God’s Will, Exodus 19:2–8, Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6), June 14, 2020
The Sundays after Pentecost bring us to some of the basics of the Christian faith. This morning we focus our attention on the will of God. His divine will is one of those hidden parts of God, which is often only revealed in tantalizing bits of Scripture, but all too often His will remains maddeningly obscure. We want to know His will, but are we truly able to bear it, all of it?
Most often, our thoughts turn to the will of God when some great disaster strikes. Then it becomes so easy to slip into a strange comfort that says to us. “I don’t know why your parents died in a car crash, but it must be God’s will.” I’m really not sure how that helps a situation much, but we hear it enough that it is often deemed wise or good counsel, at least by many in the population. But these are not the times that we should seek the will of God, or at least they really ought not to be the only times we talk about the will of God.
When tragedy strikes, and we find ourselves asking these difficult “why?” sorts of questions, God’s will is often hidden from us. Perhaps, after much prayer and time, we might get a glimpse of it in hindsight, but in the middle of such events, we just cannot see the whole of it.
But God’s will is not entirely obscure. There are many places in scripture that afford us a chance to talk about the part of God’s will that has been revealed. In fact He has said some rather clear and plain things about it. He wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1st Timothy). That seems pretty clear.
God further reveals our salvation as His will, at least in part to us. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:16-17). Out of His love, God is clear about what He wants. He wants your blessing, your good, your health, your happiness. He wants you to live with Him forever.
Now because the revealed will of God is an expression of His love and not His sovereign power, there is another piece here. Love! Love by its very definition can be disappointed. God does not always get what He wants. That may seem odd to say about a being that is almighty, but there are just some things that power cannot do. Power cannot woo someone to love. We cannot bully someone into being an honest and real friend. Love cannot intimidate affection. God is not after obedience, as much as He is after our hearts. He wants to save us; He wants us to be in a relationship in which He is loved, and loves us. Power cannot get that, but love can.
This means that in this world, God often works with a “plan B” or “C” or “D”, or even a plan “Z” and beyond. Again, this sounds pretty odd for an omniscient God. Yet, take for instance the story recorded in 1st Samuel chapter 8, in which the people chose a king for themselves. God clearly did not want this. He says so in so many words, but He acquiesces to the request of the people, and when the first king doesn’t work out, He raises up for them David. Plan B can be a pretty good arrangement too!
Yes, He would have apparently preferred to keep raising up judges for the people, but when they reject that, He moves onto another way, even though He knows the problems that kings will bring, He still blesses David and gives us the many psalms that David wrote.
God’s first will was that we did not fall into sin, but rather spend an eternity growing in our love of Him. Sin ruined that plan of God, but God’s gracious will is not so easily thwarted and His love is resourceful beyond all measure.
We might be able to call it “plan B”, or God’s secondary will. The secondary will of God means that we need to be a little circumspect when we speak of the will of God in any earthly affair. Yes, it may be God’s will, but it may not be God’s primary will. The primary will of God is accomplished only in the salvation of all people, that marvelous relationship God establishes with them, which we call faith.
There is another idea here about the will of God. Often people fixate on determining God’s will for their life. Usually this is when they faced some critical decision in their life, like moving, or taking a job, or deciding on a career. But this isn’t necessarily what God means in Jeremiah when He says; I know the plans I have for you. (29:11)
God really wants to do good things for us, ultimately to save us. But that may mean that He has not always plotted out who we should marry, or what job we will take or which house to buy. He may know ahead, but that is entirely different than planning it.
God has not revealed every detail of His will, but He has told us that He really wants to bless us. He can bless you and me in this place, or in that place. He can bless you and me if we are married to this person, or if we choose to remain single. It is not as if God only has one way in mind. He values our free will, much more than we do ourselves sometimes.
There are indeed some things that clearly are contrary to God’s will. Embarking on a career in heroin production cannot be accommodated to God’s will. But God has not planned out every decision we make, nor has He charted the only “right” course for our lives. We face many decisions which are not between something right and wrong. Most of the decisions we make are simply between to possible good things.
When we pronounce God’s will about those things, we may have these things reversed, and we have started to assume the role of God. The will He has revealed to us and which we need to discern is a deep, loving desire to save and bless us, and all people.
It reminds me of a group of boys who were waiting for the school bus. Their conversation turned to the money they had in their pockets. The first boy bragged as he held out his change, “I have 20 cents.” The second could top that: “I have 30 cents.” One boy claimed he had 50 cents but wouldn’t show the sum. So the group teased, “You don’t have 50 cents. If you do, show it to us.”
The boy was firm as he said, “My daddy said that when I get home from school today he is going to give me 50 cents. It is already mine since my daddy said so.” That’s the way it is with God’s promises. When He speaks, the promise is as sure as if it had already happened.
We see this in our first reading this morning from Exodus. Moses is told to tell God’s chosen people, “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples” (5). Divine love, beyond all human love, caused the one-and-only Ruler of the earth to yield to the insufferable, egotistic opinions of sinful people. That’s His will. That’s who He is.
He is a God who intervenes and acts in the world of men. He brought them out of slavery and acted on their behalf before they were a people or had submitted to His Law. When in Egypt, they were Pharaoh’s people. They were subject to Pharaoh’s law, even though he was a tyrant.
The Lord demonstrates His will, not only in that He delivered them, but also that He provided miraculous food for them in the desert. In Egypt, the people labored for Pharaoh, they provided for him. But in the desert, this almighty King provides for them. He does not need their obedience or labor. Though all the earth is His, He desires that they would be His special people. He loves them.
God rescued His people from slavery of Egypt with an awesome display of miraculous power: the plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea divided. It’s as if He carried them “on eagles’ wings” and brought them to Himself. All believers in Jesus are now included as His chosen people, His kingdom of priests, His holy nation, His people who are His treasured possession. He carries us on the wings of His Word and Sacrament, administered by His pastors, to sustain us through the wilderness of this world.
Moses, Aaron and all those other priests, they and their sacrifices, were only shadows and echoes of Jesus and His sacrifice. Everything in the Old Testament, all the blood that was spilled, burned, sprinkled, or smeared on doorposts, all the circumcisions and ceremonies, were to show the will of God, that He would make good on His promise that He would place enmity between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of Eve, that He would not abandon Adam to death, but He would provide the ultimate sacrifice.
Martin Luther said that if we dig too deeply into the will of God, especially in the context of human suffering and tragedy, we run a terrible risk. If we say that the death of some child is God’s will, we portray God to look the same as Satan. Luther encouraged that we should only look for what God has revealed about His nature: that is, the love for this world in Christ and the cross. The will of God is too terrible for us to bear in our sinful state.
God hides His power, His will, His glory, His majesty, and the rest of it so we will focus on His love. He knows us well enough that if He were to show us His power, we would gravitate toward that, and ignore the love which is the real thing that brings us to relationship with Him and ultimately to our heavenly home.
God loves us enough that He does not tell us everything. Even though we may be deep into His secondary will for this world, He will not be dissuaded from His primary will. He never loses sight of the fact that He made this world, He loves this world, and He wants to save it.
Yes, sometimes He must discipline, sometimes terrible things happen as a result of sin, but He never makes that the end of the story. God’s will is not to send hurricanes or earthquakes or to wreak destruction and havoc on your life. His will is love. His will is to love you enough to save you. Amen.