Knowing God’s Will

At church this morning, the topic was hearing God’s voice.  Two of the congregants were graduating from high school and moving on to the next stage of their lives, and the pastor was assuring them that God is there to guide them.  In the children’s service, the pastor asked someone from the fifth grade if he knew what sort of job that he wanted when he grew up, and the young man replied that he did not know.  The pastor then responded that God will guide him.  In the sermon, the pastor told us about the time that he graduated from high school—51 years ago (which took me aback, since he looks like he’s in his 50’s!).  The pastor said that he wanted to be a history teacher, but he did not have the grades to do so, and so he went to Utica School of Commerce.  The pastor said that he does not regret that.  He feels that God was guiding him into his vocation.

The Scripture readings were interesting.  I think that their focus was God having a plan for each person’s life.  The liturgist read Psalm 139, which is a beautiful Psalm about God being intricately involved in our lives, even from birth.  But it was odd to watch the liturgist read the “I hate” parts of the Psalm—in a low-key mainline Protestant church!  The next text was Matthew 4:18-22, in which Jesus calls the disciples.  And the third text was I Samuel 3:1-20, which was about God’s call of Samuel.  I’ve heard a few sermons about that particular text, and, usually, they are about God’s guidance of the individual.  But the sermons do not really discuss the actual message that God gave to Samuel: that God would punish Eli and his sons.  Indeed, that would have implications that affected Samuel, for Samuel took Eli’s place.  But the message was communal in its implications.  As I thought about this point while singing a hymn, my eyes welled up because my mind wandered to how Eli was not a bad guy—but the biblical God punished him in his thirst for justice, holiness, and honor.  It was the sort of feeling that I’ve gotten from watching Stephen King’s Desperation, or the 2006 Ten Commandments movie: God is cruel, but there is some justice in his cruelty—even though it does diverge from our sense of fairness, in areas.

For some reason, the pastor’s message about God’s guidance made a degree of sense to me.  I think there is a way to mis-apply that sort of message, though, at least in my experience.  “Does God want me to get this job, or that job?”  “Does God want me to take this class, or that class?”  When I got to Harvard Divinity School, I was eager to witness to my faith in that bastion of liberalism, and so I told people “I’m waiting for God to lead me” in terms of what classes I should take.  One day, I felt that God did not want me to major in Bible, since Bible classes would use the historical-critical method, which contradicts biblical inerrancy.  The next day, however, after hearing presentations from Bible professors, I concluded that Hebrew Bible was the field that I desired to pursue—for the presentations fascinated and intrigued me.  When I told a professor that I was waiting for God to lead me, he glibly replied, “Well, you better hear from him soon, because there’s a deadline!”  Good point!

Personally, I do not live as if God has a specific will for my life, and he will communicate that will to me in a clear manner.  If I were to live that way, I would continually wonder if I am doing God’s will, or something else.  I had a friend at Harvard who was being persecuted by students on account of his opposition to homosexuality, and he told me that, as he looked back, he concluded that God wanted him to attend Yale Divinity School, but, because he went to Harvard instead, God was punishing him.  I’m not sure if God works that way.  As I look back, I can’t really say that God wanted me to go on Path A, and I went on Path B.  I took the path that I took, based on my preferences, influence from other people, and what I knew at the time.  Maybe I would have been happier someplace else, or maybe not.  But there were advantages and disadvantages to where I was.  As I look back, I’m not sure where God was in my life.  But I do feel that God is with me now, for some reason.  I am very reluctant to say “God wants me to do THIS,” but I am open to wisdom.  I’m tempted to wait passively for God to open doors, but I realize that I myself need to research where the doors are!  Perhaps God works in this process.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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