Update: I have thought over this post for quite some time. I stand by what was originally said here and I maintain my conviction about the original events that inspired me to write it, but I am also moved by the sincere hope, desire, and expectancy that redemption would have its place in these events. To hinder that would be a deep and grievous wrong, and to that end, I have gone back and edited this post. The theological content has not changed, but the circumstances have been generalized. Indeed, the problem I have seen with using God's will in the way it was employed reach far beyond just this one instance. In some way, we should all see ourselves in these failings of rightly understanding the will of God. I know I do. Pax et bonum.
Ordinarily, I don't pay much attention to politics. I admit to finding them somewhat silly, and I'm not a fan of what I see it do to people from time to time, or rather, what it can draw out of them that was already there in their character. However, something happened recently that made me very interested in an elections: a candidate implied that God's will was somehow involved in the election result.
God's will? Really?
The candidate won. Immediately there was a buzz among supporters who made comments referring to what God was accomplishing through him and how this was God's affirmation for his direction.
When I read these responses of happiness and certainty in God's provision, the words of John Calvin--of all people?!--came to my mind, "Satan has his miracles too."
Earlier that week I had been in conversation with a friend discussing how bothered I was about this language of God's will being used by someone who was supported by people that spent their time bashing and looking for ways to undermine the opposing candidate. It struck me as incredibly blasphemous to say that it was God's call on the candidate's life to serve others only to then turn around and support--because silence is support--the absolute degradation of the rival. Or, as it was shaking out, the enemy. I remember asking, "Do they not know that if they win, they'll have to serve the loser too? If God has called them to be a servant, they have to strip down, pull up the water bucket, and wash the other's feet. That's the will of God."
What have we done to God's will?
By the logic employed by the campaign I have recounted, anything that appears good is God's will. If something bad happens, this too is God's will, but a mystery. So, if I am the young woman who is raped and the rapist is never found, arrested, and forced to stand trial for his unspeakable crime, this is God's will, it is a mystery. But what of the rapist? Can he not then with satisfaction say: This is God's will, that I should not have been caught.
Does this seem ridiculous? It should, because God's will is not the insipid and trite cavalcade of meaninglessness that we make it out to be when we assign it to anything that suits our tastes and whims. It is a cop-out, and a pathetic one, to assign the will of God to anything that doesn't have seemingly good explanation in the ordinary scheme of things.
But we forget about Satan. We forget that we are fallen.
We forget that we have a will. We forget that Satan has a will, too.
Scripture tells us that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Often, this is the go-to verse for implying that God orchestrates events in a certain way, individually, specifically, to achieve His desired goal. There is only one right path and that path, that path alone, makes it to the desired end God intends.
But there's a few problems with that. First, Scripture there does not suggest that God is standing at each decision in life, such as whether to have a bagel or toast for breakfast, prompting you to make the "right" choice lest His divine plan be thwarted. The implication is that God cooperates and redeems all choices, good or bad, and aligns them to an ultimate, eschatological end that is the good not for individuals who love Him, but for all those who love Him.
This isn't roadmap style God's will. There is no single road that requires you to do this, this, and that in order to achieve what God wants. If Scripture is clear with us about anything, it's that no matter how hard we try to screw it up--think Judah and Tamar, without whom we would not have Christ, and nearly didn't!--He is still going to make it work out exactly how He wants it to.
So, we have our fallen choices. Satan has his miracles. Regardless, the overall will of God is not shaken or moved. And this is the idea that trips people up the most, the idea that God's will isn't about choosing toast or a bagel, that it is so much bigger, certainly bigger than an election.
How do we know?
Deductive logic, as often as I am not a fan of it, seems especially useful here. If God's will is a series of correct choices in life and there happens to be only one, perfect, correct way to do things, then the Gospels certainly did us no favors.
We have no idea how Jesus slept. We're not sure where He went to use the bathroom. (Jesus used the bathroom, by the way. Sometimes people are stunned by this.) We don't know if He started walking with His right or his left foot. We don't know if He cut his hair at His shoulders or farther up. We don't know if He always chewed with His mouth closed.
The horror! How then are we to be perfect? How then are we to follow the will of God? God's perfect, unchangeable will that is dependent on me and every choice I make?!
This is foolishness. But it's the same thing as thinking that everything that happens is the will of God as opposed to seeing everything that happens as being ultimately placed into the trusted hands of the Creator, who will take the mess of our will, Satan's will, and His ultimate, perfect will, and bring it all into a logical, harmonious story in spite of our very best efforts to do otherwise.
Dare I suggest that God does not intervene ever in the world? Certainly not! I have written in the past extensively about how I see God working in the everyday, that there are absolute moments of divine intervention in human affairs, and that the Lord cares very much about whether you eat a bagel or toast, but that His care there has more to do with His love for you than it does for some set plan of His will.
So how then to discover God's will? How are we to know how to live everyday lives that are honoring to God?
We look to the One who was able to accomplish God's will perfectly, our example, He who is never recorded as having used the bathroom but is often noted as rushing off away from everyone to pray and spend time with His Father.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus answers the first temptation of Satan to turn the stones to bread with these words: "'It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’'”
On every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
It is a shame that people who are willing to subject God's will to be about something as silly as an election likely do not read their Bibles much. Because if they do, they must read only the portions of it that appeal to them, finding God's will in snippets of Scriptures out of context and in haphazard attempts to force passages to mean something in their immediate lives. How else is it possible to have such a skewed view of God's will? They do the job of the Holy Spirit for Him, pray often about what they want, but listen little.
But Jesus says that we are to live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Woe be it unto us if that means we read little Scripture and act unjustly against our neighbors, against our enemies.
Jesus knew the Scripture better than anyone. He prayed better than anyone. And this combination of Scripture and prayer allotted Him an openness to the Holy Spirit such that He did God's will constantly by being faithful in these things so as to see in the world the way in which He was to go. It wasn't a point to point ministry, it was a flowing song, a movement, a dance, that had many choices and options, all of which were good in the sight of Lord, which made it easy for Jesus to distinguish between the will of man and Satan, which have many choices, and the will of God, which has many choices too: bagel or toast?
It was the will of Satan that Job would be deprived of all he loved and suffer incredibly. It was the will of God that Job remain faithful.
Job remained faithful. Job did the will of God.
Faithfulness is the will of God. Faithfulness to read His Word, to pray, to listen, to be in community with other Believers, to delight in His blessings, to see Him at work in the world. From faithfulness comes knowing God. From knowing God comes discernment. From discernment comes right choices. From right choices, ultimately, comes cooperation with God in God's ultimate, beautiful will.
But this process doesn't happen once, it happens constantly. In the garden Jesus prays to let the cup pass from Him. Even then, He is still discerning, still talking to God, still seeking Him to know what to do. So He takes the cup. He takes it in faithfulness, which ultimately leads to the fulfillment of God's will.
God doesn't care about an election unless the candidate is being faithful to Him. If from faithfulness a position also comes, then it is simply more of an opportunity to be faithful. It is the indication of favor that God has given to someone faithful with little a chance to be faithful with much. But this is all contingent, imperatively, on first having a relationship with God that is intimate, honest, and desiring to serve Him in the little and the everyday.
There are moments, certainly, when the Lord sets a decision before us that is clearly right or clearly wrong. In these times, this will of God is still an act of faithfulness, for faithfulness to God leads to a right decision. That is, not an external call from God on what to do, but an inward intimacy with the Father that prompts a response that pleases Him.
Other times, we are prompted to action in a moment that seems ridiculous. I have been in situations where I felt the need to pray for the person in front of me whom I did not know. I weighed this carefully and found it to be a prompting of the Spirit. I could turn this into a deliberation over the will of God, or I could simply ask, what would be the faithful thing to do? The faithful thing is to do as the Spirit, when tested well to be sure that it is indeed the Spirit, has lead. If it is somewhat hard, if it demands more of you than you think you can give, if it somewhat terrifies your sense of propriety, it's likely the desire of God placed upon you. Being faithful to God is never easy.
It's all about jello.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture says, "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being." I think of this like diving into a giant pool of jello, being suspended within this great, abundant mystery of God all around me, pushing through and yet never against, because it flows and forms and moves with me. We are one and yet distinct, united and yet different, held in the same space and yet it is far more expansive and encasing than I. I am within it. I am a part, foreign as I am, of it.
Moving in faithfulness to God is like moving in jello. The Lord surrounds and holds us, His will a giant pool of possibility. The earnest pursuit of Him, the desire to see Him, the desire to serve Him pulls us through the beautiful mess of substance and brings forth the ultimate, great will of God, which is larger than we can even imagine.
Is it God's will that I finish this post today, long as it is?
I don't know. Perhaps it is better to see it as a blessing. Thank you, Lord, that it has come to a close. Be it an honest reflection and useable for Your purposes, Your ultimate will, whatever good, wonderful thing that may be.
Sometimes God hits us on the head with a brick to figure out His will in a moment. Most of the time, He just wants us to pursue Him. Pursuing Him, ultimately, brings about cooperation with His will. He doesn't need us to make it work, He's already got that taken care of, but He would love us to come along for the adventure.
Is it God's will, or Satan's, or man's that a candidate is elected?
I don't know. But I do know that it is the will of God for the elected to strip down, pull up a bucket of water, and wash the feet of the one who lost.
Faithfulness. Faithfulness unto the end.