Letter to Dan J. Russ “The Dangers of the Lord’s Prayer” continued…
“Thy will be done.” Who are we kidding? The reason I pray is that I want the Almighty — if He is in fact almighty, or even if He exists at all — to give me what I want and to do what I tell Him to do. I light candles and say endless novenas in order to convince Heaven that it should bend to my will. I have heard it said that the pagans pray asking the powers-that-be to do their bidding. The belief that the proper rituals, the proper incantations and offerings can cajole the supernatural to do something I want is the very heart of voodoo. I often treat the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ like some Stone Age totem.
“What will it take for you to do what I want? Maybe a nice plump chicken? Maybe an extra-large candle?”
(By the way I am all for the lighting of candles and the saying of novenas. Both are very Biblical practices. The first novena was commanded by the Lord as a preparation for the descent of Holy Spirit on Pentecost. A novena is all about waiting on the Lord, until we hear Him clearly and are able to obey Him more perfectly. Novenas offered in the spirit of expectant prayer and abandonment to the will of God are very powerful prayers. And candles? Lights have been lit as long as there have been Israelites and are still lit by their modern Jewish descendants. I finally understood the lighting of candles when a friend explained his experience at Assisi to me. He had just returned to the faith and was praying at the tomb of St. Francis. He had to leave, but wished he could’ve stayed there praying. He lit a candle to say that his heart was still there at the saint’s tomb. The flame represented his soul abiding there with the Lord. That is exactly why the Jews light candles. They say that the Almighty sends extra souls to help us in joy, in sorrow, in prayer. This is why we light candles. Lit candles express our desire to remain with the Lord in prayer despite the demands that life makes of us. God who set the stars ablaze is not impressed by a candle. He is impressed by the soul that loves him, the heart on fire with love that lit the candle symbolizes.)
So, after all that, we Christians don’t pray that God, the gods, the spirits, whatever, will do our will. That’s not what we mean by prayer.
I’ve heard that we pray so that we might do God’s will. I suppose that’s a fine thing, but I would take it a step farther. We pray that God would do His own will.
"What? Isn’t God going to do His will anyway? Why should we pray that God would do His will? If He is almighty and all-knowing, can’t he do as He pleases?"
I suppose He can, but He doesn’t. Do you think that sin and death and sadness are God’s will? What kind of god do you believe in? Is God angry and spiteful and capricious? Certainly the God that Jesus preached wasn’t and isn’t. The fact is that God will do His will only if we allow Him to. We practice the most unique religion in all of history. We have a God who is humble, a God who, unlike His creatures, doesn’t insist on having His own way. If there really is a God who is all powerful, all-knowing and perfectly loving, a God who really loves me, don’t you think His way of doing things, His plan for me and for all of history, is probably better than my own little self-centered plans? That’s what it means to say “The will be done.” It means that, though I may make some suggestions now and then, I would rather trust that His ways are not my ways, in fact they are a darn sight better than my ways.
It is a wonder that we who are so arrogant have such a humble God. He took on the form of a slave and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He allows Himself to be thwarted at every turn. He does not wish the death of a sinner, but sinners die in their sins all the time. It seems the devil wins repeatedly and God seems to do nothing about it. If all this God business is true, why does He seem to do so little? Simple: Freedom.
God is Love and without freedom there can be no love. If I am rich and shower expensive gifts on a poor person in the hopes that he or she will love me, they will probably never really love me. They may think they love me, but it is usually the largesse that they love. The question is this: if I had nothing at all, not health or wealth or beauty, would you still love me? Jesus posed this question to the disciples once. They thought that they would all be on easy street when the revolution came and Jesus would throw out the Romans. Then, when the mob tried to make Him king, he turned on them and said, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you cannot have life in you.” They realized then that He wasn’t the Messiah. He was simply crazy and they began to abandon Him. He turned to the disciples and said “Will you also leave Me?”
Peter said, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
I suspect that Judas realized that Jesus was nuts and was going to get them all killed — “Time to ditch this loser!” I probably would have gone with Judas. He had a point. What about it? What would you have said? There are times in the life of the believer when Jesus says, “What if there was nothing in this for you, not peace, not security, not even heaven in the end? Will you still follow Me?”
If our answer is, “Nothing, well I suppose I might look into a more useful religion!” then we were never following Him in the first place. We were simply following the things we thought He would provide us. To be a Christian is to follow Him because we love Him.
God has given us real and complete freedom in order to give us the possibility of real and complete love, because He is Love. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “He cannot ravish. He can only woo.” (Screwtape Letters, Chapter 8) To be forced to love is to be rendered unable to love. God gives us the ability to say “No” to Him eternally. In the end, we will have to choose between our will and God’s will; we will choose either heaven or hell. God does not send anyone to hell unless they choose it, but when we say “No” to heaven, we have said “Yes” to hell. How often have heard someone say or, you yourself have said, “There is no God. I prayed and I did not get what I wanted.” We may say “Thy will be done,” but what we really mean is, “This is what I want and if you really do exist, you’ll jolly well give me what I want, or you’re not God. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.”
To say the Our Father is to ask God to do whatever he pleases in our lives and to disregard our desires if they are different from His in any way. We are giving Him permission to ignore us if He so chooses. “Thy will be done,” is one of the best lies we tell ourselves and God.
We manage to convince ourselves that we trust God’s perfect will, but I’m not so sure that we have fooled the Almighty. It is probably the reason God seems to do so little in our lives. We won’t let him do anything because we never give Him the permission for which He so humbly asks. It’s not easy having a humble God, when we and all the gods we really worship are so terribly arrogant.
Next week: Stop reading. It only gets worse.