Wildfires, hurricanes, and ants... oh my!
There is a church about ½ mile from my house that has one of those boards outside on which they post catchy messages about God, faith, and life. These messages change every month or so. The latest one reads,
“God’s will is perfect. People make misteaks.”
Sometimes these statements make me laugh; sometimes they make me cringe; sometimes they make me roll my eyes; occasionally I am impressed by their profundity. This particular one made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it. I appreciated the irony. Funny, I thought. Clever, I thought. Catchy, I thought. However, since then I have driven past it pretty much every day, and I have found myself reflecting not on the funny, clever, catchy, second sentence but on the first sentence – God’s will is perfect. I found myself wondering what this meant, and also wondering if I really believe it… Which I do… but do I? Is God’s will perfect? And if so, what does that look like?
The precedent for this statement comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Paul uses the word perfect a lot in his letters. Six times to be exact. And it is used twenty-four more times throughout the New Testament. It is usually used to describe qualities of God, or of perfect faith in God, or of what God-believers should ascribe to. But what does it mean to say Gods will is perfect?
If we look around at the world right now we see so much that isn’t perfect – the devastating earthquake in Haiti; wildfires ravaging the western US; Hurricane Ida battering the east coast; the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; the Delta variant and its younger sibling the Lambda variant; sexual predators using their power and fame to abuse and assault young women; political uncertainty and unrest… On a smaller scale closer to home, I’ve been battling ants in my kitchen for several weeks. Are these things really God’s will? Are ants really part of God’s perfect plan? Or cockroaches? Or Earthquakes and hurricanes and wildfires and the coronavirus?
Out of nothing more than interest I googled “Gods’ will is perfect” and the first thing that popped up was a sentence from a blog that read,
The perfect will of God is God's divine plan for your life: the kind of man to marry, what career or ministry to pursue, and so on. It needs you to be very patient and trust God because He wants to give His best, which has His full blessings, not the second best. ... With God all things are possible if only we believe.
God’s divine plan for my life. I can get behind that. But the kind of man I should marry? What career to pursue? There are so many problems inherent in this statement. Thirty-eight years ago last month I thought I married the perfect man, but here I am almost forty years later happily divorced and in a relationship with a woman that brings me great joy and makes me feel very blessed, and which I am certain is sacramental in the eyes of God. Did I not follow God’s plan originally? But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have my three beautiful and perfect children who are the joy of my life.
The thing is, I don’t think God micromanages our lives like this. And I don’t think there is only one way to follow God’s plan. God does have a divine plan, but it is not for any one of us individually. I think God’s plan is more general than that. It is for the whole of God’s creation. And if we look at nature, we see how perfectly God created every part of it to work with every other part. It is humankind that has disrupted and devastated that plan for its own selfish and self-serving purposes.
We are called individually into that plan, and it will bless us beyond our imagination. But let’s face it. What I think is best for me and what you think is best for you are not necessarily mutually compatible. And certainly not what’s best for the whole of creation. My desire to have a kitchen free of ants is definitely not best for the ants. And the US’ desire to bring its troops home from Afghanistan is proving to not be best for the people of that country. And our need to consume as much fossil fuel as is necessary to make our lives easier is not best for the planet. And the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ need to survive by mutating is certainly not best for people everywhere.
I do believe God’s will is perfect. I’m just not sure any of us really know what God’s will is all the time. And I am certain that we fail to live into it every single day in so many ways. Fortunately the God whose will we so often ignore at best and disobey at worst is merciful, and loves God's children unconditionally, And maybe that is all we can hope for.