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It was Sunday morning and Harry pulled out of his driveway in his 2-seater convertible, with the roof closed because of the pouring rain, and headed for church. As he turned onto the main road he saw ahead of him three people at the bus stop, huddled under a single umbrella. One was Mrs. Fletcher who still insisted on getting to church by herself, despite her arthritis. There was Dr. Jones, the local General Practitioner. Harry virtually owed him his life after the Doctor had diagnosed a rare disease. And the third person was Judith. Harry saw Judith for the first time six months before when she had joined the church and had a crush on her ever sense. Only problem, he never plucked up the courage to ask her out. He knew he had to do something, but maybe had less than three seconds to decide what. There was only one spare seat. Who should he offer a ride? Three seconds were enough. What did he do? He pulled to a halt, jumped out, passed the keys to Dr. Jones, helped Mrs. Fletcher into the passenger seat then waved them good-bye as he huddled close to Judith under the umbrella. Some decisions are easier than others. For the more difficult ones, we can seek what we call “the will of God.”
Before I jump off on this topic and just as a warning: I often joke about reading St. Paul’s writings. They can be very confusing at times. This sermon, in the words of many a rednecks—“Hold my beer.” Let’s see if I can avoid that confusion.
Recently, I’ve been wrestling with the meaning of “the will of God,” and I’ve concluded that it ultimately has to do with the sovereignty of God. So let’s begin there.
The sovereignty of God states that the Lord is in control of all things: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent: all knowing, all powerful, and all present. Because a butterfly flapped its wings in Tibet, two weeks later a tornado occurs in Kansas. The sovereignty of God states that not only did God cause the butterfly to flap its wings, but God knew, before the creation of the world, that it would, and cause all prior and subsequent events, and he was there when Toto landed in Oz. All of it and everything in between. Perhaps it is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the point. God’s sovereignty places everything in his hands and under his dominion.
It is within this sovereignty of God that the will of God is executed. The will of God is the action or expression of the sovereignty of God. Sovereign is who God is and his will is what God does, which all leads back to the question I’ve been wrestling with: we often say that we want to know the will of God for my life, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the will of God isn’t “personalized” in such a manner. Which means, we can’t really say things like, “The will of God for my life is to be a priest, a barber, to get married, to live here, etc.” Instead there is only “The Will” of God—capital “T”, capital “W”, and we are participants in that Will. So, if that’s true—and maybe all this is heresy—then what is it? If there is only The Will of God, then what is that Will?
The Lord states through the prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32) St. Paul restates this in his first letter to Timothy: God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) The Will of God—not for my life, but The Will of God—period—is for us to have eternal life in Him, and we know that he has provided the Way to that eternal life through the death and resurrection of his One and Only Son, Jesus. That is God’s Will: eternal life in Him. So the question then becomes, if we are participants, then how do we rightly participate in that Will?
My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá writes: “You and I belong to Christ’s family, for ‘he himself has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him, having predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his Will’…’this is the Will of God: your sanctification’. Let us not forget, then, that we are in our Master’s sheepfold in order to achieve that goal.” (Friends of God, no.2)
We rightly participate in The Will of God through our faith in Jesus Christ and the process of participation is our sanctification. Our goal, which flows from our faith in Jesus, is to become saints. Yes, we are called to be saints, we’ve talked about this before, understanding that, in this life, our halo might not always look so great. Nelson Mandela said it of himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
Sanctification, becoming a saint, is a process, a process that we never tire of striving for. God’s Will is that we come to faith in His Son and that we strive for sanctification. But… couldn’t he have made this process of sanctification a tad easier?
In the context of the parable today about the wheat and weeds: why didn’t the master order the weeds pulled up? And in Jesus explanation of that parable: why didn’t God simply remove the evil once it appeared? Was it that he couldn’t? Not at all. He is sovereign even over the evil one, for regardless of whether the weeds grow amongst the wheat, the Garden is still his. In His sovereignty, God could have removed evil, but instead, he allowed it to remain. Why?
Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away [to take away the evil] from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’
Yes. God could have removed the evil, but those who seek sanctification, need it. We don’t become physically strong by sitting in the Lay-Z-Boy and eating bonbons. We become physically strong by exercising, exerting ourselves, and we become strong in our faith by fighting against the evil. It contributes to perseverance in faith, it can serve as correction for when we are disobedient, it causes us to turn to God in seeking care and protection and forgiveness, it is a part of free will, because just as we are free to choose the righteous, we are also free to choose the evil, and it also serves God’s purposes even when we fail, for it keeps us humble. Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9a) The evil is in no way celebrated, but it is a tool in the process of our sanctification. It is what makes us stronger as we fight against it. And in the end, holiness returns to all creation: “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
The fella standing under the umbrella with Judith, watching the Doctor drive Mrs. Fletcher to church: the sovereignty of God puts everything in its proper place, he aligns the world according to his purposes. We exercise our free will through our choices and actions. If we do so rightly, by resisting the evil and working towards our sanctification, then at the end of the age, we, the righteous, the sanctified will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of Our Father.
Let us pray:
Most holy Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Our first beginning and our last end,
You have made us
In accord with your own image and likeness.
Grant that all the thoughts of our minds,
All the words of our tongues,
All the affections of our hearts,
And all the actions of our being
May always be conformed to your holy Will.
Thus, after we have seen here below in appearances
And in a dark manner by means of faith,
We may come at last to contemplate you face-to-face
In the perfect possession of you
Forever in heaven.