The True Will of God
Recently, I met a lovely woman (she was actually the technician doing my ultrasound) who surprised me when she said she would love to have a child, but it was not God’s will. I experienced a soul-chilling shudder travel down my spine. It reminded me of sitting in the pediatric waiting room with my son Charlie for a chemo day at Sloan Kettering in New York. I’ll never forget making small talk with another parent with a two year old child undergoing treatment for a life-threatening brain cancer. Offhandedly, she reflected “All this,” surveying the room of chemo trees, bald heads, and defeated eyes, “It’s God’s will. And we just have to swallow it.”
On that day, I had no theological training. Trying to heal Charlie felt like one harrowing step forward and two devastating steps back. I was worn down to the spiritual nub. But even in my diminished state, my heart refused to believe that suffering in whatever form, mind, body or spirit, was the true will of God.
What kind of God is that?
I’ve traveled a lot more road since that day in the hospital waiting room and have seen far more suffering than I can put to words. I cannot bear to think that there is a single human spirit walking this planet alongside me who believes that when something tragic, unexplainable, or down-right evil happens in our lives or world, it is by THE WILL OF GOD.
I’ll be honest, there have been moments of terrific calamity in my work as a minster: The death of a child, the terminal diagnosis, the victim of rape, a spouse’s suicide-–where I have wanted with every fiber of my being to pass the buck onto God. If only I could give the quick pat answer, “It was God’s will,” and remove the invisible sledgehammer crushing the human heart into a million sharp and unruly pieces. For a moment, throwing the horror and disappointment in God’s court allows the soul to breathe. Somehow assigning the unfair, the unjust, and the heartbreak as part of God’s Plan makes it otherworldly bearable. But then the sledgehammer returns with a vengeance.
How can we believe Hitler’s sanctioned extermination policy killing 1.5 million Jewish children was God’s will? Or how does one make faith sense of my friend from Divinity school who was raped and beaten so gravely that her parents could not identify her at the hospital. Or, let’s return to the ultrasound technician that dreamed of having a big family and has been told she cannot get pregnant?
The reality is our bodies are delicate, evil is present, bad things happen to bad and good people, and death is inevitable.
Really? The God who created each one of us in His Divine image and promised to love us from the first intimate breath to the last-–wills for us hurt, heartbreak, and defeat?
What kind of God is that?
It’s call bad theology and it can wreak havoc on the human heart.
I don’t believe that God sent Jesus to be crucified, no more than I believe God created Hitler to attempt to wipe out an entire race, or gave my sweet Charlie cancer at ten weeks old. The suffering of the world is not God-willed but the result of many a millennia of human choices.
Why would God start from a place of mal intent to try and reach a good and redemptive ending? Bad things are going to happen to us, to our families, to our communities, to our world. It’s the consequence of God honoring humankind with free will (The upside of free will: We choose love from our own free volition and experience God’s true will).
Jesus’ ministry lasted only three short years not because God willed it, but because Jesus was envied by the Jewish priests, convicted by Pontius Pilate, and nailed to a cross (in keeping with the day’s capital punishment) by Roman soldiers. All human choices.
And yet, all was not lost. As all is not lost when we face the reality of suffering in our own lives and world.
Again, we return to the will or the freedom of choices. Jesus’s fate was crucifixion. But he made the choice to respond to the tragic situation creatively and redemptively. From the cross, He literally took the crowds breath when he forgave not only the criminals on his left and right, but his enemies and all of us.
We should be careful before we respond to the heartbreak of the human story with the glib answer, “It was God’s will.” Instead, can we confess,”This was not what God intended. My heart is broken. God’s heart is broken. But no matter what happens, what choices individuals, families, communities, religions, governments make, for the good or the bad, God will never be defeated.”
God’s true will for all creation is wholeness, healing, joy, redemption and crazy Love. Whether it’s realized tomorrow, ten years from now, or many lifetimes in the future-–God will make things right.
Ultimately, not one of us is in control of our today or our tomorrow. At some point, we have to let go and trust in the Divine endgame.
Faith is having the courage to remain open and available (whatever happens) for God to work in our lives for good. I make no claims that this is an easy feat.
To my new friend, the ultrasound technician, God did not will for you to not be pregnant when all your heart ever hoped for was to have a big family. But God did promise that if you were open to being creative, willing to trust in God’s grace and take a leap, God would not disappoint.
It is and will always be the ultimate will of Love that prevails!
Live in Hope,
P.S. I promise lighter fare next post!