"Everything’s Going God’s Way!" Prayer and God’s Will
If everything is God’s will, what is the point of praying for anything? Why is it when something good happens, everything gives all the credit to God, when in fact, the credit should go to the people/person responsible for the good fortune?
Oh, I’d love to visit with you over coffee on this one!
So many directions to go with it. My mantra for this blog, then, will be focus….focus….focus…..
I am very glad that you began your question with the word, “If.”
Makes me think of that School House Rock tune, “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?”
The function of that all-important IF is to raise the possibility that not everything is God’s will.
In other words, I’d like to entertain the possibility that everything is not God’s will.
Although it surely crossed the minds of theologians before WWII, that awful event in history caused them to tackle head-on the idea that God is omnipotent–that is, powerful in all things.
Really? They wondered.
Hitler was part of God’s plan?
And so an unofficial rule of thumb started to surface, namely that if you can’t say whatever you want to say about God while standing in Auschwitz, with ashes of Holocaust victims falling on your shoulders, then don’t say it anywhere.
My daughter sang a song some time ago in which the words go, “My God is so great! My God is almighty! There’s nothing that my God can’t do!” It ended with quite the heartfelt “HUH!” at the end of this line. So I commended her on her singing (which, let’s be clear, was amazing), but then had to mess with the theology of it. And so I said something like, “Sweet baby girl, if it is true that there’s nothing that our God can’t do, then why is your brother still struggling with the effects of a traumatic brain injury?”
It is very clear that a person can come up with a theology that gets one there, a theology that says that everything is God’s will. We see hints of that even in the phase “God’s plan.” People are always looking to see what God’s plan is, which leaves me wanting to ask the question, where does God’s plan begin and end? Is it part of God’s plan that I cross the street at this intersection instead of the next? That I wash lights before darks? Or, more provocatively, that 6 million Jews are killed?
I like to think instead about God’s vision. If we talk about vision, then we are moved to consider not only about God’s vision but about God. On what basis does a person decide what is God’s vision, or if we must, God’s plan?
And it seems to me that we are sent to see what sort of God is consistently revealed in Scripture.
And there we find a God who is about healing, about justice, and about mercy.
For Christians, we see that ultimately in the Easter story, this event we say affirms that God’s agenda is about life, not about death.
If death and decay and grief and pain were God’s agenda, Jesus would still be in that tomb.
But the Christian story maintains that God works to bring life out of death, not death out of life.
I would quibble with the “if,” is what I’m saying.
That doesn’t negate your point about praying. What is the point about praying?
Why, just today I was conversing with a friend about prayer, and sent him this link to OMG blogs about prayer. So I won’t bore you with repeating myself here. Have at those written ditties to see if there’s anything there that might be helpful to you in a more general way…keeping in mind that I’m not not not the poster child for prayer. I have finally decided to assure people that I will think of them, which is more surely to be the case than that I will pray for them, and my two close friends in Sioux Falls know that I promise them with full integrity that I will gasp for them.
But this much I can say about the point of prayer. As I have written about before, the Hebrew word that we translate in Scripture as righteous is tzedek. While it is true that it can and should be translated as righteous, it also can be translated as properly aligned.
Prayer is a moment to become tzadek, to become properly aligned, rightly oriented, to the thing that defines who we are.
This is why it is so key to identify who our God is, or what we understand God to be.
Hitler and I did not define God similarly.
To make an extreme point.
When one prays, it gives one a moment to pause and consider the one to whom one is praying.
And so Hitler would have had a real hard time pursuing his hateful agenda while praying to a God who gathers people in, calls us to turn the other cheek, reaches out to the outcasts, and, for criminy’s sake, was a God of the Jews and whose son was a Jewish rabbi!
Prayer orients us, is the point.
Last, I think I’d want to consider a bit more this idea that credit should go to the people who had the “good fortune.”
Now, I agree that it is disturbing when people who escaped a tragic accident, for example, say “God saved me!” or “It was just by the grace of God!”
Makes me wonder why God had it in for the other people.
So I think you are right that if we are going to give God credit when good things happen, we also better be prepared for a word about and to God when bad things happen.
That said, rarely–if ever–does anybody do anything (good or bad, by the way) that can be traced exclusively to them. Alone.
It’s one of the reasons we can speak about the devastating effects of poverty. It is a cycle.
Or dare I say the devastating effects of wealth. It is a cycle.
We live in response to, as a result of, despite, with, without other people, other events, other circumstances.
Nothing is in isolation.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t have pride in our accomplishments?
No. Of course we ought to.
It does mean that neither our joys nor our sadnesses belong exclusively to us, and sometimes, as you point out, it is due to “good fortune” rather than effort…and sometimes our good fortune comes on the backs of others’ bad fortune.
To get back to your overall point, which I think has more to do with what is up with prayer than anything, here’s the sum gist of it all:
Prayer gives us pause to remind ourselves how we can steward God’s will in this world, and for that matter, it gives us pause to consider what we mean when we speak of God’s will, and on what basis.
Precisely because not everything is going according to God’s vision.
I remember an Easter sermon once, one in which the congregation was expected to sing, “Oh what a beautiful morning! Oh what a beautiful day! I’ve got a beautiful feeling! Everything’s going God’s way!”
And so what is God’s way?
Prayer provides us the opportunity to become tzadek again, to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that we live in community, and can steward a vision of justice and mercy and wholeness where there is none to be found.
I think I need something stronger than coffee now.