God’s Multi-Dimensional Will

Two dimensions of God's will.
Two dimensions of God’s will.

Last week I was thinking that the Lord’s will for individual believers is rather wide.  Or at least, wider than we typically allow ourselves.  It’s not a straight line to walk, but a circle in which to play.

This applies, I believe, to the what of God’s will.  Those aspects of our unforeseen and unwritten futures, which we might describe as “destiny,” are left open for the individual to explore.  There is leeway in this aspect of God’s will for lateral movement.  A particular choice may arise between A and B, and we ought not to think that, say, A is right and B is wrong.  Rather, both are good, but will lead us toward different ends.  The Lord’s will, in terms of individual destiny, is not binary.

On the other hand, the how of God’s will may very well be more restrictive.  That is, we may again be presented with two choices: A and B.  Neither is wrong or improper and the Lord will be equally pleased with either avenue.  Whether we choose A or B, however, the Lord would expect His children to pursue their choice in a particular way, that is, with the character of Christ.

As an analogy, we could think of the Lord’s will as a coin or some other flat object.  Place a quarter on the table and look down at it.  You’ll see a circle, naturally.  In terms of God’s will, you’re looking at the what of God’s will, the destiny discussed above.  There is room to move about in that circle.  It’s not like a tightrope, but an arena in which to play and experiment.

View the coin from the side and things appear quite different.  It is flat, thin, narrow.  This, we might say, is the how of the Lord’s will for your life.  The way that you conduct yourself as you explore your destiny ought to resemble a certain prescribed model, that is, the sacrificial life of the firstborn from among the dead.

To put it succinctly, whatever we choose to do, we ought to do it as Christ would have.  On this there are no options.

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The Arena of God’s Will

via julieflygare.com

A few weeks ago, I assured you that God is not worried about your future.  Update: He’s still not worried.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about this issue a bit more and chatting about it with friends and colleagues.  I’m picking up on a trend.

It seems many of us have had a notion of the Lord’s will as a straight line.  Whether on a global scale, or more often, on the more personal individualized level, we tend to see God’s will, as a friend recently put it, like a tightrope.  You had better keep your balance, or you’ll fall to something less that the Creator’s good and perfect will.

This kind of approach can leave us in a dire position, desperate for approval, yet never attaining it.  All too easily, we can reflect on a finished day and recount the myriad missteps, when we placed our foot not on wire, but on empty air – another fall.

Oh, we know that God is gracious, so we tell ourselves He’s erected a fall-back tightrope on which to land.  But we know as well as the Lord that it’s just that, a fall-back.  We know all too well that we’re on a secondary tightrope.  Or, more accurately, a millenary high wire.  Deep down we know that we are not living God’s highest and best purposes for our lives, but His thousandth choice for what He might have had for us.

But what if God’s will was nothing like a tightrope?  What if the Lord’s desire for us was far more open, far more free, than the unforgiving high wire?

Perhaps the Lord’s will is much more like an expansive arena, a giant ice rink, which He’s erected for His beloved child?  And He’s placed you there, with a sharpened set of skates, and invited you to race and leap and spin around this ice with absolute liberty.  Do triple axles at center ice.  Skate backwards as fast as you can along the boards.  Race down the center with as much speed as you can muster and then fling yourself down the length of the ice on your belly.  You’re still inside His good will.

Of course, you could take leave the ice, with your skates still laced to your feet, and go walking about the stands.  But I suspect you’ll find the going a lot rougher.  You weren’t made for this.

Yes, it’s possible to wander outside the Lord’s will, but the arena in which He’s intended for you is far more liberating, far more fun, than the restrictive tightrope.

More of You AND More of Me

via hiscrivener.wordpress.com

“Jesus, take the wheel.”  “Let go and let God.”  “God, I need more of You and less of me.”

I could not say how often I’ve heard Christians recite these and similar sentiments.  Chances are better than good that I’ve said them myself.

We all understand the idea: We are fallible people who often make mistakes and just as often intentionally wreak havoc on ourselves and others.  God, we understand, does not do these things.  We would be better off, we conclude, if we quit trying to run the show.

Good intentions, all.  But mistaken.

The Lord’s intention for human beings has never been to eradicate their will.  Far from it, God’s aim with people is to mold their will, to shape it after His own heart.  One way we might describe the Kingdom of God is where people actually do exactly what they want, and it is exactly what God wants, as well.

This was, after all, the whole idea behind Adam and Eve.  They were placed in the garden to govern it, to keep it and to cultivate it.  They were placed there as God’s images, which in the ancient world meant they were there as God’s representatives.  Before the Fall, of course, it would have been silly for Adam to pray something like, “I must decrease; Elohim must increase” (cf. John 3:30).  Before the Fall, also, Adam’s was not a diminished will, crushed under the weight of the Creator.  Before the Fall, Adam’s word was final in the garden; whatever he called the animals became their names.

There is no question that before the Fall God’s will was done on earth just as it was in heaven.  It’s just that His will was done not by overriding people’s will, but by working through them.  Adam’s proper relationship with the Creator was one of partnership.  And it’s that cooperative relationship the Lord is working to regain with His people.

In those moments in life when we find that we actually did it right, those times when the Lord’s will reigned in our circumstances, we may peer back with spiritual eyes to see that God did not, in fact, take over the wheel.  We may be surprised to discover that actually there were four hands on the wheel.

Jesus’ Tea Party

El Greco’s “Last Supper” via wikipaintings.org

I’m a self-professed Wrightophile, so in preparation for some reflections on the Lord’s Supper, I was scanning NT Wright’s take on Mark 14:12-25 in Mark for Everyone.  I began to weep at my desk.

All the two [whom Jesus sent to prepare the upper room] know is that they’re getting ready the special elements that make up the traditional Jewish Passover.  What Jesus knows is that this will be a Passover with a difference.  This is the time when he will go, as a greater Moses, ahead of the Twelve, ahead of Israel, ahead of the world, into the presence of a greater slave-master than Pharaoh, into a terror greater than walking through the sea, to lead the world to freedom.  This Passover-meal-with-a-difference is going to explain, more deeply than words could ever do, what his action, and passion, the next day really meant; and, more than explaining it, it will enable Jesus’ followers, from that day to this, to make it their own, to draw life and strength from it.  If we want to understand, and be nourished by, what happened on Calvary, this meal is the place to start (194).

The Exodus from Egypt was Israel’s seminal event.  This was their Boston Tea Party, their Revolutionary War, their Declaration of Independence.  The Exodus made the nation of Israel.  This was their “WE ARE!”

And here is Jesus plotting his paces toward a new Exodus, a more earth shattering event to mark a new people.  He is drafting a fresh Declaration of Independence for the entire human race.  He knows fully what he’s doing, staring in the teeth of the single greatest oppressor of humanity (and the only one, really).  And he has the fullest confidence in the God who parted the waters before a fledgling Israel to see him through the darkness.

100+ Million People Watched the Super Bowl; Was God Watching Too?

via publicreligion.org

Well over 100 million people watched last night’s power outage – way more than watch a typical regular season black out.  Think about it: the Super Bowl yields the power of getting the equivalent of every living soul in Mexico to sit down and do the same thing at the same time for upwards of four hours.  That’s a ton of people.  To be more accurate, it’s probably around 10 million tons of people worldwide, all with their eyes fixed on one thing.

Prior to the big game, Peter Enns posted a speculative piece wondering whether God cared as much about the match as we do.  Dr. Enns’s short answer was No, don’t be ridiculous.  His arguments, briefly, were (1) that God has more important things to worry about than the outcomes of sporting events, (2) that God is more concerned with how people play games (if that is what they are going to do) than whether they succeed at them, and (3) that praying for results in sports is akin to magic.  Go ahead and read the blog.  Dr. Enns is characteristically playful, self-deprecating, and poignant.

I’ve been thinking about this issue off and on the last ten years or so.  I’m generally a sports fan, a bit more passionate about baseball, and, specifically, downright rabid when it comes to Buckeyes football or Reds baseball.  (Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, I’ll be actively attending a support group to keep me from drilling holes in my head during the agonizing wait until April.)

Back to the question at hand: Does God care about sports?

I believe, honestly, the answer is Yes.

I used to take Enns’s position, thinking it silly that God would have anything to do with anything so trivial as sports. And of course, you can start to go down the rabbit trails of which team has more, or more fervent, believers; whether God’s “endorsement” of one team equates to His distaste of the other; or whether, as Sports Illustrated (!) explored this week, the God of the crucified Lord could endorse anything so violent as football, or anything so purely selfish as competitive sports.

My position began to alter, however, as I watched the conclusion of the 2004 baseball season and the subsequent playoffs.  Therein, the Boston Red Sox, then lovable losers, came storming through the final two months of the season to get into the post-season.  Then, as in 2003, they found themselves matched up against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.  In 2003, the Yankees had fought the Sox tooth and nail before utterly deflating them with one dramatic and very late home run.

In October 2004, things actually looked worse for the Sox.  Down three games to none in a best of seven series, the Red Sox rallied late in each of the next three games to even the series.  Each game seemed a miraculous victory in itself for Boston, let alone the fact that no team in the history of the Major Leagues had won a seven game series after falling behind 3-0.  Then, in game seven, the Sox poured on the offense early and never let up.  New York was blown out of the water.  History was made.  A few days later, after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, the Sox had one their first World Series in 87 years.

Did God care that the Sox had won?  Did He make them win?  I cannot answer these questions.

But I did begin to wonder: Does God speak through major sporting events?

Consider, a team called the Patriots winning Super Bowl XXXVI just five short months after 9/11; the resurgence of dominance across all major sports throughout the 2000’s in the neurotically obsessed (and, let’s face it, perennially depressed) city of Boston; miracle victories of the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI; the fact that the Giants of football have been winning at the same time the Giants of baseball have been taking World Series; the Japanese women’s World Cup win a few months after a devastating tsunami in 2011; or the bizarre overtime victory of Tim Tebow’s Broncos over the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which much maligned and devoutly Christian Tebow threw for 316 yards with the nation watching).  This is just to name a few “unreal” sporting coincidences in the last several years.

My point, to finally get to it, is this: with more people watching major sporting events than at any other time in the world’s history, how can God not take advantage of the opportunity to get people’s attention.  Over 100 million people saw the lights go out last night.  Was God speaking?  He certainly had a lot of people’s attention.

Does that mean that God loves the Ravens, but despises the 49ers (and every other NFL team, for that matter)?  It’s the wrong question to ask, in my opinion.  Does God care about the Super Bowl?  I think He does.  But I think He cares about it because so many of us care about it.