Thy will be done…
(Understanding God’s Will)
In the Book of Luke, there is a curious statement about God. Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah as saying that through Christ (the Lord) all mankind shall see the “salvation of God”.1 Considering the ham–fisted way that Jesus’s twelve apostles (not to mention the Pharisees and Sadducees) often handled Old Testament scripture, we might be tempted just to pass over this comment from Isaiah. But that would be a mistake.
Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has been inspiring prophets since the beginning of the world. 2 Jewish scripture, like all holy scripture, is capable of profound revelation, and this quote by Isaiah is a jewel of an example—albeit one that is rarely talked about. Our silence surrounds the disturbing question: From what exactly does an all powerful God need to be saved? For mankind, “salvation” means being rescued from the wages of sin, but is God a sinner too?
Some would argue that Jehovah certainly is no saint, considering the peevish, jealous, and wrathful behavior he exhibits in the Old Testament. But when Isaiah refers to God’s salvation, he isn’t talking about liberating Jehovah from his penchant for tormenting servants like Job just to win bets with Satan. He is talking about the justification of God’s will, and the choices he’s made. To illustrate God’s situation, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. 3
In this parable, a father has two sons. The youngest, anxious to experience the world, asks for his inheritance right away. The father abides by this request and grants him his share, which the boy then dutifully squanders on wine, women, and song in a far off land. The young man eventually crawls back home utterly destitute. Rather than chastise his fallen boy, the father welcomes him back with open arms, kills the fatted calf, and throws a big party.
All the merry–making upsets the older son, who stews over the fact that his father never gave him even a young foal to butcher and barbecue for his friends. The father gently rebukes his eldest, stating that everything he owns has always been available to him.
When this parable is taught today, the emphasis is usually on the prodigal son’s welcome home party. The celebration is used to demonstrate that we shouldn’t be afraid of God’s punishment, if we want to return to his fold after years of dissolute living. The beginning of the parable though is just as important, for it reveals the position in which God has placed himself.
The father in Jesus’s story did not have to advance his son his inheritance. He could have just as easily said: “No way, get out there and work the fields with your brother.” He chose to give the money to his son. And we expect he handed it over knowing full well that his boy wasn’t going to invest it in sheep futures.
Not many fathers today would let their child blow such a fortune. Why does this one? Because this father’s ultimate concern is not for his estate but for respecting his son’s independence. By granting his son the means to live on his own, the father hopes he will make the mistakes he needs to make; learn the lessons he needs to learn; and, when all is said and done, return home realizing that a boundless treasure lay within the bosom of family.
God, in granting us free will, also has given us our…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- Every chasm shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be leveled; the winding ways shall be straightened; the rough roads made smooth, 6 And all mankind shall see the salvation of God. – Luke 3:5-6 [↩]
- “You are not fifty years old yet,” the Jews exclaimed, “and have you seen Abraham?” 58 “In truth I tell you,” replied Jesus, “before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:57-58 [↩]
- A man had two sons; 12 And the younger of them said to his father: ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ So the father divided the property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son got together all that he had, and went away into a distant land; and there he squandered his inheritance by leading a dissolute life. 14 After he has spent all that he had, there was a severe famine through all that country, and he began to be in actual want.” 15 “So he went and hired himself out to one of the people of that country, who sent him into his fields to tend pigs. 16 He longed to satisfy his hunger with even the bean-pods on which the pigs were feeding; and no one gave him anything.” 17 “But, when he came to himself, he said: ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more bread than they can eat, while here am I starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him: ‘Father, I sinned against heaven and against you; 19 I am no longer fit to be called your son; make me one of your hired servants.’” 20 “And he got up and went to his father. But, while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was deeply moved; he ran and threw his arms round his neck and kissed him. 21 ‘Father,’ the son said, ‘I sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son; make me one of your hired servants.’” 22 “But the father turned to his servants and said: ‘Be quick and fetch a robe—the very best—and put it on him; give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet; 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 For here is my son who was dead, and is alive again, was lost, and is found.’ So they began making merry.” 25 “Meanwhile the elder son was out in the fields; but, on coming home, when he got near the house, he heard music and dancing, 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what it all meant. 27 ‘Your brother has come back,’ the servant told him, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 This made him angry, and he would not go in. But his father came out and begged him to do so.” 29 “‘No,’ he said to his father, ‘look at all the years I have been serving you, without ever once disobeying you, and yet you have never given me even a kid, so that I might have a party with my friends. 30 But, no sooner has this son of yours come, who has eaten up your property in the company of prostitutes, than you have killed the fattened calf for him.’” 31 “‘Child,’ the father answered, ‘you are always with me, and everything that I have is yours. 32 How could we do anything else but make merry and rejoice, for here is your brother who was dead, and is alive; who was lost, and is found.” – Luke 15:11–32 [↩]
Jesus tells us we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born of both water and spirit1. Most of us can work out what Jesus means by born of spirit but born of water is a bit trickier. The literalist will just say, “Oh, he must mean baptism,” and leave it at that. But Jesus never wanted us to leave his words just at that. He infused all of his teachings with many levels of meaning, discernible to those who have the ears ready to hear it.2
As well all know, Jesus liked using parables to teach. Sometimes these parables are explicit, such as in the parable of the prodigal son, and other times they are implicit. For Jesus, water is a natural element that is a parable in itself. For example, if we look at Jesus’s life as depicted in the Gospels, we see that it echoes the flowing in and receding back of the ocean’s tides. Jesus would repeatedly flow out into society to teach, spread the gospel of Christ, and share fellowship with his neighbors, only to recede back into himself, into lonely places to pray3.
If we are truly to realize Christ in its fullness, we should remember that both solitude and society are essential. The artist, poet, or musician who spends their life creating great works yet ignores regular fellowship with his community is as spiritually off-kilter as the good hearted soul who dedicates their life to helping others yet ignores that solitary inner dialogue which is essential to self-growth. Solitude and society are like a tidal river, each side continually feeding the other. Or in the eloquent words of the Spanish author and statesman Miguel de Unamuno:
Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers [and sisters] in solitude–in solitude and only in solitude can you know yourself as a neighbor, and as long as you do not know yourself as a neighbor, you can never hope to see in your neighbors other I’s–It is solitude that makes [us] really sociable and human.
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To read about Teilhard de Chardin and the inherent goodness of the world, please go to: Having Faith in the World.
- “In truth I tell you,” exclaimed Jesus, “unless you are reborn, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” “How can someone,” asked Nicodemus, “be born when they are old? Can we be born a second time?” “In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you owe your birth to water and spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:3-5 [↩]
- “Nothing is hidden unless some day it comes to light, nor was anything ever kept hidden but that it should some day come into the light of day. 23 Let all who have ears to hear with hear.” Mark 4:22-23 [↩]
- The story about Jesus spread all the more, and great crowds came together to listen to him, and to be cured of their illnesses; But Jesus used to withdraw to lonely places and pray. Luke 5:15-16 [↩]