Now, that's a phrase we fling about a lot, isn't it?
We become anxious about God's will during at least two types of situations: 1) When we don't know what to decide, and we want to know God's will for our lives, and 2) When something painful and horrible happens, and we can't believe that it is God's will for us.
I'm revisiting this issue now, not only because of the uncertainty of our present state in life (that's #1 above) but also because of a book I recently read, Two-part Invention by Madeline L'Engle.
I love L'Engle. I love her children's books; we bought a boxed set of five of them for Julia for Christmas. I also dabbled briefly in her devotional book, Glimpes of Grace, but did not continue to read. I could tell that, theologically, she held different views from mine -- interesting views, of an interesting woman. I'm not adverse to reading other's ideas, but at the time I had other pressing reading, and I set it aside.
What we believe about God's will is inextricably tied to who God is, and how well we understand Him. Notice, I do not say, "inextricably tied to who we think God is," because this is the problem. L'Engle and I believe different things about God, and thus we have radically different understandings about God's will. God is not of our own definition; He does not conform His character to my preferences. He is Himself, and it's my job to know who He is.
As she suffered the agony of watching her beloved husband die slowly of cancer, L'Engle penned these words:
"Consequences: cancer is a result of consequences. It is not sent as a punishment. I do not have to make the repulsive theological error of feeling that I have to see cancer as God's will for my husband. I do not want anything to do with that kind of God. Cancer is not God's will. The death of a child is not God's will. The deaths from automobile accidents during this long holiday weekend are not God's will. I would rather have no God at all than that kind of punitive God. Tragedies are consequences of human actions, and the only God worth believing in does not cause the tragedies but lovingly comes into the anguish with us."
She's a good writer -- thinking, clear-speaking, definitive. However, she presents a mass of assumptions with which I disagree.
L'Engle rejects a punitive God. God, to her, is all-loving and never-punishing.
L'Engle decides that God must be the kind of God she needs, defining His character according to her limited understanding, otherwise, she will decide He doesn't exist.
L'Engle's God cannot cause our tragedy and still comfort us in it.
L'Engle affirms free-will, particularly inasmuch as humans choose sin. With this I heartily agree.
However, she's decides that all human tragedy comes only from our choices, that God can have no hand in it.
In fact, she assumes that, if God did have a hand in our tragedies, it would by definition have to be a punishing hand.
So I ask, is there any other reason, besides punishment, why God would put tragedy into our lives?
And of course, the answer is yes.
I'm reminded of Jesus, commenting on the blind man by the side of the road. The disciples assume that his blindness is a punishment from God. Jesus refutes that. "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3) Jesus tells them that God planned this blindness, and allowed it to continue for decades, so that on one day, the man's healing could show God's power.
Perhaps L'Engle would not like this God either!! A God who allows - even orchestrates - human suffering, so that His own power will be shown? What kind of an egocentric megalomaniac god is that??
Does God allow human suffering? Yes, just read the first couple of chapters of Job to see clearly that He does.
Does God design human suffering? Yes, just read through David's psalms. How many times does David cry out to God, "How many days will you afflict me?" "The bones you have broken will rejoice!" Oh my. David understood that God had broken him, body and soul. (Ps. 119:75; 51:8)
Why would God break his children? Because He can also heal. And the healing of a broken thing can be far more beautiful than if it were not broken in the first place.
We don't want to accept that. Many, I know, cannot accept the concept of a God who breaks. It feels so much like punishment, so they assume that it is. They cannot imagine, much less see, the healing. And like L'Engle, when the healing of the break comes, they see it as God's love, but do not see that He has done both breaking and healing.
God is a Redeemer. He fixes broken things. This is one of His fundamental qualities. We know that He redeems souls, He saves them from hell. But He redeems events and situations too. He alone can take a tragedy, which He's first placed in our lives, and transform it into something glorious -- showing His glory as a Redeemer, and causing us to proclaim His glory in our lives, which is our reason for existence. Redemption places both God and man in their perfect roles.
It is this redemption that gives comfort. To this, God alludes when He tells us He will not give us more than we can bear, but will help us. When we, fallen parents that we are, give our children heavy things to carry, or throw them up into the air, or place them in a body of water, don't we always balance this risk with absolute certainty in our ability to help and save them? If the weight is too heavy, or the throw too high, or the water too deep, we quickly rescue them. How much more is God able to perfectly gauge the tragedies He sends us, giving us only what will help us trust Him, and giving us grace to endure as we grow? He is watching, like a careful parent, each moment of our suffering.
L'Engle could not love such a God. She could not see past the pain.
Some of our tragedies will not be redeemed until heaven. I see heaven as the rest we have at the end of our work. Some of this life's work is extremely sorrowing, but there is rest, and the older I get, the more I realize it is just around the corner. God always sees our lives from this perspective, and so should we.
What is the will of God? It is the stuff in the mind of God. God's will is all that an all-knowing, all-powerful Being desires. Is there anything He desires that He cannot do? No. Is there anything that occurs that is beyond His power to prevent? No. He either designs it, or allows it by giving us the freedom to choose it. Even our choices are at His allowance.
I have always loved this passage from Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town. Rebecca describes the address on a letter that was received from a minister. "The address was like this. It said: Jane Crofut, The Crofut Farm, Grover's Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America."
"What's funny about that?" George asks Rebecca. Most of us do not define our existence much more than that.
Rebecca continues: "The United States of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, The Earth, The Solar System, The Universe, The Mind of God."
Does your whole life exist in the mind of God? Is there anything in your life that is not part of His will for you? Do you know that even the ugly things in your life, He can redeem and make beautiful? It's true. If it's not, then there is a chunk of creation that is outside of His mind, and that cannot be. L'Engle preferred a weakened God, one who could only watch, saddened and unable to help, as tragedy struck. All He could do was hold her hand and wait for the pain to pass. How sad!