Is God a dictator?
by John Wijngaards, published in Mission Today.
To many people God makes no sense, because of what we Christians make of him. So often we present God as a Super Parent who knows what is best for us and who has laid down from A to Z what we should and should not do. Small wonder that people feel uneasy in Gods company.
Good parents do not dictate. Good parents guide their children, but then help them think and decide for themselves. Good parents glory in the independence and maturity of their children, wanting them to grow up. The Super Parent God, on the other hand, rules out peoples human reasonings and convictions. The highest virtue then is blind obedience to his inscrutable will. Well, what does Scripture say?
Many passages in Scripture that speak about Gods will are blatantly misunderstood. God has not fixed the outcome of the agenda. Gods will always presupposes our own considered involvement. After all, God gave us a mind and a personality. God treats us as adults and wants our full adult cooperation - which demands deliberation rather than unquestioning compliance.
Let us take Jesus Christ himself as our example. Jesus did not have a detailed action plan dictated to him by the Father. Jesus knew the Fathers will in general: that all people should be brought to salvation (1 Tim 2,4); and that he should help all find resurrection and eternal life (John 6,38-39). But Jesus himself needed to work out on a day-to-day basis how he should do this. After all, Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Heb 4,15).
When the disciples expressed surprise about Jesus interest in the Samaritan woman, Jesus replied that his food was to do the will of his Father (Jn 4,34). He meant that he had discovered a new opening through his casual meeting with her. He realised that these Samaritans, too, even though they were not orthodox Jews, needed the Fathers love and salvation. So, he responded by accepting their invitation and stayed in their village for an unplanned spell of ministry (Jn 4,34-42).
At each turn of events Jesus reflected on what would please the Father. He measured his own response against the yardstick of love. This is how he discerned the will of his Father from moment to moment (Is 50,4-5).
Jesus redemptive death
Contrary to some popular misconceptions, this also applied to Jesus death on the cross. The Father had not laid down how and when Jesus should die. He could not have - the Father could never have sanctioned a sin like the innocent murder of Jesus. As Jesus himself explained, he died because he refused to leave his disciples in the moment of peril. As the Good Shepherd, he was ready to give his life for them. No one takes my life from me, not even the Father. I give it myself (read John 10, 11-18). The Father accepted Jesus act of love as the sacrifice that reconciled humankind to himself.
Now we understand Jesus prayer in Gethsemani. When he said: Not my will but your will be done (Luke 22,42), he did not mean that he submitted to a foregone decree, settled long ago, that condemned him to death. Rather, he discerned that the Father wanted love and that, in this instance, such love implied giving up his life. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: The Father did not force Jesus to be killed, which would have been cruel indeed. No, the Father inspired Jesus with love so that he freely died for us.
The same applies to us Christians today. Through the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, we receive guidelines. These present the ideal. They contain precious advice and helpful suggestions. They are not rigorous laws to be executed in blind obedience. Rather, they are road signs that help us when, on the strength of our considered judgment, we discern Gods will for us in our specific circumstances.
Christians do not live under law, but under grace and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6,14; 6,18-24). For freedom Christ has set us free. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery! (Gal 5,1). I do not call you slaves, Christ said, for slaves do not know their masters intention. I call you friends, because I have told you all I have heard from my Father. The one command I give you from him is this: love one another as I have loved you (free after Jn 15,12-15).
Gods will for us is that we are holy (1 This 4,3) and that we live blameless lives (1 Pet 2,15). God wants us to give priority to love in all we do: the whole law is fulfilled in one word: love your neighbour as yourself (Gal 5,14).
With the help of the Spirit, we will be able to discern Gods will so that we do whatever is good and pleasing to God, and therefore perfect (Rom 12,2).
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