Much has been made of Francis’ joint document with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb of al-Azhar fame. That document created sparks in conservative and traditional outlets primarily because of a particular statement:
The outrage is justified, though it is important to note that such a statement can be understood in an orthodox sense, since God’s will can be understood in both what he inspires and directs versus what he allows, and God does indeed allow other religions to exist (and can use them to chastise his covenant people) and uses them for his purposes.
However, to give so charitable of an interpretation to such a statement given how the Holy Father and Vatican bureaucracy has behaved in this pontificate would be too much of an easement. It has been the method of subverters, under the title of “reformers,” to hang as much ambiguity on a single thread of orthodoxy as possible, and retreat to that single thread as soon as they are put under scrutiny.
Such a document should never have been signed. However, to put forth a more consequential point for discussion, does God “will” (in the sense of inspiration or dictation) a multitude of denominations? I wonder what Protestants might say of such a question. It seem as though they are caught on the horns of a dilemma; if God does not will a multitude of denominations, is their denomination the one true denomination? If so, where else in God’s history has he scattered his people in such a way in terms of their belief and structure?
Certainly not in the Mosaic era in Israel; as I’ve argued elsewhere, the kingdom of Judah and its successors through Nehemiah, Ezra, the Maccabees, the Pharisees, etc. maintained their authority and legitimacy up until Christ’s arrival. The Samaritans continued in schism from the graces of the Temple, the Priesthood, and the son of David until Christ, at which point they were given the opportunity to accept him or not.
It was certainly not the case between the flood and Israel, since Abraham and his descendants were monarchs/patriarchs of the promise. Lot was never a part of that (Abraham’s bringing Lot along was never part of the plan), though he was saved by Abraham’s intercession.
Prior to the flood, it gets more complex, but the authorities in power at the time are believed to be the angels (“sons of God”) mentioned in Psalm 82 and in Deuteronomy 32:8 who failed to properly teach and instruct the people and were corrupted by lust. I’ve expanded on the concept of the Divine Council here.
So, does God ever “will” a multitude of people with wildly varying beliefs about him with no authority structure, no designated place of worship/sacrifice, and no personal representative of him on earth, as long as they hold to some set of nominal beliefs from a set of writings which only exists because of the hierarchical, universal authority of Bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome?