Have you ever looked at a word you just wrote down and it suddenly looks weird? Not a spelling-bee word, something simple like, “because” or “weather”. Have you ever said, “You too!” to a TSA agent at the airport when they tell you to have a good flight? Maybe you’ve found yourself halfway through a shower with no idea what to wash next–even though you’ve had the same wash routine your whole life–and have to start over.
I’ve driven to a house I no longer live in, forgotten my own phone number and called the kids by the dog’s name. I’ve even said “I love you” on the phone to the guy at the auto parts store.
We can become so familiar with something that we don’t even think about it–until we think about it. Then it suddenly seems unfamiliar and we are forced to remember its meaning and reflect on its significance.
Here’s one I came across today–“God willing”.
“I’ll see you Sunday–God willing.” “I hope I get that job–God willing.” “Don’t worry, you’ll get through this–God willing.”
Why is it that I can so flippantly tack that phrase onto whatever I’m saying as if God’s will might actually be that we don’t see each other on Sunday–or I get denied a job–or completely done in by a difficult circumstance? Mostly I think we don’t mean to say that, we just say it–without thinking about it. On the other hand, using a phrase like that can sometimes reflect a skewed understanding of God and his will for us, and it might serve us well to examine it a bit. I can think of three likely reasons we might choose to invoke God’s will in casual conversation.
One reason for the parenthetical “God willing” is mistaking God’s sovereignty for his will. We understand God to be all-powerful, all-knowing and ever-present, but that doesn’t mean he wanted you to get into a car accident or have a chair collapse from under you (one of my personal nightmares). Balancing God’s sovereignty with the realities and consequences of living in a broken world is complicated–and we’re not going to unpack it extensively here. However, something we can be sure of is that God doesn’t make bad things happen to you. God cares about the mundane details in life because he is with you and loves you. God is also in the business of leveraging good from bad. Even so, there is a difference between shaping us in the midst of suffering and making you suffer to teach you a lesson.
Sometimes I think we use God’s will as a way to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. It’s not God’s fault you bombed the job interview. Even if he had taken over your mouth and said all the right things, like some cosmic ventriloquist, it would have freaked out the interviewers–and you still wouldn’t have got the job. One of the reasons we work so hard to grow in Christian virtue is so we can reflect God in our daily lives and deal with ourselves when we make a mistake or don’t get what we want. It’s not that you weren’t meant to be an underwater welder. It might have more to do with the fact that you can’t swim.
Using God’s will as the period in a sentence can also be a way of comforting ourselves about things we cannot control. There are many times when I feel completely helpless–especially when confronted with the suffering or pain of people I love. I have a friend who is facing some overwhelming legal issues with potentially severe implications. I want to help–I wish I could take it away or offer magical legal advice (for free)–but I have nothing to offer. I’m tempted to throw a “God willing” or two into the conversation so I can feel better about my lack of control and inability to fix things, but my best understanding of God’s revelation of himself in his story is that his will is that we look to him in all circumstances and depend on him to walk with us–regardless of outcome or consequence. God’s infinite power and will is bent on your good–and your good may not feel good–it may be downright devastating. In the worst-case scenario, my friend will need a brother to stand by him. Best case, he’ll need a brother who’s been there all along to celebrate with. God’s will does not hang on a verdict, it is lovingly covering you with his strength and grace. Suffering is not judgment.
Of course, it’s possible to over-scrutinize, and I don’t think we need to stop looking for and discerning God’s movement in our lives and world. In any case, I think I may be more thoughtful about how I rely on and define God’s will from here on out. See you Sunday!