What if It’s NOT The “Will” of God?
The Lord calls us to trust him in times of disappointment and confusion. In these past few years, Sadie and I feel like we’ve been in a season of discouragement and disorientation more than that of fulfillment and clarity. I joke with my friends that being raised an Arkansas Razorback football fan has prepared me to take letdowns on the chin. For any of you who want to read on, this is our latest blow.
Before we get into, however, let me make a few qualifications. First, please know this is not a “We want you to feel sorry for us” sort of post. Rather it is an effort to be transparent as I process out loud. The tone is not meant to be that of an Adele break-up song (nor of a Taylor Swift one!) but that of a Lauren Daigle trust song or a Psalm of David. Second, I admit that this struggle is light compared to the weightier ones we’ve had in the past—not to mention the suffering many of you are going through at the moment. Finally, this is meant to be more of a memoir recording my questions than a systematic treatment declaring dogmas. Read it in light of the former and go elsewhere for the latter.
Okay, so here we go:
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but for the past few months or so, I have been in an interview process for a significant and really cool European post. I’ll spare you the details. Just believe me when I say that God surprised us with this possible opportunity and gave us affirmation after affirmation that he was leading us that way. Surprisingly, where we expected the most resistance is where we received the most support. The push back we did receive helped us avoid being naïve, and once we worked through them seemed to further confirm the call. The more we prayed and fasted about the opportunity, the more the Lord filled us with enthusiasm about it.
With all of this said, I received an email yesterday morning that that the search committee decided to go with the other candidate. We took the news in stride and with my reformed sensibilities assumed that this was divine providence shutting the door at the last minute. In my best Augustine impersonation, I reminded myself that since God’s ways are higher than my ways, I just needed to “man up” and embrace the mystery.
Similarly, when Sadie and I shared the news with those who had been praying for and with us through the process, we got the standard well-intentioned (and theologically sound) lines that one comes to expect. The “you just have to trust this is not what God had for you,” “He’s got something better out there for you,” “He must not be done with you here,” sort of phrases. Again, these “it wasn’t His will” lines are good lines, lines that I have been telling myself.
But, but, but . . .
There’s still something in the back of my mind, an irritation in my spirit, a question at the bottom of my heart: “What if it is not the will of God?” Have I too quickly chalked things up to providence? Is my resigning this to the will of God more of a psychological defense mechanism than a genuine theological conviction? Am I trying to avoid being angry with God? Is it possible that God is also frustrated with the search committee’s decision?
I should say that I am not trying to second-guess their decision; they probably made the right decision. I highly respect their conviction for and practice of prayer throughout the process. It was evident that they too want God’s best. We loved talking to them for hours over Skype. That we enjoyed them so much, however, makes it even stranger that the Holy Spirit led them through prayer to a different decision than what we thought the Holy Spirit was saying to us. It reminds me of the passage in Acts where a group of believers attempted “through the Spirit” to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). What is striking is that in the previous chapter Paul claims that he was “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). Did the Spirit change his mind or did Paul misunderstand the Spirit or did the believers appeal to the Spirit though it did not line up God’s will? That is to ask: was the Lord being inconsistent, or was the apostle or the believers somewhat wrong about the will of God, or was it something else?
I often agree with Dr. Randy Richards, whom I consider my Jedi Master Yoda in Pauline studies. This dilemma in Acts 20–21 is one interpretive issue, however, that he and I go back and forth on. While we both don’t believe God changed his mind, Richards thinks Paul was arrogantly wrong and even makes this case in his must-read, forthcoming book: Paul Behaving Badly. Nevertheless, I think that Luke (the author of Acts, not the Skywalker one) is on Paul’s side. I believe Luke wants to show that despite the well-intentioned, spiritual pleadings, the apostle does not let the believers deter him and sets off towards Jerusalem fully warned of the danger he will face there. The point here is not to get into the weeds of our debate but merely to show how a group of committed, godly believers or the heroic apostle himself in their respective appeals to the Holy Spirit seem to have misunderstood God’s will.
Not that it matters that much now. This ship has passed, and that water’s under the bridge. Sure we’re still disappointed, but we’re not bitter—still a bit confused but not despairing. And at the end of the day, we come back to where we started: banking on the will of God. For even if it wasn’t his perfect intention, we are confident that he will work it for good as we bask in his love and continue to pursue his purpose: the best we know how.