I believe in free will. I just don’t believe in lone will.
Lonely free will making its way through a mess of heartless and random circumstances – that’s how the world looks to the proponent of absolute free will. At the extreme of free will is Sartrean existentialism, and its epitome is freedom so radical and ensuing loneliness so desperate that the effort of living begins to exceed the point — the return, the joy, the worth of the lived life.
At the other extreme is predestination, a path for each of us pre-written and predetermined by an all-powerful hand of an all-knowing God. A God with a plan who will not be swayed or persuaded, and we – tiny and helpless creatures, trying desperately to guess at His unfathomable Will.
This is the crux of it. This is the term: the Will of God. What is the Will of God? Is there even such a thing? And if so, can we fathom a concept that would do no violence to the delicate line between taking away from humanity its free will and leaving humanity alone in a wasteland of existence to fend for itself?
First things first. Let me say that I think indeed there is such a thing as the Will of God. In fact, I think the Will of God is the very order of the universe, its impetus and engine. We’ve been very careful lately with this term, for it is so easily misunderstood after centuries of literal approach. I’ve heard many a Sister shy away from it or ask with concern what is meant every time someone uses the word.
Last night at dinner with my beloved Dominican Sisters I’ve used the word “plan,” as in “a possibility to interfere with God’s plan.” It’s a dangerous word, and immediately my Sisters called my attention to it, and a discussion ensued.
I agree; we must watch these words in context. We must navigate these ideas in our minds before casually throwing them out into the ether. I may have been too lax with this one – lax enough to misunderstand or to be misunderstood. Or both.
I don’t believe in predestination – not in a simple sense, not in a literal sense. While I sometimes linger on events that are just so fortuitous and needed – or just so difficult and needed – and while I often wonder about the confluences of our lives (especially mine) and how so many disparate and often awful things can work out together just as they must, I do not envision a reality where a micromanaging God writes out an outline of each human life or decides its outcome. I don’t believe this because I believe in free will.
But I believe also in an ordered Creation unfolding toward an ultimate goal, envisioned by its source and end, its Creator. The path to that goal – to the Kingdom of Heaven – we might say is the “plan.” If God is the Artist, and the world is His living art, then, the process of creation – the blossoming of temporal existence toward the Last Day – must proceed in accord with God’s vision for it (another Dominican-born word from last night), God’s flow through it. God’s plan. Somehow, some way. More or less quickly, imperfectly, growing, forming – but it must become more and more so, or it won’t succeed. It must become. Isn’t that the Will of God?
Each of us participates in this development of the world through time into the Kingdom of God – we participate in Creation. So each of us can fit into this work and flow with this flow, more or less. Better or worse. Can we not say that the Will of God for each person is to find that fit, that synch into the currents and forces that transform the world into the Kingdom? In other words, isn’t the Will of God for each of us to be most effective in promoting Universal Love?
Most of us know that we each have a unique combination of multiple gifts, talents, temperaments, and circumstances, and so in this fluid and changing world, through stages of our lives, faced with choices and preferences, we make the best of what we have at every moment – we find a path to the light that may be straight or not so straight, dry or not as dry or not as scenic as the next or even thorn-covered, but as long as we can see the light, it leads in the right direction. To God. And as long as our path leads to God, our walking is probably God’s Will.
It happens, I know, that on occasion a human heart refuses to believe that an alternative path exists. Some of us find ourselves one day believing from the depths of our being that some path or another is truly God’s Will for us, the only thing. And we persist in it then, no matter what, with or against the world, crawl and hang off cliffs and die trying or bloom into vocations unequaled in arts and in service, in sciences and causes that have made humanity all the good it is.
How does one discern God’s Will? How does one understand the concept? One of my Dominican Sisters put it very simply: “God wants us to be happy.” This I love. I think it is true on a deeply profound level. It helps me center all of my disheveled ideas on the topic as if around an axis. Of course, “happy” is as dangerous a word as “plan.” As easy to misunderstand. Here, I don’t think she meant happiness in a casual way as a transient experience of pleasure or easy life. Perhaps, satisfaction – at least, sometimes. But even satisfaction is not the point. I think, she called up happiness from that overlap of joy and fulfillment which, even when the transient moods and landscapes of our paths are far from pleasurable, remains a constant soothing undertone that propels us forward, reminds us of the goodness of life, connects us with the joyful and supportive grander flow of Love, and allows us to use the full capacity of our natures and gifts to channel that flow.
In other words, God wants us to be happy. But it doesn’t mean He doesn’t care how we get there. I think, when you figure Love into the equation, you get God Who wants us to be happy…together.
God is in the process of creation with the world, growing the Kingdom of Heaven. Grace of God and will of the world, intertwined. What does God want each of us, little voices in this unfathomable choir, to contribute?
Here is my metaphor. My current metaphor. It may change, for I don’t really know this.
Think of existence as an insanely complex chord. Uncountable instruments sounding their notes from the vastness of space and innumerable dimensions, each living soul contributing its voice, each little spec of created reality, blinking in and out, serene and screechy, some louder, some prominent, most briefly and quietly – all reverberating against each other. The first violin or, if you prefer, the tuning fork tone – the crystal-clear, soaring tone of the unifying fabric of existence — is the note of Universal Love: the temporal form of Divine Nature, the Good.
This orchestra is still tuning itself to the sound of Love – some have got it, others have not. It’s still quite a cacophony, now, but with each passing eon Creation is harmonizing itself, slowly, learning and struggling to find the right notes. Some instruments can pick one of many notes in harmony with the tuning sound — their choices abound, each will have a flavor within the Will of God. Try an octave or a fifth or even a nice, soothing major third. Others are single-minded, single-noted, single-sounded instruments. A timpani is in or out of tune; those are her options. She will search for her one assigned note until there is no breath in her. She will know the Will of God when she can breathe, for she can breathe nothing else.
When it comes together, this harmony will be massive; this chord will span the range from the awe-inspiring basses that dissolve into the darkness of infra-sound to the lace-weaving chirping of flutes. This chord will be gigantic, every kind of voice and note – unique – will find its place, but every one will be in harmony with each other and with the sound of Love. This will be the Kingdom of God, and triumphant for God’s ear it will be ready. Perhaps, then, in the indescribable para-temporal way of Eternity, the symphony of the Kingdom will play, but my metaphor falls flat there.
For now, we are still tuning, and it is this harmony that we feel with our whole being as joy and fitness with the world and fulfillment of our natures. That’s when we are happy. We flow with Love and with time. We do the Will of God. And it is the lack of harmony we feel, when we fall out of tune, as loneliness and misery and aimlessness and hatred, as bitterness or boredom. That’s when we go against the Will of God. Out of synch with our own nature. Interfering with His plan.
So. What do you think?