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Thy Will be Done - February 25, 2018

Luke 22:39-44

What would we pray for if we knew we would get what we wanted? (To win the lottery, for a new house, a new job, a new body, to lose the weight, to take the trip, for early retirement, to win the award, to get the grant, to overcome the illness, to be free of the debt)? What if we prayed those prayers and said, "If it's thy will"? Do we think God will answer with "Yes, that's my will."? What if we were to simply place the person, situation, or place into God's hands and pray: "Thy will be done"? Do we believe something would happen? Do we trust God to do something good? Is there

something we don't want to cover with the prayer "thy will be done" for fear of the answer?

Praying for God's will comes up various times in scripture. We hear it here in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." and in some of the epistles of the new testament...."whatever we ask according to God's will...."

For one reason or another, it seems a number of us have become wary of praying for God's will....we wonder what God will actually do to us, or to someone we love.

We have some friends from when I was growing up. I used to babysit for their kids and grew to know them quite well. In November or December, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And a couple of weeks ago he had surgery to remove it. In talking with her one day she said, "I'm struggling with believing and believing in healing. And asking for God's will and my husband's healing seem so contradictory."

I think she nails a big fear that a lot of us have. "What if I release this and give it to God and God doesn't do what I want?" That feels pretty ominous and heavy. I confess I've been afraid to pray for God's will to be done at times because I too have feared what that might mean. But our fear is based on a fear of God. It's based in a notion that God might be ok with our suffering, or our loved one's cancer, or the loss of a child. And when you say it like that, that doesn't make sense either. Don't we know from the scriptures that God is love? (1 John 4:8) So then, how could a God of love be ok with our suffering? How could God be so cruel and hard-hearted?

Well, I think our confusion comes from a few places. So let's unpack them a little bit, shall we?

#1 Everything happens for a reason—we talked about this one last week. We've heard this one a lot, but it's not in the scriptures. And even if everything does happen for a reason, it doesn't mean that all those reasons are God-given. It might be because we act with selfishness, greed or lust. It might be because someone drinks too much and still gets behind the wheel. It might be because some are born into different classes and we live with the product of our upbringing...those aren't God-ordained reasons...they're just reasons...understanding how the world works without God being culpable for our injury, or heartbreak, or struggles.

#2 "God will never give you more than you can handle." How many of us have heard this one? This one actually is scriptural....sort of. I mean it's in there, but it's not so broad and general. Really. Let's look it up. It comes from the 1 letter to the Corinthians. It's in the new testament, about 3/4 of the way through the whole Bible. It's Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, then Acts and Romas. Then 1st Corinthians. 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13. It says: God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. The word tempted is also interpreted as "testing". If we look in the Greek, we find that it's the word "peirasmos" and could be interpreted both ways.

πειρασμός (peirasmos)
Strong: G3986
GK: G4280
a putting to the proof, proof, trial, 1 Pet. 4:12; Heb. 3:8; direct temptation to sin, Lk. 4:13; trial, temptation, Mt. 6:13; 26:41; 1 Cor. 10:13; trial, calamity, affliction, Lk. 22:28

I wish I could say that the only interpretation is temptation. Then it would be easy, God never tempts us more than we can handle. To me that's reasonable.—ish....more reasonable than testing us...But I have to say, with my understanding of God, I still only understand God's testing in certain ways. I don't think God's testing is cruel or causes suffering. I think about it this way. We often talk about God as a father....that makes us God's children. And God isn't just a father, but a LOVING father...that's a certain kind of who is genuine, with love and integrity, And it's that father who tests his children....but what kind of testing does a loving father set forth? Testing that builds us up, that makes us better people—more responsible, more thoughtful, more caring, more helpful...remember God wants us to become more like it stands to reason that God would help us to do that by offering "testing" that enables that....not cruelty, but kindness. I love my kids. I want them to be responsible, thoughtful, kind, capable, adaptable...successful. And I know that I need to provide training and experiences for that to happen...I want her to learn to look both ways before crossing the street....does that mean I shove her in the road in front of a bus to teach her why? Or that she can get hurt if she isn't careful with a knife, does that mean I stab her to show her how much it can hurt? NO!!! That's cruel. It's not kindness. So why would we think that a loving God, who is more gracious and kind and patient than we are would be cruel to us in teaching us to be better? Would God really cause a car crash to teach us a lesson? Or inflict cancer? Or chronic pain? No! God is a good God of care and when we ask for God's will to be done, we can trust that God's will is not cruel.
That was the really long way of getting to today's passage. While it's not all direct exegesis and explanation of Jesus in the garden, I think we have to lay the foundation of understanding, we have to throw out some bad theology before we can really claim the goodness of God's will.
So, now, we go back to today's passage. Jesus went to the mount of olives to pray. His disciples followed and he asked them to pray there as he prayed on his own. Then he prayed this prayer: 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
Now we know God didn't take the some of us assume....and lots have said over the centuries that God was a mean vindictive father....willing to punish and kill his own son. Anyone ever heard that? That God the Father sent Jesus the Son to die....which many of us can only see as a cruel and heartless gesture. But here's the challenge and complexity of the Trinity—each person of the Trinity is separate, while yet one of the same one. Three persons. One nature. One God—three in if one part of the Trinity suffers and dies, all experience that same suffering. So it's not that God, the father, as a separate and unfeeling entity sends Jesus the son to suffer and die, but instead that God the Father and Jesus the son are one, so when one suffers, both suffer. So, in essence, God suffers on the cross for our accomplish God's will. It's not Father vs. Son, it's father and son working together for our greater good. It's not cruel. It's selfless.
It's kind of thick theology...impossibly hard to wrap our heads around how they can be both separate and the same....distinctive yet not. It's one of the great mysteries of faith. And yet it's also one of those distinctions that are key in helping us to understand that when Jesus submits to God's will he's not allowing God's cruelty, he's seeing himself as part of God's redemptive work. That's a very different thing than as a victim of abuse.
So then, maybe, when we are asked to pray "Thy Will be Done" we don't have to carry all the baggage of our past, or God as a mean-spirited jerk, or a cruel father who is willing to kill his own son. But instead, we might first claim God as a God of love....see and know and believe that God is willing to risk everything for our benefit...and if God is that good and that kind, and that self-less, then maybe we could risk trusting in God's will for our lives and the lives of those that we love. Asking intentionally and wholeheartedly that God's will would be done in our lives...

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