Thursday, 17 September 2009
'What is God's will for my life?' As a friend has put it, if a twenty-first century Christian were to journey through time to the ancient Israelite farmer and communicate such a loaded question, the poor Hebrew (after the initial shock) would have many questions of his own; such a strange notion would be cause for utter befuddlement. 'What does this stranger mean by "God's will"? Does s/he not know of the covenant?'
When God created the world, the ancient Hebrew and Catholic would say, God communicated His will to humanity. Namely, He told humanity: 'Go forth and multiply. Eat of any tree in the garden, but don't eat of this tree.' Speaking loosely, God had said: 'Here is the way I have created the world for you to live in it - now, go have fun in that order.' This was and is how God communicates His will for humanity throughout the ages. Historically, the people of God - from the ancient Israelites to the Catholic Church - had always understood God's will as intimately bound up in God's covenantal action toward His people, in what He had ordained and established for His people. -God's 'will for your life'? God's will for your life is to love the LORD your God with your whole being, to live faithfully in Him, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to obey and serve Christ in His Church. This is God's will for your life.
We of the twentieth and twenty-first century Western world have largely superimposed our understandings onto the reality of God. The 'God's will for my life' philosophy had begun to arise quite a bit earlier than now, but it is accentuated by our cultural context of expansiveness. We enjoy our endless freedom and open choices but seek to go about 'divinizing' them in some way. In many ways, this strange behavior has nothing to do with the choices themselves but with the recognition that God is not typically seen as having anything to do with our choices; our historical/technological empowerment has been a sterile and philosophically agnostic enterprize. In a world in which we can be journalists or firemen, live in a condo in Boston or a house in Denver, we want to 'include' God in some way. Many - if not most - Western Christians play into the language and philosophy of God having an 'individual will' for 'my' life that goes beyond God's historical revelation. Yet this reveals more about our own unfamiliarity toward God's historical will for our lives (or perhaps our subconscious disbelief toward its comprehensive nature) than it reveals about God Himself; that is, God's will for humanity and humans - as it has been historically revealed - is not 'good' enough, is not comprehensive enough, for our liking.
The notion that we must all have a burning bush or even a modest 'peace' (as in emotional) about the choices of our lives is a recent development in the West. Not even the oft-cited mystics, to the best of my somewhat well-informed knowledge, ever supplanted God's covenantal Word with emotional connectedness or signs. In fact, in Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ our Lord warns, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.' The sign of Jonah - as it becomes fulfilled in the sign of the Church - has always been: 'Repent and be baptized, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.' God's will is to go about saving humans and humanity; God may not have as much concern over your choice of insurance provider as you yourself might have about the matter. Perhaps He is concerned if you are concerned, because He has shown immense concern about His creatures, but He has not necessarily geared the stars in their circles toward your choosing SafeAuto over Progressive. Perhaps if we were to truly embrace the true goodness of God's creation, as it has been historically understood - His desire for us to romp in the Garden, in His gracious covenant with His people - perhaps we would please God and live in healthy relationship toward Him and even manage to be healthy creatures in the process. To expect anything beyond this is to risk being highly presumptuous: no mortal will ever know the full extent of the mind of God.
This is not to say that there is nary a burning bush or wet fleece to be found, nor is it to say that God does not work graciously with our silly understandings of things! This is simply to say that God has already revealed His will, and we shouldn't make it an object to go searching for 'extra' signs. God is definitely gracious with our misunderstandings and works them toward His desire to save the world, whatever these misunderstandings may be (in this particular subject and in many others). God works all things together for our good, for those who love the LORD. And no one would deny that throughout history God has communicated with His people - and to particular persons - in extraordinary, supernatural means. The history of the Church is full of these blessed realities.
The problem comes when we put the cart before the horse, when we begin grasping for signs and wonders to fuel our participation in the virtue of faith. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, who has redeemed the world and established His Church; our faith is in the God who has saved the world. We have been given a New Covenant and we are to live within that covenant in faithfulness and the bestowed peace of God. If God provides you emotional peace, praise be to God. If God comes to you in a whirlwind or a writing on the wall and tells you to do whatever, praise be to God, and you should definitely grapple with that and listen. However, to make this sort of phenomenology the object of faith is to supplant what God has already historically revealed to be His will for your life. Love God, serve Him, live faithfully, love your neighbor, serve and obey His Church. This is God's will for your life.
Do you agree that our 'will' is to save others as the author suggests or do you still prefer the more supernatural 'will' where God guides our decisions?