Monday, November 11, 2002

Thought of the Day: God's will and self-amplification
What is God's will for your life? The question is usually asked and considered with the earnest of a meditating monk. I have charismatic friends who believe God guides them directly in the daily decisions and details of their lives. My uncle, for instance, heard God's call to start a painting business. A roommate heard God calling him to teach English in China; he had hardly been there a few months and he heard God calling him to come back to the States. The most extreme cases drivie around parking lots praying for God for a space. And I'm thinking, I dunno, in Bible times, God called Moses to split the seas, today, he calls my uncle to paint. Is that how it works? The question is particularly poignant for me right now. After a series of unlikely circumstances, I received an incredible opportunity to be an intern at the Chicago Tribune this summer (and to continue as a regular contributor). I took it as God hitting me over the head with a two-by-four and telling me and my wife to move to Chicago. Well, we're here now, and we're awfully confused about what the next step is. Neither of us has solid job prospects, neither is sure where to go with our careers, and we each want to live in different places. What's God's will now? Are we missing something, or are we supposed to wait for another cloud-parting revelation? I'm starting to return not only to my more cynical pre-Chicago state, but also to my hunch that God's will is less a Where's-Waldo-type scavenger hunt and more of a general (but no less important) call to live faithfully in whatever context we find ourselves through our choices and our chances.

The problem with seeing God's will as a crystal ball to peer into when we face decisions is, for one thing, it inflates your life with a false sense of importance--God will alter the course of the heavens and speak in whispers over little old me, at every turn of my life. Ironically, though trawling for God's will is supposedly an act of humility--I'm not living for myself, I'm accountable to a higher power--it can actually be a very pious act that pumps up our perception of our place in the universe. It injects the thunder of God's voice into relatively trivial personal matters--whether you go here or there, take a certain job and buy a certain house, when in fact it may not make a hoot of difference. I'm not saying these are always small potatoes--indeed, little else occupies my mind right now than the next jobs and move for my wife and me--just that they're not the sort of thing over which we can be sure God, who minds the galaxies, deliberates. We can be sure that his will is nonetheless crystal clear in every situation. "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). We American Christians, trained to see religion in the evangelical terms of personal piety, would do well to take a new look at Micah 6:8 when pondering God's will and realize this may be the extent of it--to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly wherever we go and whatever we do in life.

I don't mean to get too generic--God does not give individual people the talents to do 100 or 200 things equally well, but my sense is he gives us the talents and opportunities to do 7 or 8, or 3 or 4, things well in service of his kingdom, and it's up to us to try, to learn, and to try again as life brings us choices. Besides, as Frederick Buechner writes, when you look at your life God's fingerprints in it are most visible in retrospect, not beforehand. The point is to keep the proper focus--God is not just my "co-pilot"; he made the skies. The focus is on God, who is the sovereign creator, not just a human resource director or parking space locator. I'm using an article by Robert M. Price in some writing I'm doing on piety, the gospel, and service. Price says the problem is when we “look through the wrong end of the [telescope] and reduce Christ, the object of [our] gaze, to tiny size, rather than using it properly to bring a distant reality into manageable view." Price continues:

Suppose one turned the telescope back around? A Christian might stop making herself the focus of all heavenly and earthly events (an amazingly egocentric posture, really). Instead she might realize, so to speak, that her small planet is only one of many orbiting a greater sun. She might begin to see the same light that illuminates her shining on other people, other areas of life and culture. Instead of grabbing all the grace for her own selfish sanctification, she might try to apply the gospel to the larger issues of the world around her.

The typical "God's will" model, Price says, "is rather like giving someone else the keys to your car; you won't be driving it any more." Instead, “what if 'giving your life to Christ' were more like writing a book or a song and then like dedicating it to someone else?
'I will live my life in all its fullness, enjoying my interests, and making my decisions responsibly. And the whole resulting tapestry I present to Jesus as a gift, which I hope he will enjoy as I have.” May that be the will of God we seek to follow.

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