Who hasn’t heard this phrase being used in connection with a tragic event or sudden loss?
It is odd to me that the only time we pull out our it-must-have-been-God’s-will card is when something horrible happens. Kind of funny nobody uses it when somebody gets born again, or a miracle happens, huh? A little bit fishy that we claim the God we serve loves us and died for us, only to turn around the next minute and lay the blame for everything wrong in our lives squarely on God with that one little phrase.
My view of God’s grace aside, where did the phrase come from, what context was it used in, and why do we keep using it today?
You can find the phrase in Matthew chapter 26 when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane, praying before his betrayal:
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
And there is it! Jesus said it!
It also shows up in the Lord’s Prayer:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
I also find it interesting that we only use the phrase passively. If you look up the words ‘will’ and the phrase ‘be done’, in the Blue Letter Bible, they are actually really strong words. Not passive at all. The word ‘will’ is described as:
- What one wishes or has determined shall be done
- of the purpose of God to bless mankind through Christ
- of what God wishes to be done by us
- commands, precepts
- will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure
The phrase ‘be done’ is defined as:
- to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
- to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen,
- to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage
- to be made, finished, of miracles, to be performed, wrought
- to become, be made
None of these definitions are passive either.
My point with all of this is to say that God’s will is an active, strong, beautiful thing, and we should want it for ourselves and others (this is where my view of grace comes back into play, because if you believe God wills you sickness and pain, you aren’t going to want His will).
Jesus didn’t say ‘thy will be done’ because He was giving up (He was submitting, but there is a difference). He was actively fighting the flesh that was tempting Him to give up. He was controlling Himself, and putting Himself in alignment with God’s love. He was not wilting.
Furthermore, when Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for God’s will, He expected them to know what God’s will was (which has been revealed to us through His Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:9-10). He was telling them to pray that people would realize how much God loves them, and return His love (2 Peter 3:9). He was telling them to pray that their own hearts would be open to His direction and enable God to flow through them and change lives. He was telling them to pray that rulers would be influenced by the Spirit to encourage the Church (Rom. 13:3-4). He was telling them to pray that the hurt and lost would see the grace extended to them, and that they would experience no condemnation, because of Jesus’ payment for our crimes (Rom. 8:1).
That is what God wills. So why do we use this phrase in such a negative light? The only reasons I can think of are: that we don’t want the responsibility that comes with knowing God’s will, and the possibility that our adversary has helped religious people twist this phrase so that God has become the problem, not the answer.
In defense of God’s will, I think it would be appropriate to end with a well-known scripture defining God’s good will for us:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. – Jeremiah 29:11