My wife Joy has been reading Bossypants, Tina Fey’s recent memoir about being a media boss. I have no intention of reading the book, even though Tina Fey generally cracks me up.
And yet, that is one great title. Bossypants. It still makes me chuckle. It has given me a new nickname for my wife (said in jest, really). And it’s got me thinking about the will of God.
Is God a sort of celestial Bossypants?
And if Christian discipleship is all about following God’s will, does that mean that we should look for direction from Bossypants before we do anything?
Looking for a spouse? Wait for word from Bossypants!
Thinking of buying a house? Wait for Bossypants!
Considering a career change? Wait for Bossypants!
I’m reminded of a parishioner at a church I served years ago. He came to me again and again saying that he wanted to serve God. But he wasn’t going to do anything until he heard God’s will. He insisted on hearing God’s specific direction for his life before engaging in a ministry. The waiting had not ended by the time I left to serve another congregation.
I kept thinking about Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Beckett’s two characters Estragon and Vladimir spend the entire play waiting for Godot (or God) convinced that he is drawing near. He never comes. They never do anything.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for following God’s will. That’s not to say that I always find that easy or comfortable or perfectly clear. For that matter, my own need for regular repentance testifies to the fact that I miss the mark more often that I like to admit.
But what does it mean to follow God’s will? How do you do it?
Surely it cannot mean waiting about for crystal clear mystical experiences that provide unmistakable direction? For most of us that would mean a new reality show entitled Waiting for Bossypants. A show where nothing ever happens. Oh wait, that was Seinfeld!
Neither can it mean tossing the responsibility we have for our choices onto God.
Your ex-girlfriend wants an explanation for your breakup? Not your fault. God’s will.
Quit your job in the middle of a crucial project to take a juicy offer? Not your fault. God’s will.
Several recent books explore what we mean by “God’s will” and what it means to follow his will.
Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something is entirely devoted to the subject.
Philip Cary’s Good News for Anxious Christians turns largely on this subject and Oliver Thomas’ 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You! touches on it.
Gregory Boyd discusses God’s Providence and our free will in Is God to Blame? and in God of the Possible.
There’s much to say about all of this, but for now let’s just outline what we might mean when we say God’s will. (I found Kevin DeYoung very helpful in framing the following outline, but he’s not responsible for any errors I make.)
For starters there’s the idea of Providence. God moves all things according to his plan to redeem the Creation. In this case, you can resist God’s will, protest God’s will, hate God’s will or be indifferent to God’s will. It doesn’t matter. This is how things are going to turn out. God is Absolute Sovereign.
Next, there is God’s Law. God commands us to behave in certain ways. We are moral beings precisely because we have a mind capable of understanding God’s clear (Biblical) imperatives and we have the freedom to refuse to obey God’s commands. Following God’s law in this sense means doing what we know is right.
Knowing what is right does not require a new experience of God speaking. Holy Scripture and the traditional teachings of the Christian faith guide us. God gave us minds so that we could learn these moral principles and wills to obey them. God’s good is eternal and immutable. (I’ll have to postpone making a case for this until some later time.)
Finally, there is what some people call God’s plan for your life. This is where things get sticky. Does God have in mind a specific career for me? A specific job? What about my spouse? How many children? My choice of physician?
For the most part, these are morally neutral matters. Kevin DeYoung advises us to stop thinking of God’s plan for our lives as a corn maze we have to figure out. Make all the right turns and we’re blessed. Take the wrong turn and we’re celestially lost.
Instead, remember all those pages devoted to wisdom in the Bible. Or, as St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Or, to remember Proverbs: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13)
Following Jesus involves a life devoted to worship and study. Jesus is our Savior. He is also our supreme and perfectly reliable teacher. Sitting at his feet we gradually learn to think like him. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have a mentor in school or work, you’ve already had a similar experience.
It’s not just that you agree on the facts (although that is the case with Jesus). Mentors teach us how to sort things out. How to think. Not just what to think.
God’s plan for us is that we will gain wisdom by following his Son. He does not give us a detailed road map of what to do. Neither does he expect us to use his supposed silence for inaction. Even less does he want us to shirk responsibility for our decisions by saying that God made us do something that others don’t like.
We will make mistakes. God himself will be actively involved in our lives at every point. And sometimes he will not only nudge us but also nag us and point us in a direction. But God also wants us to grow in wisdom and to make godly decisions for which we are responsible.
(The image above is William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days.” You can find it at this link.)