And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10 (NRSVUE)
Does God have a plan for your life? It is not uncommon to hear people give pious expressions that indicate God has everything worked out ahead of time. Phrases like, “God willing…” or “It’s all in God’s plan” certainly sound like words of great faith, trusting that God has everything worked out and we simply need to trust that this plan will happen for us. Sometimes people use such phrases to stop worrying so much (which at times can be helpful, at others not particularly) or even stop being engaged in social concerns (which is never helpful advice).
While for many people such blind trust that God has everything worked out ahead of time is central to their faith, I do not find it to be theologically convincing. I also do not find it to be helpful to my faith. It leads to a real crisis of faith in a world where senseless suffering is widespread and people who are selfish and greedy seem to consistently come out ahead. Why would any of that be part of some grand master plan by God? If that is how God works everything out, why would I want to have anything to do with such a god? Beyond all of that, if God has already worked everything out, then my life is just being a puppet playing out script that is already set. I have no free will or reason to do anything. None of this fits the God that I have come to know through Christ.
Yet, in the Lord’s Prayer we pray again and again that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is it that we are praying for in this third petition? In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther gives an answer that on the surface may sound outdated but that I think has some real depth. He says that we are praying that it is God’s will and not the devil’s will that holds sway in our lives. Whether we take the devil as literal or figurative is not the issue here (there are faithful Christians whose views differ in that discussion). The reality is that our world is full of suffering, short-sighted decision-making that causes others pain, sin that is both obvious and hidden that lessens the quality of life for all, and a tendency to divide and destroy rather than build up and connect. All of these things go against God’s kingdom and so fit under the traditional works of the devil. The work of Christ, however, is to renew, connect, build up, inspire, and bring life and community to earth. Both work of Christ and the devil can easily be seen in the world around us. The key question is which force moves our lives?
The will of God is not a detailed plan of everything that happens. The will of God is that the reign of God be lived out. This kingdom appears on earth when Christ’s work is done. In our lives, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven when our lives follow Christ. God’s will is that we receive the gospel of new life in Christ and we live out that life fully. That means being transformed into being part of the holy community of the church and working to bring life and connection to the world around us. When that happens the work of Christ is done in our lives and God’s will is done on earth in our lives as it is in heaven. God’s will is not a script for us to follow. Rather, it opens new possibilities for renewing our lives. Of course we don’t make God’s will happen; it is a gift of grace. Yet, we long for that presence of Christ to transform our lives, and so we pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer.