Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
The above is from Matthew 6 and is part of the Lord’s prayer. Jesus was teaching the disciples how they should pray. For the purposes of today’s essay, I would like to focus on the last two lines: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I am wondering if we Christians really have a handle on what that truly means. There are several aspects to the concept of God’s will being done that I will examine today. The first being the fallacy of ‘It can only be God’s will if it is positive’. I touched on this topic in a prior essay.
Like so many aspects to our fallen human experience, our idea of God’s will is often at odds with the reality of God’s will. I suspect that there is a tendency for people to assume that what seems best or is the positive outcome, must be God’s will. And what we would deem a negative or bad outcome would not be God’s will. One only need to read the account of Job to know that is not true. God allowed unimaginable calamity to fall on His servant Job, for His purposes. Satan believed he could crush Job’s faith, and requested permission to test him. God allowed it, with condition that Job not be killed. Satan was culpable for the evil that befell Job, yet at the same time in verse 42:11 the Bible says “…And they showed him (Job) sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” Just because it is difficult for our limited, fallen minds to harmonize, does not make it less true. Job realized this as evidenced in his statement to his wife: “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
There are many examples in the bible that affirm this truth from the account of Job, that God’s purposes sometimes involve evil:
- Joseph being sold into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
- The man born blind: “Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
- Jesus Christ, the Son of God, being murdered by crucifixion: “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:23)
There is not one example from human history that can compare to Jesus, the Sinless One, being murdered. I can think of no greater example of something that was God’s will seeming to human minds ‘bad’, and therefore couldn’t be God’s plan. Yet it was His perfect will. If the planned death of Jesus does not convince skeptics of this concept, nothing will.
God, at times, uses evil to bring about His plan. So when we pray ‘thy will be done’, we need to understand that sometimes God’s will being done involves bad and/or evil things. I find immense comfort in this truth! I know God to be perfectly loving, wise, just, merciful, truthful, gracious, sovereign, holy, all-knowing, unchanging, and all-powerful. Because He is these things, then I can trust Him in hardship. I would much rather live in a world where a sovereign and loving God sometimes allows evil into my life, than to live an existence where things happen by chance, and are therefore out of control. For those that belong to the Lord, we can rest in knowing that if something bad happens in our lives, God will work it for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). We can trust Him.
The second aspect I want to examine is that of His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Dr. John MacArthur in his commentary says “When we pray ‘Thy will be done’, we are praying first of all that God’s will become our own will. Second , we are praying that His will prevail all over the earth as it does in heaven.” (Matthew 1-7,p.382) The point of prayer is to change our hearts, and bring our will into alignment with God’s. God is sovereign, yet He also commands us to pray. Just like the example above of Job, this is one of those things that has to remain in tension. We cannot perfectly resolve it in our human minds. It is best left to God’s infinite and perfect mind. We cannot understand God fully. That is what makes Him God. Jesus gives us a good example of living out this tension, in His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane recorded in Matthew 26. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”(42) Jesus expressed His own desire, but in perfect obedience and submission to the Father’s will. That is the balance we believers should strive for. It is okay to be honest with God and place your requests before Him, yet with the heart attitude that He knows best, and you would rather have it His way than your way, if your wills differ. This is where again, believers can rest in the promise found in Romans 8:28, that whatever happens, God will work it for our good and His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!