About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Your Will Be Done

My wife works for a London borough council as a schools admissions officer. The job is demanding and often thankless and dissatisfying, especially now that various budgetary cuts are beginning to take effect. The admissions team is hamstrung by the cuts and the apparent powerless of even the high-level council officers to help, and my wife finds the overall situation extremely stressful. She has a meeting today with some of the aforementioned high-level officers to determine what measures can be implemented to decrease the team’s workload and the factors that contribute to her anxiety. Naturally, as a loving husband, I forgot about this meeting until my wife reminded me of it this morning before leaving for work. I have since prayed that the meeting will be successful and that God’s will be done. And that’s when a half-formed thought sparked in my mind as my brain cell pinged into one of my cranium’s bony walls: What exactly does it mean in this situation to say that God’s will be done?

Mostly when I’ve prayed for God’s will to be done, my Calvinist persona, usually suppressed, skulks into the foreground. My prayer for God’s will to be done is half a submission to divine authority and half an admission that all things occur according to God’s will – a view that, in theory, I hold no more. So while my prayer this morning was a plea for God’s love and mercy to shine through the darkness of the team’s present situation – whatever that means! – and so to aid my wife’s workload and stress-levels, in fact I was asking God to make my wife accept the status quo because God’s plan is the best way forward for her. I suppose prayers like this have their place, but my prayer appeared to assume that God has a single plan that undergirds all the minutiae of life rather than one that concerns the eschatological perfection of all things in Jesus Christ. On reflection, my prayer is disconnected from all I hold as true.

‘Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Mt 6:10); ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’ (Mt 26:42). These two statements could be interpreted as recognition of the divine plan impacting all the seemingly insignificant details of creaturely existence. But the half-formed thought that inspired this blog-post (‘inspired’ in the loosest sense) does not need to support this assumption. If my prayer is for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven (Mt 6:10), then I’m not praying for the inexorable unfolding of God’s eternal decree, but that my faithfulness to God will coincide with the faithfulness manifest in the heavenly realms. Similarly, when Jesus begs his Father to let the cup pass from him (Mt 26:39, 42), the focus is not on God’s will as a blueprint for Jesus’ life, but on Jesus’ willingness to remain faithful to God and God’s calling on his life. Jesus is the Son who learns obedience to his Father (Heb 5:8), even if this faithfulness leads to his death (Phil 2:8).

The specific beliefs we hold about God’s providence conditions the way we petition God to act. So given my non-pancausal views on providence and all that I’ve noted above, and given my wife’s conditions at work, in what sense should I pray that God’s will be done? I’m not too sure. If praying that God’s will be done is an expression of faithfulness to God, then perhaps I should pray that my wife will seek God despite her trying circumstances, within her trying circumstances, and that she will act in a Christlike manner, even as together we desire significant changes in the wider situation. At first glance, this seems to be just another way of maintaining ‘piety’ while submitting to the status quo disguised as God’s will, but a different dynamic is surely at work – a dynamic not of Stoic resignation to the outworking of God’s plan, but of faithful submission, expressed through cries and tears, to the God who transforms people into the image of Jesus, the faithful Son.

4 comments:

  1. Indeed. At times I wonder if our understanding of God's interaction with the world is unduly obsessed with His intervention in events rather than with affecting genuine change in the hearts of men and women.

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  2. I don't think it's an either/or, but yeah - there's always a danger that because we do not perceive God 'intervening', we think that God's not active at all. Arguably, the transformation of sinners into saints (to put it cheesily) is a better testimony to God's action than any large-scale manipulations.

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  3. Having just found your blog, I am liking the way you put things. Finding a way of speaking of divine providence that is faithful to the gospel proclamation of Christ's universal lordship (pantokrator indeed!) and yet doesn't need to conceive of God as a micromanager of evils is a pressing need.

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  4. Thanks, Byron. I agree it's a pressing need, but it's also pretty difficult to escape the usual ways of talking about providence.

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