“Well, it is the will of God. That’s all there is to it.”
So said an anguished father in India who had just lost his young son in a cholera epidemic. So, unfortunately, says someone at almost every death, tragedy, or disaster the world has ever known.
We say it because we don’t know what else to say. Better to keep our mouths shut. We say it because we feel that in some way everything that happens in a world created by an all-powerful God must be part of God’s will. Wrong. That was true in Paradise, but it has ceased to be true since sin and its consequences, everything from cockleburs to mortality, entered Eden and spoiled Paradise.
The little boy had died. The father was trying to resign himself to life without his son.
“It is just the will of God,” he said again to a wise missionary named Leslie Weatherhead who knew him well enough to try to help him think about what he was saying.
“Suppose someone crept up the steps onto the veranda tonight, while you slept, and deliberately put a wad of cotton soaked in cholera germ culture over your little girl’s mouth as she lay in that cot there on the veranda, what would you think about that?”
“My God,” he said, “what would I think about that? Nobody would do such a damnable thing. If he attempted it and I caught him, I would kill him with as little compunction as I would a snake, and throw him over the veranda.”
“But John,” Weatherhead said quietly, “isn’t that just what you have accused God of doing when you said it was his will? Call your little boy’s death the result of mass ignorance, call it mass folly, call it mass sin, if you like, call it bad drains or communal carelessness, but don’t call it the will of God.”
In a very fine little book entitled The Will of God, Weatherhead went on to say, “Surely we cannot identify as the will of God something for which a man would be locked up in jail, or put in a criminal lunatic asylum.”
But, all too often, we do.
Weatherhead goes on in his fine book to help us be a good deal more accurate in the way we use the phrase “the will of God,” as he talks about God’s original (intentional) will for this world he created, his circumstantial will for this now-fallen world, and his ultimate (or ideal) will for his people for eternity. It’s good to think about such things.
If we are unable or unwilling to work hard enough to deal with such questions, we usually end up adopting the terminology of insurance companies who label everything they can’t control or don’t understand as “an act of God.” We lay at the feet of the Author of life the blame for suffering, tragedy, and death, and we attach to the Giver of all good gifts the responsibility for almost everything that goes very badly wrong. I know, because I’ve done it, too.
It is a mistake that says more about me than I like to think.
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.