“It was God’s will.” We hear that phrase often – too often around tragedy, violence, accidents, great suffering: God’s will. Often used around events people want to find some distance from, I think it is used far to loosely and in damaging ways.
Leslie Weatherhead, an English pastor writing in the midst of WWII’s Battle of Britain, wrestled with this phrase and wrote a great book called “the Will of God” that talks of God’s intentional (creation = good), God’s circumstantial (given sin and human failure, a call to the good) and God’s ultimate will (for example, the New Creation in Revelation 21 or the day of renewal in Isaiah 11!
In the popular understanding of the Exodus stories, God’s will seems to account for the freedom of the Hebrews – and the suffering of the Egyptians. It accounts for the slaughter of the Canaanites, which some leaders of the United States’ “Manifest Destiny” movement took as a tragic model. This kind of understanding is found as Judah (south) mocks the fall of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria). Yet there is a counter voice in Scripture – the people of Judah soon knew what it was like to be conquered by empire and they continued to view it as God’s Will, now calling them to responsibility for communal failures!
In the New Testament, God’s will now primarily revealed in the incarnation, birth, life, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It seems a very different model – one of God suffering with us – rather than wishing suffering for us. God calling us to live in harmony, to abandon the ways of war and domination, to abandon a fixation on scarcity and instead realize and live into God’s abundance! Interestingly, as we study Jesus and the communities that wrote about him, we hear all kinds of echoes of the Old Testament: testimonies of God’s love and abundance, that are too easy to overlook when God’s will is cast as deterministic and even violent. Our Revelation class has struggled with the often violent imagery found in that text, but even there, what God wills is wholeness and abundance. The violence that drives the Left Behind series are really about natural consequences, not what God desires or intends. God’s will is really revealed in “Lamb power:” self-giving, not desired violence!
In both the Old and New Testament, God’s Will is not about violence, and pain or power. It is about wholeness and restoration, love and grace. In my opinion, anything else is more about human will, blame, and control.