If I understand correctly, God’s will is not always done. This is implied in the Lord’s prayer (in which Jesus prays, “your will be done”). To complete my understanding, we are also given the free will which may sometimes triumph over God’s will. When this happens and God allows it, I would assume that He allows it although He doesn’t will it, and the two are not necessarily in conflict. If my premise is correct, can you please help me better understand how James 4:15 applies here? In the NIV translation, it uses the word “will” instead of “allow”, does this mean that if God doesn’t will it, it won’t happen? The reason I asked is because there is a bigger question on how far God may be responsible in allowing or willing evil or harm to happen. If James implied that everything can only happen if God wills it, this is contradictory to how I understand God, who plans only to prosper us and not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). But then there is also the entire Job story, which makes Jeremiah even more difficult to harmonize. Perhaps there are semantics or translation problem here but would appreciate it if you can shed some light.
On the one hand, I believe that your understanding of where God’s will fits with our free will is spot on. God gives us the ability to do things which violate his will. Your use of the Lord’s Prayer is a great way to see this truth. One way to put it is that it is God’s will that we have free will. Therefore, ultimately, God’s sovereignty is not violated, even if we do not obey him, as his sovereign will is that we be allowed to disobey him if we so choose. It is not that our will “triumphs” God’s will but that our will violates God’s will for our lives and he allows this to happen because he loves us enough to give us a choice.
On the other hand, I believe that you are not understanding James 4:15 correctly, which is causing your confusion. What James is telling us is that when we make decisions, we ought to ask what God’s will is in making our decisions. We ought to acknowledge God’s desire and plan is rather than simply directing our lives according to our desires. Besides, we should be aware that, ultimately, God is in control. If he chooses that our life will end at a give time, then, if he so chooses, then he can call us home, as they say. Whether God will intervene, or whether he will allow our will to determine the final result of our plans is beside the point. The point is that we always ought to ask, first, what is God’s will, not our own will. In Romans 12:1-2 we are told that if we present our lives/bodies as living sacrifices, then, over time, we will come to understand what God’s will is in any particular situation. I believe that this coming to be sensitive to God’s will happens to us over time. However, if we have the attitude James is calling us to have, then we will learn to be more in tune with God’s will and we will not so arrogantly act as if God has no place in our decisions and in the direction our lives take.
I believe that what actually happens in this world is complicated. There is God’s will and desire, there is our own personal will and desire and there is also the wills and desires of those around us. We could add the will of Satan and his demons. Exactly which is the cause and effect of every single thing that happens is not something we have an exact prescription to explain it to us. We have to live in a permanent state of not having the exact answer to every question about such things. However, the admonition of James is that we should be sensitive to God’s will as we make our plans and we should not be arrogantly make our own plans, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). You should be aware that James 4:6 is the background and context to James 4:13-16. Notice James 4:16; “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This is the explanation of the passage in question.
God wants us to keep his desires and plans for us in mind at all times. James does NOT imply that “everything can only happen if God wills it” in this passage. God has plans to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11), like you say, but sometimes we thwart those plans by sinning. Also, sometimes he purposefully allows hardship in our lives, rather than “blessing” in order to teach us and to help us to become what he wants us to become (James 1:2-4). Sorry about that, but life is complicated and we cannot figure out the exact cause and reason for everything which happens. Our job is to trust in God’s providence and to do our very best to be sensitive to what his will is and to move in a direction consistent with his will as we understand it, the best that we can.
Job is a great example of this principle. We know the reasons behind what happened to Job, but Job is not aware of the reasons behind his suffering. When he doubts God and demands an explanation for the why, God says to him, “Brace yourself like a man.” (Job 38:2). It is not for us to know God’s will in every situation, but it is our job to trust in him because “faith is being certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), and one of the things we cannot “see” is sometimes God’s will in any particular situation.