God’s will for your life

Today’s commentary from slacktivist on the Left Behind series features a great section on God’s will–especially in its critique of the perspective which is prevalent in the American evangelicalism that subscribes to the theology found in the books. (Wow, that was a convoluted sentence!) Many of you, I think, will know the kinds of things we’re talking about–I certainly do, having grown up in certain church traditions that subscribed to this–what I’ll call “misguided”–theology.

Anyway, I’ll let slacktivist speak for himself (with a couple of added annotations and emphases):

This idea of God’s Will For Your Life is not an easy thing to describe to those not wholly immersed as natives of the American evangelical subculture. I doubt I can fully convey the meaning or pervasive influence of this notion for those inside that world, but let me try.

God’s Will For Your Life is far narrower and more specific than the notion of a divine “plan” that you might glean from Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws tract — “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” (Or, as those of us more critical of Campus Crusade’s genitalized Gospel sometimes put it, “God loves you and has a horrible plan for your wife.”) [Ed. Hahaha … Nicely put.]

What it means, rather, is that your life and happiness have been mapped out ahead of time with a suffocating specificity. There is one job — one particular, singular job — which is God’s Will For Your Life. And there is one potential spouse — one particular, singular spouse — who is GWFYL. And thus every decision which might in any way lead toward or away from either of those must be pondered with an agonizing consideration of just what is GWFYL. Every date (or “courtship”), your choice of college (or Bible College) and choice of major is a fork in the road leading closer to or farther from this narrowly appointed happiness.

This notion of GWFYL transforms the process of living into something like the fairy-tale path through the haunted forest — the Mirkwood trail or the Yellow Brick Road. Except that those paths in those stories are always clearly marked, whereas the trail of GWFYL is invisible and inscrutable and can only be intuited by some visceral sense of spiritual leading.

The idea is a kind of spiritualized version of the romantic pipe-dream of The One — and it tends to produce the same fearfully tentative, second-guessing approach to living. There’s a bit of good advice in Conor Oberst’s “First Day,” in which he sings, “I’d rather be working for a paycheck / than waiting to win the lottery.” But the notion of GWFYL or of waiting for The One turns that advice upside-down, viewing such practical work as a dangerous distraction from one’s lottery-playing duties.

One reason I don’t much care for this idea of GWFYL is that I’ve seen its effect on young evangelicals forced to shoulder its crushing burden. No one can live like that, governed by an ultimate-stakes gamble based on unwritten rules, offering no assurance other than that the potential for inadvertent-but-damning disobedience lurks in every decision.

Just as importantly, I don’t care for the way this notion takes something explicitly clear and invariable — the will of God — and twists it into something mysterious, ever-changing and idiosyncratic.

What is God’s Will For Your Life? the prophet asks, and then answers his own question, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s from the Bible — a book that’s rather repetitive and unambiguous on the question of GWFYL. On God’s will for everyone’s life, actually. See for example here or here or here or here or here or here or here.

But somehow none of that ever enters into evangelical conversations of career and romantic prospects and GWFYL. Whatever it is supposed to mean, GWFYL doesn’t seem to have much of anything to do with acting justly or loving mercy or breaking the chains of oppression or setting the captives free or feeding the hungry or comforting the sick or giving freely to those in need or planting gardens or ensuring that the city prospers or loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

P.S. His commentary on the Left Behind series is hilarious, insightful and theologically sound. Go check it out!

P.P.S. One book that really helped me on this subject was Kyle Lake’s Understanding God’s Will: How to Hack the Equation Without Formulas.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC

Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

4 thoughts on “God’s will for your life

  • 2 March, 2010 at 2:57 am
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    See also Geral Sitsers book _Gods Will as a Way of Life_ for further vaccines against this mental virus.

    This raises an important question for me: how does one stay enggaged in the lives and conversations of ones (former?) conservative/evangelical communities in ways that are still intelligible/non threatening to them? Does sojo have any advice?

  • 2 March, 2010 at 9:15 am
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    Great post – I agree totally. I don’t think God would have made us ingenuous and creative if he had already set out the rut we were supposed to ride through life in. Creativity is not a trait to be overcome, but to be used in pursuing the broader will that God has for all people. Use your gifts and talents creatively to pursue justice, mercy, and God.

    I got over the idea of GWFYL theoretically a long time ago, but it’s still hiding out down in the deep dark recesses of my mind. It comes out mostly when I’m making decisions, or when something bad happens or is hard. When some roadblock comes up, my first reflex is “Is this God telling me that this isn’t his will for my life?” Then I think “wait, I don’t believe in God’s will for my life.” It’s a rough shift to make deep down.

  • 2 March, 2010 at 10:11 pm
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    @Mattlumpkin
    Nah, Sojo doesn’t tend to touch much only a purely theological/philosophical basis–it’s too practical-minded. 🙂 But I think that there are always ways to try to connect, to keep trying to illustrate some of the intellectual discontinuities between Enlightenment/Platonic individualistic focuses and the world of Scripture, or in showing how context makes such a huge difference in our theology, etc. Some will take note; others won’t.

  • 2 March, 2010 at 10:13 pm
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    @Eric H
    I agree. Having come from that background myself, I also sometimes slip back into that mindset and then, like you, have to remind myself that it’s bad theology!

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