Thursday, October 27, 2016

Has God's will been done?

This is another old draft post that never saw the light of day at the time of writing, but it's either time to delete it or publish it and I've chosen to do the latter.  It's far from a complete analysis or thought out presentation, but it is where my mind found itself at the time.

It's now four months on from the referendum, so although that was the initial focus of my thoughts I hope enough time has passed that if we end up with a discussion about anything, it's about how we understand the will of God and not what we feel about the vote.

In the aftermath of the referendum vote there are going to be many more politically and economically significant questions to be resolved that the theological ones concerning the idea of God's will. But for those of us who share a faith perspective, the theological questions remain (no pun intended).

Now I think it's important that we don't get drawn into some pointless debate about where this all stands in relation to the "end times". It's tough enough working out how to live in a way that honours God in the present without having to worry about the shape of things to come at the same time!

My concern is what I see as the sometimes deterministic view that appears to link the will of God with the sovereignty of God in an unhelpful way. At it's most simple I would argue that these two are quite separate. Let me explain.

To acknowledge that God is sovereign is to believe that he is ultimately in control. Maybe better still, it's to believe that nothing happens that he doesn't know about. It's actually quite hard to define without slipping towards some form of determinism that might suggest that God does in fact control everything and that nothing that happens happens without his direct involvement and decision.

God's will, however, is not the same as his sovereignty. And with that we slip into dangerous waters too. Dangerous because we are now in the realms of concepts like the permissive will of God, God's plan for my life, free will, can I miss God's will, am I living "second best", etc etc.  And let's not forget God's sovereign will!

Something like the referendum challenges some of our perspectives. If we've prayed that God's will is done and the vote comes in, irrespective of it's outcome, do we assume that somehow God's will has been done? Does that stand up to Biblical scrutiny? Put it another way, just because we've prayed, does that necessarily mean that the outcome must be God's will? You see the difficulty.

This is why I've used the word deterministic earlier. It's the assumption that one thing follows another as cause and effect, but to do that with our prayers and God's will is surely a reductionist view of how our relationship with God works and how prayer and the will of God interact. Think about the conundrum of the story of Adam and Eve. Was it God's will that they broke his one rule, or was it his will that they remain in the garden, learning and growing spiritually to maturity.

Personally I don't think our membership of the EU comes under God's will in quite the absolute way some people appear to think it does. We change governments regularly, does that suggest that God's will for our nation shifts from red to blue politically too? Of course not. At it's most simple God's will is that we do right things in right ways. No one political ideology has a monopoly on that.

Thinking about sabbaticals!

It's funny how things pop up now and again that prod you into action or simply generate a memory. It can be either positive or negative, you never know until it happens.

Having not written anything for months, not that there hasn't been stuff about which to write, I checked my account to see a "comment awaiting moderation". This is usually because someone has found my old post about my index to Songs of Fellowship, but not this time. This time it was a comment on an old post from 2008 about my impending sabbatical. If I'd done something different or not even bothered with the sabbatical, would things have turned out differently? I'm not sure and there's little point speculating about it now. It's enough to say that decisions were made that set the chain of events in motion that brought us here to this point and time and place.

It's interesting to think that it is 8 years since I had a sabbatical. Of course I'm one of the privileged few who got to take sabbaticals in the first place. Most people go through their whole working lives without ever getting the chance to take a prolonged period of time out to reflect or do some piece of research or simply do something completely different. Imagine how your life might change, how your view of the world could change or even your view of yourself if you could spend three months working overseas or in a shelter or reading? I wonder what some of our companies would look like if CEO's spent some time on the shop floor or if editors of certain newspapers spent a little time with refugees.

I can't imagine being able to take the time out for another sabbatical. If I were still in full-time ministry I'd have been overdue another break, but self-employment makes it hard. On the other hand, it's not beyond me to make the most of my flexible schedule and invest some time in doing some of those things a sabbatical gives you the opportunity to pursue.

Years ago, and I do mean years, I remember taking out a sheet of A4 and writing down everything I was doing and trying to put a timescale against. Was it something that was short term, medium term of long term? Did it have an end date? Then I wrote down the things I wanted to do and how long I though that would take. Then came the challenge of working the two lists together. That was difficult, but it enabled me to do two things at that particular time. One was completing a distance learning course to improve my counselling skills, the other was handing over some tasks and ministry things to others in order to free up time to concentrate in other areas.

I never produced anything academically worthwhile during my sabbaticals. I rarely read new stuff because I was always reading new stuff anyway. A sabbatical was a chance to switch off from some of that. Now, it's very different. Any sabbatical time will be very much shorter, a week maybe two at the most. Most people call them holidays! A rest, a change of scene, both great ingredients for a mini-sabbatical.

Perhaps I need a plan, perhaps I should write a guide on how to take a mini-sabbatical. I feel a self-help book emerging.