Thursday, November 14, 2013

True Prophets and the Mystery of God's Will

The prophet Jeremiah complained that there was literally no one in Israel who told the truth. He said the false prophets prophesy: "Peace, Peace!" when there is no peace. It was Jeremiah's task to prophesy about God's judgment on Israel (Judah) in his time. In other words, right at the point of the nation's history when they were anxious about survival due to the impending threat from the Babylonians, Jeremiah gave them a word of doom, not of victory or security. He did prophesy that after judgment and destruction there would be grace and renewal, but the hard word he preached about judgment and destruction in Israel shook his fellow country folk up! And, they got so sick of hearing him, they tried to do away with him at times. There are very few true prophets. Maybe many are called, but few are chosen by God, since there are few that can bear the anger and rejection of their contemporaries that comes of speaking hard truths from God. Jeremiah's prophesying was remarkable for he didn't just speak words of judgment on Israel; he also expressed his grief and personal suffering over the destruction of Israel and the pain that its people would suffer. Jeremiah's words come to Israel as God's Word, with a mixture of judgment and grief over the consequences of judgment. When reading all of this, one might wonder: "If God was so hurt by Israel's suffering from judgment which came through the destructive attack on Israel by the Babylonias, then why didn't God do something to ward off the Persians? or Why didn't God judge them without allowing them to be destroyed?" I think the answer pushes us into a mystery about how God's will is tied up with the exercise of forces put in play by human will, and how God's freedom is a freedom exercised in relationship with a free creation, not the freedom of a puppeteer. By saying that, I haven't clarified how it is that God actually exercises dominion in history because truth is I just don't know. If God can in some way "will" both the destruction of Israel and deeply suffer it at the same time as the prophetic word of Jeremiah indicates, then God's will is something way more complex than we have generally acknowledged. There is another element to this reflection on God's Will. Unlike so many human authorities, God seems to dislike force. John Calvin used to speak of the affirmative will of God and the permissive will of God. If God was a God of force, God's affirmative will would be pushed through over and over. But, if God is not a God of force, then God's affirmative will (what God really desires to happen) is at best approximated in the events of history, and at worst, defied by human actors. And, God's permissive will becomes the real crucial thing because that is where God's will gets mixed in with human will and the forces of creation to bring about . . . well, God's will, whether it was really what God wanted in the first place or not.