When “If It Be Thy will…” Isn’t His Will
Written By Joseph Luigs
The title of this blog speaks to one of the most disorienting experiences of Christian life: the God of love with infinite power says “no” to some of our most desperate prayers. How do we understand this?
We live in the unique historical moment when we have access to unlimited information at all times. In prior generations, people sat in wonder and mystery when encountering something they didn’t understand. Now, we just say, “Hey Siri…” and more than we could ever remember pops up on a feed. It seems we can know anything.
This helps create what I call the myth of understanding, which is one of our cultural currents. The myth conflates the capability to access unlimited amounts of information with human capacity to understand. In other words, we operate as if our ability to access endless information entails, therefore, that our understanding is equally endless. But the truth is that our understanding is flawed and finite. And even more so, the myth makes it difficult to accept that our finite capacity to understand cannot comprehend the willing mind of God.
Job is the quintessential biblical character who wrestles with the disappointing experience of God’s will in his life. When God finally speaks to him, he calls Job to abandon his myth of understanding, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding….” (Job 38:4 NASB). “Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:18 NASB).
God first confronts Job with the infinite divide in capacity to understand. Job cannot understand the mind of God. And Job comes to rest in this expanse: “I know that You can do all things. And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6 NASB). Job comes to terms with his incomplete, finite understanding.
So if we can’t understand God’s willing mind, what now? Well, what if God is interested in something beyond understanding? St. John of the Cross is helpful here. He held the biblical insight that God’s desire is union with us, including the union of our wills, and that if our intellect is not capable of understanding all of God, then surely His greatest desire is not to be loved by an achievement of complete understanding. Instead, God is interested in being loved by our loving submission to His will, forging this love through trials so our wills become aligned with His. But this doesn’t happen in one moment or one prayer.
When “If it be Thy will” isn’t God’s will, we begin the prayerful process of accepting that our understanding is finite and incomplete and that this is a good thing. Then we slowly move toward God in unifying wills. Patience marks this prayer process: we are patient with God in our disappointment, and He is patient with us in our slow acceptance. It’s in this process that we “Learn to love as God desires to be loved.”
- For a fuller analysis see Laura L. Garcia, “St. John of the Cross and the Necessity of Divine Hiddenness,” in Divine Hiddenness, eds. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 83-97.
- St. John of the Cross qtd. in Garcia, “St. John of the Cross,” 91.
Week 3 of 10 Prayer
Take time to reread Philippians 3:1-11 from Sunday. Review your notes. What is God bringing back to mind from His Word?
How you end your day impacts rest and rejuvenation for the next. God’s people throughout history have practiced a surrendering of all things in prayer before they laid down to sleep. While we zero in on the discipline of prayer, each Sunday we will engage in two prayers, allowing the repetition to help us be at home in these prayers.
How you start your day informs how you go about your day. Throughout history, God’s people rose early to focus their heart, soul, mind and strength in prayer with God. While we zero in on the discipline of prayer, each Sunday we will engage in two prayers, allowing the repetition to help us be at home in these prayers.