“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus taught his followers to acknowledge that the earth doesn’t yet fully flourish under God’s gracious rule of justice and peace and to pray that it will. He invited us to join him in his longing for everyone and everything to live in the joy of God’s loving ways.
The Lord’s Prayer makes it clear that God’s will isn’t always done.
Often, people express views about God’s will which strike me as fatalism—sometimes an oddly and blithely optimistic fatalism—rather than free faith. They almost thoughtlessly assume that if something happens, it is because God wanted it to happen.
Marco Rubio finished in third place in his home state’s primary and interpreted the loss to mean that “It was not God’s plan that I be president.” Are we to believe that all elections and all decisions by political leaders somehow reflect “God’s plan”?
After I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an acquaintance said to me: “God knows you are strong enough to bear this cancer and give him glory through it.” Really? What kind of God singles-out people for misery in order to gain ersatz glory?
A plane crash survivor says: “I was spared because God has more for me to do.” What about the others who died? Was God finished with them?”
Was it God’s purpose for Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. to be assassinated? Does God want a child to suffer and die from leukemia? Did God plan for residents of Flint, MI to have undrinkable water, or for mentally ill Vietnam veterans to live on the streets, or for older adults to live in fearful loneliness?
It’s too simple, and it leaves us with a God whom Jesus would not have served and did not reveal, if we say that whatever happens must have been God’s will.
“Thy kingdom come,” we pray, because it hasn’t completely arrived. “The will be done,” we plead, because it often isn’t.
I often call to mind this straightforward testimony from Madeline L’Engle, reflecting on the illness of her husband, the actor Hugh Franklin:
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.]
God’s will isn’t always done, because, in part, God does not rule by force and fear but by persuasion and love.
God knows everything which can be known, but God does not know in a way that abrogates freedom, either the freedom of creation or of human beings. There are some things which are contingent and not yet known, even by God.
Such freedom means that terrible things happen, things God does not intend and which break God’s heart.
God suffers along with us. It’s impossible to say that God was in Christ and to think that God does not suffer.
God’s power is the power of the cross, of suffering and redeeming love.
God works ceaselessly to bring everything and everyone to the reconciliation, wholeness, and joy which are God’s will. God will not stop offering us the kingdom until God has persuaded us to live in the shalom it promises.
I know far less than I used to know about God’s will, but I trust that Paul was right to say: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” No separation. I cling to that promise.