When “God’s Will” Becomes A Rubber Stamp

I sometimes stop talking about things that are central to what I believe. I avoid them and cringe when I hear someone invoking them- not because I don’t believe they are important or true, but because I’ve seen them used in terrible ways.  I’ve seen good ideas leave massive consequences in their wake.

Two of those ideas have to do with the sovereignty of God.

“It was God’s will.”

Christians throw this one out there all the time- I throw it out there all the time. I look back on my decisions and say “that was just God’s will for me,” as if whatever happened was planned out by God and was somehow good because God planned it.

A friend and I were joking around recently when he used this idea to justify something stupid.  So I slapped him.  Then I told him I was glad we made it through that slap- it had been coming for him since the dawn of creation and I had no power to stop it (don’t worry, he laughed… I’m not a horrible person).

God does have specific desires for the world, but our access to exactly what God wants for a situation is limited.   Some of my fellow Christians might reply, “Don’t we have the Bible?!” To that I would say, “Yes, we do have the Bible!”… but exactly how God’s revelation fleshes out in our world isn’t always clear.

The assumption that it is clear has hurt people.

I’ve heard statistical data on the divorce rate between students from private Christian colleges which prove far worse than the normal rate for the rest of society:  Christian graduates get divorced more often than non-Christian graduates.

And after talking to many people about this while attending one of these colleges myself, I came to the conclusion that it had to do with (among other factors) a tendency toward Christian fatalism; if God is in control, if God has a plan, and if God institutes marriage, then whomever I end up marrying is right for me- and my critical judgement isn’t as important as it seems.

“Do what God wants, not what you want.”

This is a youth group favorite.  We tell everyone that their desires are at war with the desires of God and that they need to submit their will to God’s will.

In a sense this is true and very central to Christian faith- Christians practice submitting themselves to the “lordship” of Jesus.

But I’ve seen this end up communicating to adolescents that their feelings and interests are somehow invalid, affectively robbing their God-given desires of all significance.

So I find myself avoiding these ideas instead of working to reclaim them for their intended purposes… mostly because it’s easier that way.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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  • “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

    As a youth and college student, I held tight to the belief I had to clearly “discern God’s will” before taking any major action. I understand now how un-Biblical that is. God tells us to develop wisdom, taking action through that wisdom. Calling does not equate to career, and God’s will is ultimately that we make a positive impact on the world around us. We spend to much time dwelling on “clearly discerning” specific, detailed instructions we wind up doing nothing at all.

  • For what’s worth I like your blog so I nominated it for the “sunshine award.” If your interested check out my page. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • Kenny Dias

    It would be easier to teach people to get in step with God if we focused on his Love for us and trusted Him more. The opposite of unbelief is rest. Adolescents are skeptical by nature because their feelings change faster and more unpredictably than the weather. Try sailing a ship by only going with the wind you will move but you wont get were you want to go and hit a lot of rocks along the way

    • That’s true Kenny, we, especially while we develop as adolescents, need grounding influences in our lives. It would be terrible, though, if those influences told us that our emotions, feelings, and aspirations weren’t legitimate during a time in our lives when we’re figuring all of that out.