Theological Thursdays

I’m going to switch things up, and post something of a non-ridiculous nature.  Today’s Topic:  God’s Will, Free Will, & Faith

I used to think one could, through prayer and discernment, come to know what God wants for particular parts of our lives, with the result that aligning our choices with Gods’ results in the best possible outcome.  Straying from the known will of God, on the other hand, would seem the very definition of sin (which in Hebrew is thought of more as “missing the mark”).  The presumption being that God’s Will is something fixed, rather than adaptive, fluid, and immensely respectful of human free will.   

Wondering if there might be an example from Scripture to help wrap my head around the dilemma, the Annunciation of Mary sprang to mind (Luke 1: 26-38).  What would’ve happened if Mary had refused to bear Jesus in her womb?  Would she still have been without stain of sin?  What could be more sinful than refusing to bear the child that brought salvation to the human race? 

And yet if she had no sinless option, could she really be said to be making a free choice?   Was there some alternative to bearing Christ that somehow aligned with the Will of God, even though it was evident God wished Mary to mother Christ?  It seems as though God’s Will has been nothing but adaptive to and supremely respectful of human will. 

God never willed that man should sin, or die.  And yet through free human will mankind sinned, and knew death.  So God’s Will adapts, it changes without losing its original character.  Man sins against himself, so God wills that “all men be saved” (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).  Indeed giving reason to hope none will be eternally damned.  

One wonders how we might have known other members of the Trinity, if the Son had not needed to become one of us so we could be saved.  Would we have known the Son as a brother in flesh?

But we did Fall, so God willed that Christ be born of the Virgin.  And even in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, God does not trample on choice.  Salvation is achieved as much by virtue of Christ’s human will, as his divine one.  In the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus, fully God and fully man, makes that agonizing choice, that cosmic gamble, affirming as blood sweats from him, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but Yours be done”. 

 In Christ, as prefigured first in the annunciation of Mary, there is evidence of what happens when human and divine choice coincide.  With Mary’s assent to carry Christ, “the power of the Most High (overshadowed her),” just as Christ’s “obedience to death, even death on a Cross” enabled the salvation of humanity.  

Yet, while we see what happens when human and divine will join, the dynamic of how that occurs is occluded. In both Mary and Christ, it seems there was no ironclad certainty they were doing the Will of God.  Christ used that ambiguous conditional “if it be Your will” in his prayer to the Father…Mary questioned, “how can this (pregnancy) be, since I do not know man?”  

Paradoxically, obedience is only necessary where knowledge is incomplete, where doubt exists, and yet faith, trust in things unseen,  is precisely what makes obedience possible.  Faith and doubt coexist, though it seems often at odds, in a mysterious tension not unlike that between God’s Will and Human will.   

So here I am at the end of my ramblings, with little more understanding of God’s Will and how it works than when I began.  But then again, maybe understanding is grossly overrated.  From a certain perspective, our desire to understand is what got us into trouble in the first place (Can you not hear the serpent’s seduction? “If you eat the fruit of that tree you will know the difference between good and evil…you will be like gods”). 

Maybe the more beneficial thing than understanding is faith.  Perhaps that’s even why Jesus and Mary had to doubt–the quest for certainty and safety swept us from God–only by embracing those things could we come back to Him. 

How anxious Mary must have been after the Annunciation, to spend three whole months uncertain of her pregnancy!  Oh, to have a fraction of that woman’s faith…

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