February 15, 2010

God’s will

When someone is sick, people start talking about God’s will.

Thy will be done. What does it mean? I’ve heard it used several ways:

  1. “Thy will be done” as a magical prayer.

    It’s easy to fall into the belief that if I say this special prayer before a frightening, uncertain event, then the outcome is God’s will—even if the outcome is terrible.

    I knew a woman who broke her neck in an accident. Just before the accident she had prayed for God’s will to be done, and so she believed that it was God’s will for her to break her neck. She lost her faith over it. This interpretation of “Thy will be done” imagines us having a lot more power than we do. If I say the magic words, then everything will happen exactly according to God’s will? No. My words and thoughts do not control the universe.

  2. “Thy will be done” as an existential statement.

    To some people, “Thy will be done” isn’t a request, but an observation about life’s great events being beyond our control. It’s like saying, “Que sera, sera.” The dice will land how they will, and we must accept our mortality and our limits. I can see truth in this, certainly. But it’s not really a prayer; it’s more of a philosophy.

  3. “Thy will be done” as an affirmation of my willingness to see God in all outcomes.

    This prayer takes courage, for sure. The outcome might be painful; it takes great faith to open up your hands and say, “Okay God, I believe you’re with me in this, and I’m with you in this, no matter what.”

    This is subtly different from saying that a terrible outcome would be the will of God. It’s saying that no matter what happens, I will look, hope, and pray for God’s will to come out of it. Which is related to….

  4. “Thy will be done” as an ardent, passionate request for what is good.

    This prayer assumes that wholeness, peace, love, hope, life, and freedom are God’s will, whoever or whatever God is. It’s a request for God to bring those things about. “Please, God, may your kindom*, in which there is peace and perfect health and unity of spirit, come to pass here, now, on Earth, in this situation! May your greatest hope be fulfilled.”

I gravitate most naturally to number 4 when I pray, though I’m thinking that incorporating more of number 3 would be a good thing too….

* not a typo