8 August 2021
“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” John 6:40
Leslie D. Weatherhead indicates that we use the phrase “the will of God” too loosely in today’s society. He originally published the book by that same title in 1944, but it is strikingly still relevant today. When we look at things that happen in the world, can we confidently say it is the will of God? When a spouse dies, can you confidently say it is the will of God? How can the tragic death of anyone – especially our young people – ever be the will of God? There was a young mother who was weeping in anguish because her baby was dead. She told her minister, “I suppose it is the will of God, but if only the doctor had come in time he could have saved my baby.” Weatherhead muses, “If the doctor had come in time, would he have been able to outwit the will of God?” Have you considered that some things happen on earth that is not the will of God? Some console others with the phrase, “It is all part of God’s plan.” Is that really consoling? Did God plan this, thereby indicating that it is God’s will that this happened? That is not going to help my relationship with God. What good could come from this evil?
In 2 Samuel, when David’s child died, the prophet Nathan had prophesized, “Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14). Here, it seems that God willed a child’s death as a punishment to David. Was it because it was an illegitimate child? Was it really God’s will to cause this pain and suffering to David? Does it contradict the parable of the lost sheep, where we read in Matthew, “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matt. 18:14)?
There is a biblical suggestion that God may use evil for good. In Isaiah, we read, “although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth, yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. Out of his anguish he shall see light” (Isaiah 53:9-11). God does work all things together for good, and may even allow us to suffer a bit for us to grow just as bees strengthen their own wings by struggling to break the membrane seal that covers them when they are born. Yet, if we are chalking every tragedy up to the fact that we have to accept that it is God’s will, it’s not. We do not truly know what God’s will is and what it isn’t, but we are given a general idea. It was not God’s will that the Israelites would turn from God repeatedly in the Old Testament. It was not God’s will that David would sleep with Bathsheeba. These are just two indications that God’s will does not always happen on this earth. Weatherhead states, “We must come to terms with the idea that the intentional will of God can be defeated by the will of man for the time being. If this were not true, then humans would have no real freedom at all. All evil that is temporarily successful temporarily defeats God.” He continues, “Not when an airman is brought down in flames to meet an untimely death, but when the war is over and the young men of all nations can shake hands and begin together to build a new world – that is the time to say, ‘Thy will be done.’ Not when the baby is dead, but when two young people take their little one before the altar to dedicate him or her to God because they want God to be enthroned in their home and in the new life that has been born to them – that is the time to say, ‘Thy will be done.’” (14). Not now when we are sitting in churches singing our praises to God while injustice rules the world outside our doors, but when we gather our churches together globally and create a plan to enthrone God once again in this world – that is the time to say, “Thy will be done.” When we say the Lord’s prayer, we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we really want to see this, we will focus on what we can do to bring this about instead of comforting ourselves thinking that the brokenness in this world is all a part of God’s will.
Jesus gives us the truth: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus also said of his mothers and brothers and sisters, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Our given task as Christians then, given from Jesus himself, is to help realize this will of God, helping others to believe in the Son. Last week, I challenged you to encourage someone else. How well have you done? Have you encouraged someone else in their walk with the Lord?
When Absalom went astray from the will of his father David, David still loved him. He asked his soldiers to deal gently with him, even though he was trying to take command of his father’s kingdom. When he learned that restoration of his kingdom resulted in his son’s death, King David still mourned. A day of rejoicing was turned into a day of mourning. David would have rathered that his son repent and come back home than be killed. Yet this was not what happened. If you are a parent too, or even if you are not, I am sure that you have experienced times when what you wanted to have happen just did not seem meant to be. What then, can we do? Do not chalk it up to God willing something different, for chances are if you are doing your best to imitate God your will did not contradict God’s will. God, however, will not have you be defeated by this. God will use the circumstances to show that God is bigger than what happens here. God is still on your side. God is still seeking you. David could have thrown in the towel when God took his wives away from him for disobeying God. He could have given up when his soldiers did not do as he wanted. Yet he continued in the path of seeking God. If we can be half as resilient as David, even when we make mistakes, we will be on the right track.
If God does not will everything that happens in this world, God must make do with what happens. Weatherhead calls this God’s circumstantial will. He is convinced that Jesus dying on the cross was God’s circumstantial will when all the people did not follow Jesus, which is God’s ultimate will for the whole world. He believes that when a doctor cannot save a patient, God’s circumstantial will is to show that “victory may still be wrestled from defeat and the purposes of God realized” (29). We may not understand why some of the evils are in the world, such as cancer and germs. But we are but children in God’s kingdom. If we look up to our parent like a child, we can say as a child might, “There is much I don’t understand, but I know that my father and mother both love and cares” (30). Further, one day, as a child on earth grows up and understands why his or her father and mother did what they did – perhaps when they become a parent of their own – we will also grow up in the kingdom, stand next to God, and finally look into the face of God and understand (32). We may understand that, no, God did not want your son or daughter to turn to drugs and overdose. No, God did not want a voice to be taken too soon from this world. God’s will can be defeated from time to time. But God’s ultimate will is that despite all this, the whole world might follow Jesus. God will not let death or defeat have the last word. God is the last word, and God will use defeat to show what can rise from the ashes of sorrow and despair. When we pray “Thy will be done” today, we pray that even in the midst of this world’s evils and snares, God’s will shall prevail. And deep down, even though we feel tempted not to believe, we know that it will.
We can celebrate that God’s will shall prevail as a church. But if that is already a given, what are we doing here? Aren’t we the vessels by which God’s will is done? If we choose not to obey God, God’s will won’t prevail.
God does indeed use us and count on us to do God’s work in this world. When the people turn away from God or do not make an effort to hear God, God’s work is delayed. Yes, God can do work without us and uses the Holy Spirit to do so. But for those who will not listen to the voice of God or who do not even try to hear the voice of God, or have tried for years and are struggling to hear it, God needs vessels in each of us. This is the reason that Jesus came down to earth, to help us hear God better and follow God easier. But he was rejected and defeated until God’s circumstantial will prevailed over the power of death. Today, we are meant to be imitators of Christ, to do what Jesus came to earth to do, in order to continue this mission. Jesus is still here on this earth, and He lives in each one of us. He calls us, then, to speak the truth, to “not let the sun go down on your anger” and to make no room for the devil, filling our mouths and minds with good words and crowding out any evil ones (Ephesians 4:26-27).
It is easy to get discouraged in this line of work, to tell ourselves, “Why keep doing this when there is no end to the work that must be done? There are always more that must be reached; there is always more evil to discourage us and those who we are trying to encourage. What difference can we make here?” To respond to this, I am reminded of a story of a little boy picking up starfish on the beach. When he was told that he could not possibly save all the starfish on the beach, he picked another up, tossed it into the sea, and said, “I made a difference for that one.” We may not see God’s ultimate will prevail in our lifetime – that is, see all of the world following Jesus – but if we never give up on God, there will be that many fewer who have succumbed to the world. This is meaningful work. When we pray the Lord’s prayer, do we mean it? Do we believe it? Jesus did.
To conclude, G. Porter Taylor, an Episcopal Bishop in North Carolina, gives us three critical reminders. Because we have been baptized and belong to a church, we are part of Christ’s body. We are “a new creation” that has “come through the waters of baptism and are commanded not to go back to Egypt” (FW B.3.328). We are to remain focused on God and on the task at hand. We are to put away falsehood not just on one day of the week, but on every day so that through us, God may come to another. Second, because we are part of the body of Christ, we have the responsibility to represent the body of Christ. Make amends with your neighbor, work honestly in your dealings, and encourage one another. Finally, as Paul exhorts us, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30). Do not do anything to make God grieve over you. Do not depart from God, do not let the world’s disappointments defeat you, for that is what the world wants to do. Stay focused on God always. As Taylor encourages us like a good Christian neighbor, “Christianity is an ongoing encounter with the living, loving God in Christ Jesus. The nature of love is to love and grow in that love” (FW B.3.330).
“When we say, then, that God is omnipotent, we do not mean that nothing can happen unless it is God’s will (=intention). We mean that nothing can happen which can finally defeat him” (LW, 34). Likewise, we will have moments where we feel defeated. Yet may you do your part to be sure that you are not finally defeated either – ask God to take your hand – so that you may continue being an imitator of God and a doer of God’s will. Thanks be to God. Amen.
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
18:5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
18:6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.
18:7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.
18:8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
18:9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
18:15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
18:31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”
18:32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
18:33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
4:25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
4:26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
4:27 and do not make room for the devil.
4:28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
4:31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
4:32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
John 6:35, 41-51
6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
6:37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;
6:38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
6:40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
6:42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.
6:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
6:48 I am the bread of life.
6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”