The Will of God (Part 2) The Circumstantial Will of God.
(This is a series of articles I’m writing about the will of God. If you haven’t read the first one, you might want to go back and read it. You can do that here.)
Last week I shared that one of my favorite books about God’s will is Leslie Weatherhead’s book “The Will of God.” In it, Weatherhead breaks God’s will down into 3 parts or aspects: God’s intentional will, God’s circumstantial will, and God’s ultimate will. What we learned last week was that God’s intentional will for our lives is always good. Like a good parent, God wants what’s best for us! God intends that we have a long and fruitful life! Ah, but then something happens, doesn’t it? Whether it is us acting out of the freedom God gives us, or the actions of someone else acting out of the freedom God gives us, people get hurt. We hurt someone, or someone hurts us. And add to that the fact that “accidents” happen, right? Our sister dies in a car accident. Our brother dies of brain cancer. Someone, in a rage, shoots down my daughter, a police officer. Someone, God forbid, strangles my daughter in a brutal murder. What Weatherhead says in his book is that there are forces in this world that obstruct God’s intentional will. Sometimes we are the one’s who block that will, sometimes it’s someone else who does it, and sometimes God’s will is obstructed by forces of “this world”…by accident, hurricane, and storm.
One of the best illustrations Weatherhead uses in his book is the image of a river. He shares that when he was a little kid, he used to like to go out and play on the dirt road out behind his house. When it rained these tiny rivers would form, and as a boy he would spend hours trying to dam those rivers up. But what he noticed was that eventually those rivers would find another way around the dam he built. This is what Weatherhead calls God’s “circumstantial will”. Weatherhead is pointed here. He is admitting that God’s intentional will is often blocked and obstructed by nature, human beings, and even us personally. We have the power to temporarily block God’s love and intention. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t doing everything God can to find another way around this obstacle. Hurricanes, tornadoes, human beings, “evil” forces…all these forces sometimes have the power to get in the way of God’s love…but eventually God finds a way around it. God works with the circumstances we are in to find the best way forward. It may not be the way God initially intended, but it is, in the end, a way forward.
Many people struggle with this part of Weatherhead’s thoughts. They have been taught that God has control over everything. But Weatherhead states that that is not so. God has given us free will, and if God indeed gives us free will, we must have the freedom to rebel…to make mistakes…to work against God’s love intentionally and willfully. That is what freedom is. We are not puppets on a string. We are given freedom and that freedom has a cost.
Weatherhead uses an interesting example when he shares about God’s circumstantial will. He uses the story of Jesus. He shares that he believes that when God sent his only son to this earth, he had every hope in the world that his son would live a long and prosperous life. God’s intentional will for Jesus was that he would be born into a loving family, and grow up into this amazing “God-filled” human being who would preach, heal, and prophetically challenge the world to turn away from their rebellious ways and back to God. But that’s not what happened. Many of the powers of this world rejected Jesus’ challenge. They saw Jesus’ message as a threat to their individual and collective power. And so, the Roman authorities and the authorities of the High Priests sought out to kill him. Was this God’s intention. NO! God wanted them to turn back to the compassion and justice of the real God. Jesus was God’s way of holding up a mirror to the powers of this world so that they could see what their warped sense of power was doing to the poor and powerless. God’s hope was a turning. So, when Jesus was put up on the cross and died, the most disappointed being present was God. God’s loving action towards the world was totally rejected.
But does God give up? No! Does God reject us? No! God certainly would have been justified in doing that, right? But instead, God uses that terrible defeat and rejection…in the form of a cross…and turns it into a mirror to the world. And this mirror, Jesus dying on the cross, becomes the turning point for our world. It is on the cross that we all see what our “false understanding of power” has done and continues to do to the world.
I love that understanding of the cross! I know it’s not the one we were traditionally taught, but it is one that really takes our understanding of evil and misunderstood power seriously. God in this story gets hurt and disappointed just like we do. But, in the end, God takes the circumstances God is given and does everything in his or her power to transform it into something life-giving and good.
May we learn to do the same with the circumstances we are given. Amen?
Your pastor and friend, hopefully doing as much as I can with the circumstances I’ve been given, Brook