|Sunset at Lock 33 on the Erie Canal|
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,"Here are my mother and my brothers.For whoever does the will of Godis my brother and sister and mother." Mark 3:34-35Today's Lectionary readings all have to do with the "will of God." Hebrews 10:1-10, the Response based on Psalm 40, and the quoted verses from Mark's account of the life and ministry of Jesus. How to understand the will of the Divine One is obviously central to being a faithful follower of Jesus. He made it clear that his life was based on that and called us to do the same.
I think there are basically two ways to understand the term "the will of God." The first is based on a belief that the Divine One has specific plans for each of us and for the institutions of this world. Our task as humans and especially as Christians is to understand those plans as they impact us and to accede willingly to them and in this way we do the will of the Divine One. Specifically I am to discern the specific plan the Divine One has for my life and then obediently follow that plan wherever it might lead. In this way, I am be confident that I will be saved and will thus become a member of God's family.
This approach has been problematic for me in two ways. It is hard to know what that specific will is and life does not seem to wait for my discernment. Reality continues at the speed of life and I am constantly confronted with what is happening to me and around me. It then becomes all to easy to substitute what is happening for the will of the Divine One. How often have I heard the words "It is God's will" in response to death, loss or other tragedies. When a child dies, is it really the desire of the Divine One? If it is, perhaps it only means that the Divine One wills all that happens--good and bad--because the Divine One is the source of all life. If that is true, then accepting or doing the will of the Divine One is tantamount to accepting whatever happens in my life and around me as the will of the Divine One. It was this line of thinking that led both Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift in the Eighteenth Century to declare that "whatever is, is right." And this thinking certainly must have contributed to the inability of England to recognize the validity of revolutions taking place at the same time in France and the American colonies led by people who felt strongly that they were doing God's will.
My second problem with that approach is the all too easy way in which authorities of all sorts become interpreters of what God's will is. Those authorities who led the Christian Church into the bloody and brutal crusades against muslims did so in the name of God. In fact, the motto of the Crusades as "Deus Vult." "God wishes" this or some other adventure that has utility for those in charge. It is God's will that we go to war. It is God's will that some politicians are elected. It is God's will that bombs are thrown and innocent people killed. On and on it goes. The fact that both sides in a conflict re convinced that it is God's will that they prevail doesn't seem to give us pause and perhaps rethink what we mean by God's will.
There is a second meaning which I think is more authentically Christian and more in keeping with our human nature. The Divine One may not have a "plan" for us but there is certainly a mission which the Divine One has given us. Jesus constantly made reference to the two desires that encapsulated all the laws that Yahweh had ever given. First, love the Divine One will your whole heart, soul and being. Second, love your fellow humans and all creation with the love that Jesus showered on all, even his enemies, his mortal enemies. Each of us as Christians are called to live out that mission in whatever circumstances we live out our lives. We can be poor or rich; sick or healthy, young or old; vital or lethargic; weak or powerful. None of that makes any difference.
The will of the Divine One calls us to see a reality in the world that Jesus called the reign of heaven and to treat each other with a self sacrificing love. These are deeper, much deeper, than any political or economic agenda. If we are to be judged, it will be on the ways in which we lived out that mission in our day to day lives.