The recent controversy and conversation about evolution and "intelligent design" leads me to reflect on the question of God's will, both with respect to the fullness and complexity of creation and to the pattern of our individual lives.
What do we actually mean in our liturgy and in our private prayer when we echo Jesus, who taught us to pray: Thy will be done?
My understanding of God's will for us is essentially God's love for us and God's desire that we grow up in all ways into Christ, who is, after all, the archetype of the human person most fully developed and realized. And because God's will is God's love for us, it is generous and expansive rather than narrow and constricting.
God's will has to do with our embodying in the givenness of our own personality and the context of our own lives what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Discerning and responding to Godâs will is a fundamental aspect of authentic discipleship and the ground upon which the fidelity of any faith community builds its corporate life.
One of the interesting things about the word âwillâ as it appears in the New Testament is that it can carry with it connotations of affection. The parable of the prodigal son is an excellent example of this.
The father gives freedom to his son to leave home and struggle on his own, all the while holding him fast in his loving heart. The father's will has not been a matter of imposing demands but rather suffering the pain and anxiety caused by his son's absence. Then, when the son finds his way home, the father extends to him the arms of loving affection that always have been ready to embrace him.
We see here that to will something in relation to another person is not a matter of imposing one's desires upon another but going out to the other in a stance of affectionate regard. This, I think, becomes very clear to those of us who are parents.
My will for my children is not simply that they will do what I think they should do. My will for them is my affectionate longing for their well-being and full flourishing, whatever that may involve. This means that my will grants them the freedom to grow and discover on their own, and acknowledges that their decisions may, in fact, cause me pain and anxiety, not always because I consider them to be wrong, but because my love for them causes me to suffer on their behalf.
The circumstances of our lives and the decisions we make about such things as vocation - the path we feel obliged to follow - becomes the way in which we live the fruit of the Spirit. What God most cares about is that we embody God's love.
Once we have chosen a path and it becomes the means whereby we embody love and care, God rejoices. Sometimes the path we choose presents us with difficulties and challenges that purify and transform our instincts and inclinations, rendering us free in the Spiritâs freedom to be authentic persons of the gospel.
Again, God rejoices - and says: Well done, good and faithful one. We sometimes too narrowly limit God's will to a particular set of circumstances in the belief that God has chosen a very specific direction for us, which, if we ignore it, renders us unfaithful and disobedient. At such moments, we may be imposing on God our own sense of "will" as a set of prescriptions rather than entering more fully into God's will, which we understand as a generosity of love which passes all understanding. Looking back on my own life, I can see many paths I might have chosen, any one of which might have presented opportunities to be about the Kingdom.
God's loving generosity embraces not only humankind but also the whole of creation, and through the mystery of creation - of which God is the author through the agency of his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit - the freedom of creation to continue to unfold is set in motion.
The theory of evolution bears witness to the notion of a freely unfolding universe in which creation continues. The freedom given to creation to evolve in no way diminishes the role of the creator.
When we pray "thy will be done," we open ourselves to boundless and unimagined possibilities for growth and discovery. This is true for us as individuals, and it is equally true for us as a church. We pray, and the door is opened to new ways of inhabiting and expressing within the givenness of our own lives something of God's will - which is God's own affectionate desire for us and for the creation of which we are a part.