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Is the will of God a guessing game?

September 28, 2017
Sister Eloise Rosenblatt, RSM

How do we know what God’s will for us is? Do we have to guess what God wants – what we should do or choose? What if we guess badly? Will we suffer awful consequences? Some imagine a distant God who is testing us and presenting us with dilemmas. We recall the scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) where the Knight says to Indiana, “You have chosen wisely.” He confirms the hero’s correct choice of the Holy Grail from an array of cups and goblets. So is the will of God like that, keeping us in suspense? How can we possibly be sure we have “chosen wisely”?

The scriptures for today reflect on what God’s will is, without giving a pat answer. Ezekiel says we do God’s will when we turn away from wickedness and do what is right and just. This counsel seems to take for granted that we know the difference between cruelty and kindness, torture and healing, murder and saving life, bullying and protectiveness, humiliation and respect, exclusion and inclusion, addiction and sobriety, cheating and honesty, arrogance and humility, selfishness and generosity, narcissistic manipulation and respect for another’s dignity. So God’s will does not take much guessing. We have suffered from people who “commit iniquity.” Thus, we already know what is right and just. We don’t have to wonder which cup to choose – or what God’s will is.

Philippians describes a community spirit and atmosphere which feels extraordinarily harmonious, gentle and light, like Christ of Gluck’s flute composition, “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.” What marriage, what family, what parish, what community would not dream of replicating Paul’s celebration of the union, compassion, respect, and care that he encourages the Philippians to continue showing each other? Paul’s description of community relations is another way of describing the “will of God” – doing what creates a peaceful, joyful contentment that unites people who feel consoled, cared about, respected and included.

Paul’s model for doing the will of God is the humility of Jesus who lets go of divine authority, greatness, omnipotence and privilege to become identified as a human being. The human Jesus serves others, endures human sufferings, without rejecting anything that belongs to the human condition, even death, even violence. Jesus is the “will of God” – how God wants to be with us. It’s encouraging that to do the will of God we don’t have to be God-like, or perform extraordinary feats as individuals. We just have to be fully human ourselves, empathizing, listening, attending and responding to human beings like ourselves – being “obedient” like Christ Jesus.

In the gospel parable of the two sons, all of Jesus’ listeners got the right answer. The first son is the one who did God’s will, not the second, the loose-lipped yes-man. Doing the will of the father means actually, eventually, going to work in the vineyard – even if you said No to begin with. What is missing in the command? The father doesn’t tell the son exactly what to do. Just “go out and work in the vineyard.” How do we know who is doing what God wills? Jesus defends people who look bad on the outside – prostitutes and tax collectors – who are actually fulfilling the father’s command. They must be doing something right. Why didn’t the first son get detailed instructions on what his father wanted? Because this vineyard is his family business, his inheritance. He knows what’s needed because he’s familiar with the rhythm of its cultivation, pruning, tending and harvesting each year. The vineyard is the people of God. What’s needed is already evident. Doing what’s needed in the family vineyard is doing God’s will.

Rosenblatt, RSM _Sr. Eloise - web 100x125Eloise Rosenblatt, RSM, is a Sister of Mercy, a Ph.D. theologian, and a family law attorney in private practice. She lives in San Jose and works across the Bay Area.

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