In the model prayer Jesus gave to his followers, Jesus urged us to talk with God about, among other things, how the world isn’t yet the way God wants it to be: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Latin American theologian Leonardo Boff said: “Anyone who prays this presupposes that our present world is not doing the will of God and that humanity is rebelling against God’s will.”
When it comes to how people understand God’s will, I hear a lot of really bad theology flowing from sincerely loving hearts. Because we want to feel safe, to be able to make sense out of hard things, and to understand more than we actually do or can about how God works in the world, we glibly say things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God’s in control,” or “It must be God’s will.” Actually, not.
Some things happen for no reason at all; they are random, absurd, and irrational. The apostle Paul said as much when he said, “the creation has been subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). Some things are just awful and there is no apparent reason for them.
While I certainly affirm that God will one day redeem everything and everyone, will heal all the torn world and its troubled people, and will transform the bitter and brutal realities of the life into beauty, it is not the case that God manages the world in a way that is anything like “control” as we usually understand it. “Control” would mean that Hitler would not have been Hitler, that tsunamis would not wipe out whole villages, and that the murdered children of Newtown would still be alive.
And there are plenty of things that happen which aren’t God’s will. When her husband, the actor Hugh Franklin was dying of cancer, Madeline L’Engle said:
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 [The Two-Part Invention, p. 172.]
We pray for God’s kingdom to come because, though we see its healing and saving presence among us, it has not fully arrived. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth, because it isn’t always. We talk to God about all places and people who are shattered and struggling because the earth isn’t yet fully a theater of God’s goodness and glory.
And, while we long and work for the kingdom fully to come—while we lament and struggle with the brokenness of the world and our own lives—we trust that God is, somehow, with us, that “nothing ever separates us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39).