On doing the will of God          (E.J.Tyler)

1. One’s own will or that of the other

  There are many winning characteristics in a child. He is engagingly dependent because he is fairly helpless. He looks to his parents for everything, for love, for care, for protection. He could not bear to be separated from his parents, at least not for some time. The image of a child is an image of one who is  docile, doing trustingly what the parents want. Our Lord said that unless we become like little children we will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. He was surely referring to the obedience and trust a child normally has towards his parent. The child, we could say, typically entrusts himself entirely to his parents and to what the parents want of him. However, we often notice that as a new-born child grows, so does that child’s tendency to refuse to do what it is asked or told to do. There is that other tendency to want his own way, to do his own will and not that of the parent. In the case of vast numbers of persons, that tendency that shows itself in childhood of wanting one’s own way as a means of self-assertion or  dominance over others is the tendency that gains ultimate sway. In the case of many persons the other tendency of childlike docility or readiness to trust in the will and the decisions of the other virtually disappears from life. Of course, one could not go through life simply trusting in the will and the decisions of others because often all they want to do anyway, is get their own way. No, but the point is that the very readiness to forego one’s own will for the sake of what is right can so easily be lost. The great love of one’s life can very easily become one’s own will, which means that the great love of one’s life will be oneself. When that happens, a person is placing his own will at the centre of life and of the world.

2. God is the heart and centre of reality

  In fact, what is at the centre of life and at the centre of the world? It is not our will, not what we want, but God’s will and what he wants. I remember years ago speaking to a student who like myself at that time was studying philosophy. He once said this to me: “The thing that makes me wonder is the fact that I am not God. Why is it that am I not God, rather than God being the one who is God?” Absurd as it is, a question like this at least points to the fact that the only centre and heart of reality is God. None of us, nor any other thing of our experience, occupies that centre. There is no god but God, and that question, why am I not God? comes up against that hard fact that there is no god but God. But the danger is that we will prefer and want to occupy that place, and very many in the history of mankind have wanted to occupy and usurp that place in the presence of other men. Many of the pharoahs of Egypt did, and Alexander the Great attempted to arrogate to himself divine status. The Bible tells us that he was very proud, and implies that that was one reason for his early death. Now, if we accept the reality of God and of who God really is, we will accept the truth that without him we are nothing. If our commitment to this truth is real, we will accept it wholeheatedly. The danger is that we may  not recognise within ourselves the tendency to want to occupy the central place in life, and that central place can only be occupied by God. Have you ever observed a dog that wants to be the top dog among other dogs? We tend to want to be at the centre, whereas the truth lies in recognising that we depend totally on the one who occupies the centre, God.

3. The key is to accept the will of God

  The linchpin of this recognition of God is the acceptance of and the fulfilment of his will. The very first pages of the Bible speak of what God willed to do. No other will was in operation but his, and from that will came everything that is. The universe came to be because God willed it. He said, let there be light, and so it was, there was light. Let there be the sun and the moon and the stars, and so it was, there were these. Let us make man in our own image, and so it was. That is to say, the fundamental reality from which everything else flows is God and his holy will. There is one God, and from his will come all that there are, including each of us endowed as we have been with the gift of free will making us like unto God. God with his holy will simply is, and he is from all eternity and for all eternity. Each of us with our own will hangs in the balance on the will of God our creator. The danger is that, seeing and knowing that we are able to exercise our free will as we like, we could, in our exercise of it, want to occupy the place God occupies, namely the centre. We do this by doing what we like independently of God and of others. We act as if we are God in our own tiny sphere, the sphere in which God has placed us. In this way doing our own will becomes a denial of God and his holy will. If this happens we leave behind us truth and move into fantasy and unreality.

4. This happened in heaven

   This tendency and course of action appeared in heaven itself before the material world and man were made. The angels were created by God in his image as persons with free will, with the capacity to choose him and his holy will freely. In some sense God manifested his will and plan to them and some wholeheartedly accepted it, while some rebelled, definitively and finally wanting their own will and their own plan instead. They said, I will never serve. They did not recognise nor respect the will of God, and by doing this in effect they refused to accept that God, and only God, is God, and wanted to occupy that position themselves. It was a deliberate flight from reality. And so their friendship with him was totally severed beyond recall and they were cast out of his presence never to enjoy it again. And so it is that ever since, all these long ages since that rebellion, Satan and his demonic associates have been consumed with hatred for God and have been inexorably working against his will and his plan. Their doom is sealed and they know it. They will be locked out forever from communion with God and, indeed, from one another. There is no friendship between the devils - they are simply united in their hatred and that is how it will be for ever and for ever. But the point to remember here is that this was the upshot of refusing to accept the plan and the will of God. That is the result of rebellion, of sin. By contrast, the archangels and angels who accepted wholeheartedly the will of God recognised that he was God, and only he was God. They were simply his creatures and totally depending on him for all they were and all they had. Their acceptance of God’s plan and his will resulted in an eternity of happiness for them, and the joy of serving his salvific plan. There are myriads of guardian angels serving God by helping countless members of God’s human family to obey the will of God in their lives. To what extent they succeed would be known only to God, but the point is that the will of God is at the centre of everything. The existence of the angels revolves around the will of God. Accepting God’s will leads to life and bliss, not accepting it leads to doom.

5. This is what happened on earth

  What happened in heaven had an immense ramification on earth, for at the dawn of human history Satan intervened to initiate the same pattern in human history. He had refused God’s will, and he was determined to see the same thing happen on earth because he would not accept that God is God. He wanted that unique position. And so after our first parents had been told by God that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Satan intervened and told Eve that God had commanded that because he knew that if they did eat of it they would be like gods. So he was suggesting to Eve that if she were to do her own will she would be god-like herself. He was suggesting rebellion against God. It was the old story that had appeared in heaven itself with such terrible consequences. And so Eve fell. She did her own will in defiance of God and seduced Adam to do the same and what a joint fall it was! Man was left alienated from God, profoundly wounded in his nature, and deprived of the wonderful gifts of grace with which he had been endowed. As St Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, sin entered the world through one man and with sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race. This was the consequence of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - it was the promise of God, that if they were to eat of it, they would die. St Paul says elsewhere in the Letter to the Romans that the wages of sin are death. This is the consequence of refusing obedience to God. The way to life is by lovingly doing the will of God.

6. The figure of Jesus our Lord 

  But more than anything, if we want to know what doing the will of God means, we must contemplate the person of Jesus. If you love me, our Lord said once, keep my commandments. Keeping God’s commandments is the expression of true love for God and a true recognition of him, and the exemplar of all this is Jesus. We remember how at the beginning of his public ministry our Lord was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Among the temptations the devil showed our Lord the kingdoms of the world and then he promised to give all these kingdoms to our Lord if he would but kneel down and worship him. The devil wanted to occupy the place of God. Our Lord resoundingly rejected him and sent him off with “begone Satan!” Our Lord’s love was the will of his Father, and he said on another occasion that his real brothers, mother and sisters were those who did the will of his Father in heaven. He said that it was not those who said to him “Lord, Lord” who would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who did the will of his Father.

   But the greatest lessons for the living of a religious and Christian life are to be found by contemplating Jesus on the cross. If we want to see the consequences of doing and of not doing the will of God, we ought look upon the crucified Jesus. Our Lord died on the cross because it was the will of his heavenly Father that he bear on his shoulders unto death the sins of the world, and in this way take away the world’s sin. Doing the will of God saved the world from the results of its disobedience. Doing the will of God no matter what the cost was the expression of Jesus’ love for the Father, and it is the constant expression of our love for God. Our ambition should be to do the will of God to the end in imitation of Jesus. If we look upon the crucified Jesus we shall see how that is done. Conversely, if we want to appreciate what not doing the will of God entails and what it leads to, then, yes, consider the sin of Satan and the devils, and of our first parents, but especially let us look on the crucified Jesus. It was sin that nailed the Son of God to the cross. As we gaze on the dying Jesus, immersed in unimaginable sufferings, let us understand that all this was the result of man not obeying the will of God. Sin put Jesus there on the cross. Our Lord’s crucifixion shows us what obedience to the will of God is, and it shows us what disobeying the will of God is. As we gaze on the crucifix we ought resolve to do the will of God out of love for and in imitation of Jesus.

   That is to say, we were made to know, love and serve God here on earth, and to love him with all our mind, all our heart and all our strength. This is all concentrated in one thing: doing the will of God in imitation of Jesus. He is the one who shows us the way of doing this. Imitation of Christ means especially doing the will of the Father as he did it. This is what we were made for and in this we shall find our happiness here on earth, and especially hereafter in heaven. It is the path to eternal joy, whereas to disregard what God wants and to do precisely what he does not want is to take the path towards the loss of heaven and our eternal soul. It is straightforward. We must choose life by doing God’s will, and avoid death by refusing to commit sin. Jesus is our model, and the source of grace that enables us to live like him and in union with him.

7. The spirit of detachment
  But if I am to do this, I must be completely attached to God and more and more detached from all that can take me away from him. It is said that St Thomas Aquinas was once asked by his sister what is necessary to become a saint. He said that what is necessary is that a person really want it. The reason why we do not make much progress in holiness and in the love of God is that we want other things just as much as God, or, unknown to ourselves, other things more than God. If we are ever going to make progress in the constant fulfilment of the will of God we have to make progress in the knowledge of ourselves. We have to come to know the sorts of things that our heart is really clinging to. Knowing ourselves we can then take steps to set things right by means of a daily struggle with the real obstacles that are taking God’s place in our hearts. If we are unaware that we are deeply attached to getting our own way, then that obstacle will stay there hidden in our life because we are taking no steps to overcome it. If we are unaware that we are slothful and unwilling to take great efforts in doing our God-given work well, then it is unlikely that we will ever really overcome that obstacle to the daily fulfilment of God’s will in our life. So we must, especially through a daily examination of conscience and the grace of God, learn to know ourselves and what are the real obstacles in our life to the fulfilment of God’s will, and then resolutely attack and overcome those faults each day. We have to concentrate on particular areas of struggle so as to achieve the detachment necessary to become totally attached to God in love. The aim of life is to become totally attached to God and his holy will, and detached from anything other than his will. All things, our family, our spouse, everything in life, we must come to see and love in God and in the context of his will and plan. In our family life, in our work, in everything we ought be loving and serving God in our love and service of others.

   Let us then ask our Lord, the Holy Spirit and our heavenly Father to help us to want above all else the love of God and his grace. Everything else can go if it be the will of God, but God’s will ought be the love of our life. If it is, God is at the centre. That is the task and the challenge of life. It is a task we gradually fulfil day by day in the exact and loving fulfilment of God’s will in our tiny, unnoticed, repeated, everyday duties.