what thou wilt

Nathan & Jeff:
Thank you for your responses.
Mark 14:
32And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. 33And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;  34And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. 35And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

According to Luke, His sweat was as blood. It was a pretty intense moment for Jesus, I suppose. God’s Will can be a terrible thing to behold; the Divine isn’t about making sure we’re comfy and secure in our little worlds. God does not guide us through traffic to the supermarket or help quarterbacks complete passes; God is not an invisible security system looking out for our properties and possesions; God does not change the weather because of our parades. God does demand of us the impossible; to love each other as we love God and ourselves; to forgive every trespass; to do to everyone as we would have done to ourselves; and even as God demands these things God also grants us forgiveness for not being able to achieve them. 
 
The feeling of God’s Grace and the Presence of the Holy Spirit are a universal human phenomenon described by people of all faiths across history. I myself have experienced it. Yet it is not the only component of one’s relationship with God and perhaps not even a necessary one; Mother Theresa said that she had never experienced it yet lived her life in devotion to God. She certainly lived it in stricter devotion than I, and I have felt what she said she did not.

When Jesus asked God to be spared from His fate, He finished by saying ‘what thou wilt’. God’s answer came in the form of a kiss from Judas. Throughout His trial, Jesus behaved in a way that was considered insane or at the very least dangerously unreasonable by those persecuting Him; He neither denied nor confirmed the charges against Him; He told the man who could free Him that he had no power; He forgave His tormentors as He died. To follow God’s will is to appear unreasonable to those around you. The Divine Perspective is beyond the understanding of humans and certainly is not fully comprehensible to any one mind; even Christ in the Garden doubts and wonders at the injustice of his fate. There is no perfect faith outside of Heaven. There is no perfect understanding out here either, which makes our need for faith so much more urgent. 

Whether or not Thomas Monson has a Divine Mandate is not for me to decide and I know nothing about the man except what Jeff has shared, but all things being equal I doubt your enthusiastic claims. I will not impugn the man except to say that I don’t think he has access to any magic knowledge that makes him special. Jesus told us to think for ourselves and I believe that it is dangerous for our souls to let others do our thinking for us. Any teacher or preacher should be able to defend their practices and preachings with something better than ‘God told me so.’ Not only do I find it ironic that the heir of Peter has the audacity to claim infallibility when Peter was the one who three times denied his Lord, but as a prime example of why it is unwise to do so. Has the infallibility of the Pope brought enlightenment to the world or at least prevented gross errors in judgement by warning of the sex crimes occuring in its churches? Has it done anything but insist on its own infallibility? It is unreasonable to assume God has mortal representatives who describe themselves as being so in the absence of any evidence beyond their word.

It is one thing to speak of being on a mission from God and actually executing one. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer may serve as a contemporary example. Regardless of whether or not you agree with that, I would still contend that it is generations far from now who will be able to accurately weigh the worth of our actions and judge who among us ranks with Moses or Paul. Thank you for your interesting questions.

6 Responses to “what thou wilt”

  1. What mission of Bonhoeffer’s do you think was divinely inspired? If you are referring to the plot to kill Hitler, I wonder how Bonhoeffer was able to square the inherent contradictions in such an act? Killing Hitler was certainly a rational act, but would God inspire an individual to kill another? Wouldn’t a bolt of lightening do as well? (Better in this case?) If God did inspire Bonhoeffer to kill Hitler, why did Bonhoeffer fail? Doesn’t your assumption that God inspired Bonhoeffer to commit murder vitiate your comment : “Once a person believes that God is directing their actions they have left reason behind.”

    Your “contemporary example” creates more questions than it answers.

  2. The Prof Says:

    Sir Kenny,

    Glad to see you’re feeling better. I concur with Winston’s comments that the toughest human being I have ever met is a vegetarian preacher.

    So your response raises this question: if Bonhoeffer was not divinely inspired to kill Hitler (a premise I accept), and said bolt of lightning would indeed do as well, then where in the blue hell was that bolt of lightning? It would’ve been useful in the early 1920s. (As I’m a layman at best, I defer to your wisdom–I just want to hear what you think about it.)

    It seems easy to outsmart oneself with this one. One might suppose that, had God taken down Hitler in his youth with a bolt of lightning or stray horse-drawn cart, that someone else would’ve taken the reins of the same movement…someone more rational and less prone to mysticism and self-delusion. In other words, someone competent to command armies.

    Agh–it seems to come back around to “things had to happen the way they did.” And maybe they did. I’m having a real problem accepting evil these days; last weekend, one of Aurora’s co-workers was stabbed to death by her maniac ex-husband, in a parking structure near where she performed. (You may have seen it on the news.) She was a sweet woman, and he was, by all accounts, a deranged person who had defied multiple restraining orders in the past…and nothing was done. (Her friends tried to intercept her before she encountered him, but failed.) The incompetence of the local authorities aside (and there’s much to document on that), I’m not so sure this one had to happen.

  3. Shout outs tah mah homiez Kenny an’ the Prof-

    The mission I was referring to was Bonhoeffer’s entire life. I should have been clearer on this point but lucky for me I have smart friends who help me clarify my thinking. I was thinking of how insane this young German theologian must have seemed to his contemporaries in the pew of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. How he must have been considered a radical lunatic for helping found the Confessing Church, or how mad he must have been considered to oppose Hitler, to help Jews escape, and of course to try to assasinate the Fuher. I was thinking of how in the Flossburg concentration camp he was tortured and led naked to the gallows where he was slowly strangled with piano wire strung to a slaughterhouse meathook. I don’t think God was whispering instructions to Bonhoeffer but I believe the man strived mightily to live Christ’s commands. However, I suspect that if God were to whisper instructions to people they would behave something like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I don’t think that God would need an assassin to interfere with worldly events either, nor do I think that God would. In my previous post I mention Hume’s ‘is-ought’ problem and this conversation touches on that idea. The world is as it is, and we three may agree that in the best of all possible worlds Hitler ought to have died in the trenches of WWI, but as the Prof points out, we can’t know that something worse might not have happened as a result. My general point in this post is that the will of God is not only unknowable to us on this side of the veil but that when our part in it it is revealed to us it is often not to our liking. The most agonizing question is ‘why’ when we are faced with tragedy such as you mentioned, Prof. Why did she die? Why do little kids get cancer? If God is all benevolent, all knowing, and all powerful, then how can evil exist? My thought is that we would never be satisfied with any answer for the first two and that the third is simply the wrong question to ask. It presupposes God somehow conforms to our moral code, but if one assumes God gave us this moral code it follows God is under no stricture to adhere to it. The applicable lessons of the life of Bonhoeffer is that we must confont evil ourselves; we are on our own and should not expect an army of angels to deliver us from our fate. God acts through us in the world when we act from compassionate love for our fellow humans.
    Kenny, I hope this is a clearer explanation of what I was getting at. So glad to hear from you. I have a busy weekend but will give you a call-let’s get together next week. We have a lot to catch up.
    Prof, please give Aurora my love and sympathy. She is probably quite traumatized.
    -Winston

  4. Prof,

    First let me say how sorry I am about the death of Aurora’s co-worker. …such a senseless tragedy.

    There are countless examples of evil in the world. As a wise man once said, ” $hit happens.” We have a conception of God as being all knowing, all good and all powerful. The existence of evil shows that this conception cannot be accurate. I have no answer for this problem. Much better minds than mine (including Bonhoeffer) have struggled with it.

    I don’t know why God does not prevent such atrocities. I don’t expect to ever know. (I do know that I will spend my entire ministry try figure it out!) What I do know is that when evil causes individuals to grieve, the force that created the universe and keeps it running, this unfathomable thing that no one can fully understand, is _personally_ with that individual and can bring great healing. What an awesome thing!

    Winston – I’ve not read your reply in full yet. If I have a comment, I’ll reply via email and then post an edited version here. I’m not sure if the Prof has my email address. I think he does, but if not, give him my school address.

    God’s Peace to both of you.

  5. Winston,

    Now, that I’ve read your reply, I’m amused by how similar our responses, thinking and even word choice are! Perhaps I should be frightened by that! 😉

    If my memory is correct (and it usually isn’t, even without the pain meds) your argument is very similar to the one made by Harold Kushner in his famous book on the subject “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” He too called for a paradigm shift. He says we should stop standing around and asking why. We should be asking “What now?” You’ll notice even the title of his book is “When”, not “why.” He also tackled the all powerful, all knowing and all good issue. His way of dealing with it is that God is all three, but “He” can only be two at the same time. The limitations (notice my word choice) to this theology are readily apparent. Nevertheless, Kushner has an interesting take on theodicy. BTW, the book is tiny. I think it is only about 100 pages and is a really easy and quick read. (Oddly, it is about the same size of Elie Wiesel’s “Night”)

    Hope to hear from and/or see you soon.

    Shalom,
    Kenny.

  6. Kenny-
    You can be frightened, but I will be relieved. You are one of my touchstones in this life. When I disagree with you I know I am seriously running the risk of being grievously in error. I’ll take a look at what Kushner has to say.
    I’ll see you soon.
    Winston

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