God's Intentional Will
"So it is not the will of the Father in heaven that even one of these little ones should be lost."
Why didn't God heal her?
Why did God let this happen?
Why my child?
Where are you, God?
Is this your will?
If it were up to me, I would have….
Most of us have asked questions like this at one time or another. I know I have.
During WWII these types of questions were on the hearts and lips of probably everyone living in London. The German Blitzkrieg-- bombing of England-- killed over 43,000 civilians by May 1941. More than a million homes were destroyed or damaged, with ½ of those homes located in the city of London. In this historical context one Methodist pastor took on the task of writing a series of 5 sermons on the Will of God. What I present to you is his work. The sermon series became a book by the same title and sold over 800,000 copies over the next 50 years. Recently I began working through the workbook form of Weatherhead's Will of God. Today and next week I want to share with you some of the wise teaching of Leslie Weatherhead on the subject the will of God. The key concepts I present are his, but they ring true and theologically sound to me. I think they will challenge you. I hope these sermons change forever the way you think about the will of God.
Leslie Weatherhead begins by defining 3 different aspects of God's will.
1) God's Intentional Will
God's original plan for the well-being of his children. The way God pours himself out in goodness to his children.
2) God's Circumstantial Will
God's plan within certain circumstances set up by humanities evil or determined by natural law.
3) God's Ultimate Will
God will reach at last his ultimate goal and nothing of value will be lost. Nothing can happen that will finally defeat God.
Today our focus is going to be on God's intentional will. To keep it simple and be clear, let us say from the outset that God's intention for us is good. Always. We like that belief, but the first time trouble comes to us we get confused. That is why it is so good that so many of you, in one way or another, asked questions related to the nature of God's will. We need to think clearly about this before disaster strikes our lives. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it and what difference it makes in our lives.
Consider this: A woman stands in the hospital room weeping. She says, "If the doctor had only come on time he could have saved my baby. But I know I must accept this as God's will."
So if the doctor had arrived earlier the doctor could have outwitted the will of God??? Is that possible?
The small son of a missionary in India died during a cholera epidemic. The grieving father says to his friend, "Well, it is the will of God. That's all there is to it. The will of God."
His friend asked him then, "But suppose someone crept up the steps of your veranda tonight, slipped into your little daughter's room and deliberately put a wad of cotton soaked in cholera germ culture over her nose and mouth as she slept. What would you think of that."
The man was, of course, appalled. He said, "I would kill the man. I wouldn't even have to think about it. How could you even suggest such thing?"
"But don't you see," his friend replied, "that is the very thing you are accusing God of doing when you say your son's death was God's will."
When a child dies from cholera or from cancer or in some tragic accident, we can call the cause of death mass ignorance, massive foolishness, original sin, bad drains, bad laws or communal carelessness, but we cannot call it the will of God.
It is not the will of God that even one of these little one's should suffer.
God, who created the world, looked at his creation and said, "It is good. It is very good." That was his intention from the beginning. Goodness. We cannot attribute to God something for which a man would be locked up in prison. God is not evil. God is not the author of evil. We need to dissociate from the phrase "will of God" all that is evil, unpleasant or unhappy.
What sort of God, by divine intention, pours misery, unhappiness, disappointment, frustration, bereavement, calamity or ill health out on the children he loves and then asks them to look up through the tears in their eyes and say "Thy will be done." God is not sadistic.
We have to give up the idea that everything that happens is the will of God. God IS all powerful. But when God created us God surrendered some of his power in order to give us free will. For good or bad, we make decisions that affect our lives, our health and our happiness as well as the lives, health and happiness of others. This was never more true than on the cross of Calvary.
I have heard it said again and again that it was God's will for Christ to come and die. I want to challenge that view today. Was it God's intention from the beginning that Jesus should go to the Cross? The answer must be NO. Jesus came with the intention that men would follow him. The discipleship of persons, not the death of Christ, was the intentional will of God or God's ideal purpose. Next week we will look more closely at this and learn about God's will once the men exercised their free will to plot against Jesus and plan his death.
Now, someone may say, "I can't stand to think that this hardship is the result of some ghastly mistake or random chance or just plain evil. It is easier for me to bear this tragedy if it is God's will."
I can understand this, to a point. But the fact remains that God is good. God created us to live in love with him. God is not evil and not the source of evil in our lives. There is a time and a place to say all things. When one is standing square in the middle of some great loss or tragedy, there is very little that can or should be said about the will of God. To suggest that it was God's will for you to get cancer or God's will for child to suffer permanent brain damage or worse in an ATV accident is not consistent with these basic beliefs of Christianity and it certainly is not a compassionate or comforting word to those who are grieving such losses. Weatherhead says that attributing such heart aches to the will of God is a lie, and belief in a lie will never provide any real comfort.
Imagine building a storm shelter out of 3 pieces of plywood painted to look like stone. Then the storms come, the winds blow and you discover quickly that your belief that you would be protected in this shelter is shown to be false. "He who hides in an idea about God that is not true will, in the hour of real need, be left as comfortless as atheism would leave him.
Another person might object to this view of God's will by pointing out that some of the greatest qualities in people are made through suffering, therefore suffering must be the will of God. War makes courageous men of action out of young boys. Fighting cancer may be the experience that finally teaches us to trust God one day at a time. Raising a special needs child may teach us the virtue of patience to a degree we have never known it before.
The flaw in this : If we say that the suffering caused by evil is essential because of the wonderful traits and qualities that we may develop as a result of it, then we are just a hop, skip and jump to logically suggesting that God needs evil to produce good. We suggest that God cannot produce men of courage unless an evil like war comes to demand courage of us. We suggest that when Jesus healed persons he was actually defying the will of God instead of doing it, for he was removing from their lives something essential to the development of their character.
Evil does not create good. Ever. Period. Evil does not make good qualities in us. Evil may reveal those good qualities and give opportunity for their expression. But those same qualities may be revealed and expressed as a response to goodness. Surely this is God's intention. The greatest qualities of human nature – the ability to love, to create, to cure diseases, to love unconditionally, to care for the physical needs of those who cannot care for themselves, to endure, to rise above, to dream dreams…all these things are not given birth by evil. God creates them. They are sometimes revealed by the right reaction of a good man to evil, but they do not have their origin in evil.
As a new mother I was forced to face the reality that my child had a life-threatening heart problem. It would have been easier I think to face my own mortality, but I had to come to terms with the fact that anything could happen to Richie at any time. I would be lying now if I told you that I never uttered those anguished "why" questions. Why my child? What did I do to deserve this? Am I being punished? Are you there God? Don't you care that we're hurting like this?
However, I believe I can say to you today with all honesty that I do not blame God for this anymore. I still don't understand how it happened that both of my children were born with heart problems. I am ignorant and unable to understand the nuances of genetics and human development that created this situation. I CREDIT God with medical advances that have saved Richie's life over and over again. I CREDIT God with bringing into our lives some of the best of the best pediatric cardiologist in the country. I CREDIT God with giving us a son who can spend a week at Disney World, Sea World and the beach and still says the best part of his vacation was spending time with his family. I CREDIT God for all goodness I see in Richie, whether he is cooking a spaghetti dinner for his staff and room-mates or mowing our lawn or serving chicken noodle supper at his church. These things –the good and the lovely things- are God's intentional will for our life as a family for as long as we have to share this life together.
Next week, we will dig deeper to gain new insights into the will of God during times of catastrophe. But for now, settle just this one thought in your heart and mind: That God's intention for us is good. God pours out goodness upon us, much like loving parents desire and offer good things to their children. And so when you see God's glory reflected in the loveliness of the natural world, look up to your father in heaven and say "Thy will be done."
When you hear the words and lilt of a great piece of poetry or read an inspirational story stop, look up to your Father in heaven and say, "Thy will be done."
When you hear a marvelous piece of music, stop, look up to your father in heaven and say , "Thy will be done."
When a child in your life makes you laugh out loud with joy, look up to your father in heaven and say, "Thy will be done."
When you are touched by the kindness of a stranger or a friend, stop, look up to your father in heaven and say, "Thy will be done."
For it is the good things in life that offer us our best picture of God's will.