What is God’s will? What should we do to understand it? Is there such a thing as God’s will on earth and in heaven? Asking these questions could lead us to these fundamental inquiries:
- Why is there anything at all?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
Seeking what we hypothetically call “God’s will” as something ultimate of our being and seeing, we are asking “ourselves” – why we exist (and we didn’t and won’t) and why we can see what we can see (and we can’t see what we can’t see)?
Our existence is temporary. Our perception is limited. Why is that so? If God’s will is beyond our inherent temporality and boundary, what does it mean to say “understanding God’s will”? Can we see it in heaven despite our “partial” existence and perception on earth?
There is one thing clear to us.
Unlike God’s will, our wills are always within the said temporality and boundary. Like our existence and perception, what we will is helplessly temporal and limited. The truth is that we can never will God’s will. It is not our willfulness that seeks and controls God’s will.
So, what should we do?
Meister Eckhart has the sermon on this question:
What we should do when God hides himself, and we cannot find him.
Despite the impossibility of “understanding God’s will,” we sometimes feel God hides Him from us. Even though we have never met Him, we think that He is either with us or without us. Either way, is it an illusion?
In our faith, we encounter the same question. Even for King David, many of his Psalms are on these struggles:
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord ? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?Psalm 13:1
David was the man of faith. He felt that the Lord God used him to save the people of Israel. Despite this intimacy with God, or because of this, David experienced various adversities in his life. He was never free from his sins. As the man of faith, he was never perfect, like us, like anyone else.
Being the man of faith, paradoxically enough, we suffer more. As our faith gets more steadfast, our sense of sinfulness becomes more apparent. As our faith grows, our “readiness” for repentance becomes deeper and purer.
Even Job was no exception. We all know that Job was the man of perfect faith. God was proud of him and challenged Satan to test him how his faith was perfect. And Job suffered a lot. But Job believed that his faith was strong enough to resist Satan’s all cruel challenges. Job resisted and kept on seeking “God’s will” with “his willfulness.” Why did he suffer? Why did God tell Satan to torture Job?
Is it true that God was proud of Job’s faith? Is it true that God played around with Satan to test Job? What if the story is only Job’s prideful illusion? What if it was Job’s spiritual pride?
“Our willfulness” can never understand “God’s will.” In the mystery of God’s will, nobody can be proud of one’s faith to control God’s will. This realization eventually devastated Job and made him genuinely humble and ready for true repentance.
Then, Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.Job 42:1-6
Going back to Eckhart’s question, what was his advice? He said as follows:
There is no better advice on how to find God than to seek him where we left him:
To find God and His will, all we can do is to seek Him where we left Him. What does he mean to say, “Seek God where we left Him?” When and where did we leave Him? Do we remember that?
It is when and where we lost Him. Figuratively, it is our Garden of Eden where we ate the fruit of knowledge, became self-conscious, and eventually realized the power of free will.
Departed from the Garden of Eden, we were no longer a puppet of God. We were no longer the (mere) perfect harmony of heaven and earth. From that moment, we were able to see what we see. The world and universe are what we “willfully” see. We can decide on our actions. As our self-consciousness emerged, our free will was born. Thus, we have faced the following binary:
- Our free will vs. God’s will
Because of free will, God’s will had diminished itself into the mystery. More correctly, we had become temporal and limited, while God’s will had been eternal and whole ever since. We had left and lost God and His will because of who we had become due to this departure.
Thus, Eckhart advised:
- Seek God where we left Him.
How can we do that? A short answer is a repentance. As Jesus started His mission with this statement:
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.Matthew 4:17
Both David and Job lost God’s will and painfully struggled to search for it despite their faith. Why did they suffer? Because of their willfulness. They were so willful and forgot the truth that God’s will was not our will at all. The more we will, the more God’s will becomes impossible to see in our willfulness.
Eckhart states as follows:
Many people say that their will is good when they do not have God’s will but wish to have their own will and to instruct our Lord to do this or that. But that is not a good will. We should seek from God what his most precious will is. And it is God’s wish in all things that we should give up our own will.
How can we give up our will?
It is impossible to give it up because the effort to do so is also our will. Even if we surrender ourselves to God (as we often say so), our willfulness to do so by itself keeps us from what we are supposed to do. There is a perfect asymmetry between our will and God’s. We are nothing, and God is everything. But then, our willfulness to accept that we are nothing also keeps us from what we are supposed to do.
What we could barely do, therefore, is to leave our words of devastation on this impossibility. That was the Book of Job, the Psalms of David, and the like in the Bible.
We can also see the same devastation in the act of Apostle Paul.
When Paul’s name was Saul, he was the man of faith and steadfast willfulness. He proudly called himself one of the most religious Jews. And he thought he correctly understood God’s will; hence, he willfully persecuted Christians to complete his mission.
As we all know, however, on the path to Damascus, he encountered perfect devastation, similar to what Job and David did.
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?Acts 9:1-4
We don’t know what exactly happened to Saul at that time; at least, there was a glimpse of the eternity “where he left God” he saw as if God called Adam in the Garden of Eden and he hid him from God.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.Genesis 3:9-10
Adam knew that his free will was different from God’s. Adam knew he didn’t follow God. In the same way, Saul also realized that his free will was separate from God’s.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.Acts 9:6
For the first time in his life, Saul encountered a glimpse of God’s will. More correctly, he didn’t understand God’s will because it is impossible, as above-mentioned. What he experienced was devastation like Job did, and David did. Perhaps, Jesus also did in His prayer at Gethsemane in His agony.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.Matthew 26:39
All of them experienced the agony in one way or another. We can see them from the words of Job, David, Paul (Saul), and even Jesus. There are many more figures in the Bible who had a similar experience.
And in the case of Saul, he became blind for three days.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.Acts 9:9
Being blind without anything to eat and drink for three days, Saul was in severe agony. He was not able to do anything but seeking God’s will without his willfulness at all. It doesn’t matter at all what God’s will would be or should be. His surrender is that God’s will alone, asking:
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?Acts 9:6
After all these experiences, as his eyes opened again, he was no longer Saul (Greek: Σαούλ, “Desired”) but called himself Paul (Greek: Παῦλος, “Small and humble”). Saul was dead. Paul was born. Indeed, for him, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.Philippians 1:21
What is God’s will? What should we do to know it? Paul says as follows:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
Perhaps, we can never understand it due to our inherent temporality and limitedness. Nevertheless, or because of that, we can keep asking, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” That’s all God alone is. All things work together according to His will.