Defining God’s Will: His Desires or Simply Human Error?

A friend of mine’s Thursday afternoon Facebook status really touched my heart:

“Part of our problem in making sense of like is that we can’t make sense of ourselves. We want to blame God for things that don’t go our way because we don’t want to take responsibility for our mess. We stop believing in God because He won’t change it for us. Is it possible that God does in fact exist and we are still fully responsible for the human condition? Is it possible that God created us with the power to create the world of our own choosing?”

My response to this status was:

“What are we really saying when we claim something to be a product of God’s will? Are we shirking the blame onto God rather than taking the credit for our own screw ups and faults?”

I know I have discussed a lot in the past the phrase, “God’s will” and what it means to churchgoers such as myself. It is extremely popular among two crowds – Christians, and my grandparents. But do we really know what the phrase means in the first place? Further, when we use it, are we using it because we believe what it stands for, or because we don’t want to admit fault? My friend says it so eloquently when he says that our faith often teeters on whether or not God answers prayers or solves world problems. But my big question is why people use, “well, it is clearly God’s will that X happened” as the answer to life’s bigger mysteries. For example, the first chapter of my seminary journey has come to a close – well, actually it came to a close when I got into Princeton back in November (November 4th to be precise, but who’s counting? Really now…). I knew immediately upon coming home from my day at Princeton in October that it was the perfect place for me, and that if I got in, I would most certainly accept. Everything about that school simply fell into place, despite a few LARGE frost heaves along the way (…car almost getting smooshed by a tractor trailer on the way home, thanks Jersey turnpike…), and I took that to be a sign that this was where I was meant to spend the next 3 years of my life. When I got my acceptance letter literally a month later to the day, I knew I was going to accept. I remember running around saying, “I’M GOING TO PRINCETON!!!” rather than “I got into Princeton.” It is what felt right, and that was more than enough of a sign from God – that was all I needed. When I went to share my joy and my decision with a friend of mine, I was handed a response I wasn’t quite expecting. “Did you ask God if this is the right choice? Is it God’s will?” For some reason, I was so infuriated. I didn’t feel as though I needed to justify my reasons for going to a particular seminary with another person. God’s will or not, it felt like the right choice, and that is, like I said, how I gauge big life decisions. I was expecting the rather obligatory response like, “CONGRATS! You’re going to seminary.” Not the, “well, did you ask God’s permission before you made this decision?” I suppose that at that moment, I thought that everyone thought the way that I did regarding a decision like seminary, or for others, going to college/grad school/accepting a job/studying abroad, need I continue? For me, I believe that an opportunity arises because God sees that it is time for me to have a different sort of experience. But at the same time, I feel very mixed, as it is because of my academic achievements – my good grades and hard work – that I got into seminary. God didn’t get me into seminary so much as pointed me in the right direction. In general, I don’t think God is a subtle deity. I don’t think He just wanders around and moves objects an inch or two to indicate that you should do something; rather, I think that when He wants you to do something, he persists and makes hints obvious. Instead of moving the rock, for instance, I think He just plain drops it on your head to get your attention. So when people ask me if “I asked God’s permission,” I want to respond, “God already gave me his blessing to walk toward this opportunity, because it was made possible by God in the first place.”

So how does this have anything to do with the God’s will discussion? I often struggle with people telling me that something bad that happens in my life or the lives of those close to me is a product of God’s will. I don’t need to rehash the discussion of why bad things happen in the world if God created the world, because we have all been there and have had just about enough. But the thing that exasperates me most is when people tell me that things completely within our control as humans are a part of God’s will. I can understand someone wanting to think that a cancer diagnosis or getting into one college over another as an example of God’s will, but when someone tells me that tearing the cartilage in my knee for example, or accepting Princeton after getting in early is a product of God’s divine will, I just want to explode. Like my friend said (and I quoted earlier…), we wonder whether or not God exists based on our own actions within the world. Are we to blame God if something bad happens, or are we supposed to deny His existence when bad things happen that are outside our own grand scheme of things? Or rather are we to blame when bad things happen? Here’s the conflict…some teach that everything that happens in the world is a product of God and His desire to control the world’s inner and outer workings; whereas others, including my church, teach that God created the world and the things in it, and controls some of what happens but not everything – what He doesn’t control, WE control. This is more what I believe personally.

I think that God opens doors and presents opportunities, but it is up to us to walk through the doors and take advantage of those opportunities. He doesn’t make us do things, or make things happen explicitly necessarily. The frustration on my end is that while I get where people are coming from when they tell me that it is God’s will that bad things (or even good things) take place in life, I wish that they could take into consideration where I am coming from. I wasn’t raised in a tradition that preached a complete reliance on God’s will in one’s life. Rather, my family always taught that I should ask God for guidance and listen, but not place all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. (The Phrase, “Giving it up to God” comes to mind…ugh, so mixed on that idea.) I can’t spend the rest of my life making decisions based solely on God’s will, because I can’t wait for happiness and success to come to me. That doesn’t mean that I can ignore the signs and opportunities God is making available to me, or that I need to step all over people to find victory and success. That isn’t what this is all about. For me, I feel that God wants me to take advantage of the opportunities and chances that are both put before me and also the ones that I made for myself.

I think it is challenging for people to understand that I can have aspirations and plans for my life on one hand and have a strong believe in God on the other. Yeah, I may not place every aspect of my life in the hands of God like others do, but instead, I’m proactive, looking for the different ways God shows Himself in my life. Instead of sitting back and waiting for opportunities to come to me, I need to seize life for everything that it is and can be and look for the chance to move and become something new, better and different. I don’t think God would want me to pass things by, to choose to sit down and watch perfectly good opportunities fly before my eyes, waiting for the “right thing” to happen. God created me to be a minister, that I don’t doubt…well, sometimes I worry that I’m not fit enough for it at times, especially seeing what my minister friends go through on a daily, weekly, monthly and finally yearly basis in relationships, jobs, friendships, etc. It isn’t one of those professions you can take lightly.

So this brings me back to my original question: Are we shirking the blame onto God rather than taking the credit for our own screw ups and faults? Well, I’m not sure that I have a definitive answer to that question, not yet at least. I want to say, ABSOLUTELY, using God’s will as an excuse constantly is running away from responsibility and taking ownership of our own actions and responsibilities. But at the same time, I can’t make that claim, and I don’t think anyone can say that for sure. I most certainly don’t have the insider guide to God’s brain and thoughts. But I hope that I have an idea of what He might want for my life and how He might want me to behave in my interactions with others. All I can do in life is stay true to my heart and what it is telling me to do. If I screw up, it isn’t necessarily “God’s will” that something bad happened – it could be that I completely misjudged a situation, or allowed something to distract me. Or it could be a part of God’s plan for my life. But who really knows, anyway? We as humans can only speculate, but only God really knows whether our actions are a part of His will or a matter of human error. Rather than placing the pressure on God all the time, why don’t we take credit for our shortcomings/pitfalls and leave the rest up to God.

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