This is an excerpt from my sermon on August 19th.
Paul (or more likely, someone writing in Paul’s name), in Ephesians 5:17 says, “Don’t continue in ignorance, but try to discern the will of God.” While I believe this is exactly what all of us should be doing, it’s very hard to get beyond the baggage that the word “will” carries. I know of very few people who hear the words WILL OF GOD and don’t hear it in a loud, threatening, I’m-going-to-get-you-now sort of voice.
We seem to have been instilled with the fear that if we submit, or give ourselves over to God’s will then we will potentially be asked to do something really hard that will in some way be hurtful or painful. It reminds me of the story of the woman who said, “I don’t want to get too close to God. I just want to get over in a corner and sneak into heaven quietly… if you’re too bad you’ll go to hell, and I don’t want that. But if you’re too good, God will send you to India, and I don’t want that either.”
The will of God is often tied to the unexplainable, negative things that happen – the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the floods. How many times when someone has died have we heard, “It was God’s will that they return home”? Even the situation with Jesus leads us to be a little suspect of God. There’s Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for the cup to be taken from him, “But”, he says, “not my will, but thine be done.” And then the authorities arrest him and he’s beaten and crucified. Great. Thanks God.
We even use the term “willful” in negative ways, as in reference to someone who goes against an authority figure. When we hear about a willful child, it seems to be in the context of an adult who believes that the child’s will needs to be broken. In other words, their spirit needs to be broken so that they don’t question, or think, or push back, but merely obey whatever the parent or authority figure demands.
Traditionally God gets cast in this authoritative, punishing father role and we become the children who are either good, submissive children (Abraham being willing to kill his child, following exactly what the church dictates we are to do and believe) or we are the willful children who question and doubt whose spirits need to be broken in order to be good Christians. Yuck. It sort of turns my stomach.
If this is what surrender to the will of God is all about, then I want nothing to do with it. And who in their right mind would give themselves over to this power-hungry ego-maniac of a God who is punishing, judgmental, vindictive and without compassion? Not me. Lucky for me, that’s not the God I believe in. That, in my opinion, is a complete MISunderstanding of the very nature of God.
The God I know and have experienced is very simply LOVE… pure, unbounded, unconditional LOVE. This God wants what is best for every person… to live our true, authentic, beautiful selves. The God of LOVE does not want to break our spirits, but wants to encourage our questioning and growing (just like any good parent will do). A kid’s pushing back is part of their growing process, not to be beaten out of them, but to be channeled. You don’t want your child going out into the world and acquiescing to every authority figure out there. You want them to know who they are and to live lives of honesty and integrity.
So, if God’s highest desire for us is to be who we were created to be, to live life abundantly, to love and be compassionate. Then this is always God’s will for us. We need to practice believing that God’s will for us is life-giving and positive. God is on our side!!
Wayne Muller suggests that when we think of the words “God’s will be done” we substitute the words “God’s love be done” because that is really what God’s will for us is… it is God’s love for us working for our highest good. To me this is the perfect way to reframe this baggage-ridden concept. God’s will equals God’s love. It’s that simple. And I am always (ok, almost always) ready to give myself over to God’s love.