“the will of god is not to believe in the will of god”
RACHEL But listen to me, we had confirmed reservations…
OFFICIAL Miss, there’s no more space on the plane. You’ll have to wait for the next flight.
JESUS What’s wrong, Rachel?
RACHEL These sons of … Israel have overbooked, and we don’t have seats on this flight.
JESUS They’ve over-what?
RACHEL We’ll have to wait for another flight, in the afternoon. Well, as my granny used to say, there’s always a reason. Maybe we’d have boarded that flight, and then that plane … God always has his reasons.
JESUS Why do you get God mixed up in this, Rachel?
RACHEL Because… wasn’t it you who said that even the hairs on our head are numbered and not one of them falls unless God allows it?
JESUS Yes, I said that.
RACHEL And so? If that’s the case with a hair, imagine with an airplane. Hold on a second, the studios are asking me to give to sign on…. Friends of Emisoras Latinas, here we are today, still in the Sinai airport. The airline overbooked the flight and has left us stranded. But the delay will allow us to converse further with Jesus Christ, who is here beside me, and an appropriate topic of conversation would be surrendering to divine providence. What do you think, Jesus?
JESUS What kind of surrender are you talking about, Rachel?
RACHEL The surrender you always recommended, just leaving everything in God’s hands.
JESUS “God will provide” – that’s what Abraham was saying to his son Isaac.
RACHEL Exactly. Because things happen when they have to happen. For example, I’ve been interviewing you these past few days. That was a good fortune that fell to me. And what falls to you, nobody takes it away from you, isn’t that so?
JESUS It seems to me, Rachel, that your mixing dates with olives.
RACHEL Tell me, why have I been the only reporter to have interviewed you in your second coming?
JESUS Because the others went away, … and because you and I met in Jerusalem. Or are you forgetting that?
RACHEL I remember it well. And I think that God arranged things well. It was … it was the will of God.
JESUS What do you mean, the will of God?
RACHEL That you should cross my path. So that our audience could hear you. … That’s what God wanted.
JESUS Don’t stick God in where he doesn’t belong. God had nothing to do with your being there that day on the esplanade.
RACHEL But you said that even the hairs of …
JESUS … the hairs of our head are numbered. I said that because there are people who suffer anxiety and become despaired, people who don’t live fully today for fear of what will happen tomorrow. Each day has troubles enough of its own – I also said that.
RACHEL And that’s not the same as leaving everything in God’s hands?
JESUS Not at all. That’s putting everything in your own hands. What you don’t do with your hands God will do for you. God’s hands are your hands, Rachel.
RACHEL Well, many of your followers teach us differently. They say “Are things going well for you? or are they going badly? Just resign yourself – it’s the will of God.” If they win the lottery, they say “Thank you, my God, you gave me the prize.” And if they lose their job, they say “I accept it, my God, you took it away from me.”
JESUS No doubt they also say that poor people are poor because of the will of God, and the poor will always be with us …
RACHEL Yes, they say that also.
JESUS No, Rachel. That’s not the will of God. Anyone who thinks that way is like a little baby who seeks its mother’s warmth in order to feel secure. God is our mother, yes, and God never abandons us. But haven’t you ever seen how mothers wean their children so that they’ll eat other food and grow stronger and walk on their own? Let me tell you the truth the will of God is … that we not believe in the will of God.
RACHEL And so?
JESUS And so, keep fighting with those sons of … Israel. Make a stink with those airline people to see when their will will be done so that we can get out of here.
RACHEL I’ll get on it right away. But first, I want to wind up our program. … Reporting from the Mount Sinai airport, this is Rachel Perez, for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
A religious belief
When we think that everything that happens in the world and all that happens to us personally happens just because of the “will of God”, then we are living according to a particular conception of history, the world and life, one that may be called “providentialism”. This consists in the belief that God is the true protagonist and subject of history and that we human beings are only instruments in his hands.
From the viewpoint of providentialism, God is just, and when evils occur, they are only “tests” that God sends to see if we are really faithful, to find out how long we will persevere, and to discover if we will renege on him. For providentialism human time and history are lacking in value: the true rewards and punishments come outside of time, in eternity. Providentialism considers “the ways of God” to be “inscrutable”: human beings cannot understand them and should not even question them.
There are many popular sayings and adages that express the providentialism of traditional religious culture: “What befalls you, nobody can take away from you”; “God will provide”; “A tree that is bent never straights its branches”; etc. Some people moderate such fatalism with common sense, expressed in sayings such as “God helps those who rise early,” but there are others who retort with: “Getting up earlier doesn’t make the sun rise sooner.”
The well-known saying of Jesus, “Each day has troubles enough of its own,” is echoed in various eastern philosophies. For example, the Dalai Lama has reportedly said: “There are two days in the year when you can’t do anything. One is called yesterday, and the other tomorrow. Therefore, today is the only day in which you can do something, the only one in which you can really live.”
One of the most valuable fruits of liberation theology was its questioning of the providentialist aspects of popular religiosity. It made people feel responsible for every day of their own history and helped them to become “agents of their own liberation”.
The providentialist Saint Augustine
Providentialism is an essential part of traditional Christianity and is at the root of Latin American religious culture, which did not collectively experience the liberating force of the Protestant Reformation or the Enlightenment. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, is considered to be the church’s first great providentialist. During his life Augustine witnessed the fall of the powerful Roman empire at the hands of barbarian peoples, and he judged that such a historical disaster could have occurred only by the “will of God”. In line with this providentialist interpretation of historical events, Attila, the leader of the Huns who laid siege to Rome and Constantinople, was called by the Christians of that time “the scourge of God”, a title that reflects providentialist ideas: more than a skilled warrior, Attila was a “test” sent by God.
History: a linear process directed by God
The providentialist idea prevailed for centuries. During the first years after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, many Catholic authors promoted the idea that the “discovery” of the New World as a territory to be evangelized was a providential act of God: God willed the discovery in order to compensate the Church for the evils caused to European Christendom by the Protestant Reformation.
Providentialism always presents history as a linear process directed by God. History is viewed as leaving an original state and moving toward a goal predetermined beforehand by Divine Providence; it moves from a negative situation, caused by original sin, toward a final salvation, which can be reached only in the “hereafter”. For providentialism, nothing that happens is the full responsibility of human willing, which is ruled by the will of God, the God who fashions the destiny of individuals, nations, and the entire world. The doctrine of “predestination”, developed by Augustine and defended centuries later by Luther and Calvin, is a still more radical expression of providentialism. All these ideas are, of course, highly detrimental to any appreciation of human freedom.
The breeding ground of resignation
Nicaragua political scientist Andrés Pérez Baltodano has offered extensive critical reflections on providentialism, and also on its political consequences. He finds providentialism responsible for the mood of resignation that characterizes the political cultures of Nicaragua and, to a greater or lesser degree, most other Latin American countries. He designates that culture as one of “resigned pragmatism.” Some of his ideas are as follows:
“Resigned pragmatism” is a concept I use to explain our vision of history and of our role in history. “Resigned pragmatism” is a way of thinking or a culture which inclines us to adapt ourselves to reality and accept reality just as it is. The resigned pragmatic way of thinking does not aspire toward transformation. It renders us incapable of being so scandalized by the reality we experience that we wish to change it. … This way of thinking has allowed us to become habituated to the brutal levels of poverty suffered by our fellow citizens, and to the impunity and the corruption of our officials.
But where does resigned pragmatism come from? What is the origin of this culture, this way of conceiving power and history? I believe that one of the principal roots of resigned pragmatism is to be found in the providentialism that has dominated our religious culture. Providentialism is a view of history that would have us believe that God is the force that organizes every movement we make. It is a way of viewing life which makes God responsible for what happens to my uncle, to me, to Nicaragua as a society, to Iraq, and to the rest of the world. In this vision of history shaped by providentialism, it is God, not us, who is the regulator, the administrator, the auditor of everything that happens in history.
Some theologians distinguish between “meticulous providentialism” and “general providentialism”, and they claim that in some societies the meticulous type prevails, while in others it has been transformed into “general providentialism”. According to meticulous providentialism, God is in charge of everything: rain and drought, cancer and cancer cures, the direction of every hurricane. Those who defend general providentialism have a somewhat different understanding. Some hold that God created the world and then left us on our own, while others say that God intervenes every once in a while. General providentialism always allows space for human freedom. I personally think that what is necessary is not to remove God from the game, but to surmount the meticulous providentialism that now afflicts us and to seek out the true place of God and the place of our own freedom. And on that road, if anyone should decide to be an atheist, let him be one, but an honest atheist.
How do we know what God’s will is?
Providentialism is actively promulgated in the present day by official Catholicism through its communications media, its preaching and its devotions “to Divine Providence”. One of the most popular Catholic spokespersons, Mother Angelica, says, for example: Many people ask the question: How do I know what God’s will is for me? The answer is simple: “If it happens, then it is God’s will. It doesn’t matter whether God ordains it or simply allows it, because nothing happens to us if God has not first foreseen it, taken into account the good that will come of it and given his seal of approval.
The submission to God’s will that results from ideas like these has much to do also with the Church’s institutional power. Many of the “spokespersons” of the churches claim that God’s will finds its true expression in the words of the priests and pastors who interpret the Bible and Christian traditions. Consequently, obeying God’s will ends up being the same as obeying the not exactly disinterested human will of the hierarchies which claim to represent God.
In reality, everything is much simpler – but not necessarily easier, because “fear of freedom” is also a reality. In overcoming this fear we should become responsible for our lives and for history itself. We should grow and mature as adults. When Jesus says to Rachel, “The will of God is … that we not believe in the will of God,” he calls to mind the prayer of the German chemist Otto Hahn, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1994. Hahn’s prayer goes like this: May God give me strength not trust blindly, not even in God himself.