upon which to base our choice. However, we chose to misplace that trust and deny or trivialize the consequences. Sin or anything else contrary to Him is never His will nor His permissiveness.