This game of life we’re playing is really God’s game. Creation and our role in this world are based upon God’s plan and essentially His will.
Everything that happens, good or bad, planned or unplanned, new or old, is either something God directly wills or He allows. God is all-powerful, so He can intervene, change course or even perform a miracle, either on His own or using one of us to do His work.
And, all the rules about everything that happens in this ballgame are God’s will.
So, you might ask “Wait a minute, you mean that nothing I do or say affects anything that happens in my life? I don’t really have any choices in the matter and I’m just along for God’s ride?”
The answer to that is “NO” because God also allowed us to have free will.
And, then, because you think you’re so smart, you might say, “So which is it? Do I make choices for my life or does God determine what happens in my life?”
The answer to that is “Both”. And, you ask “How can that be?”
I’m sure you can find a lot of information from philosophers and theologians discussing this big question. How can this concept of God’s overriding will operate simultaneously with our free will? I think the answer is that we really don’t know.
There are some aspects of creation and life that we will never fully understand until we’re in Heaven. They are called mysteries. If you want to just throw up your hands and say that seems like a cop-out, I can’t stop you. But, Faith tells me that I’m not God and I can’t grasp every part of His plan. This is one among many mysteries. Some faiths are more definitive about a lot of things, but the Catholic Faith is honest in saying we don’t know every answer. We just believe in God’s Providence.
Our Big Problem
The rub comes for you and me because of free will. That’s mostly what I’m going to concentrate on here. Free will. Our power to make choices, even if we don’t know it or don’t want to think about it. Free will gives us a lot of “rights” but many of the “rights” are wrong because free will allows us to sin.
Most of us have pretty cushy lives. God’s will has been exceptionally good to us, if we live in the United States and have the standard of living most of us enjoy.
Believe me, I know that’s not true for everyone and many of you have experienced some setbacks or tough lives that have caused much pain and suffering. We all know people who have taken on tremendous challenges and yet have lived faithful, productive lives. They are often good examples of using free will well.
Our major concern should be to determine whether our own free will matches up with God’s will for us. That’s what God is really watching and He actually says we’re responsible for doing His will. So, this accountability for our lives and those entrusted to us is the big problem.
For most of my life, I really didn’t think about God’s will very much. Probably if you asked me, I’d have said “I want to do His will and I think I pretty much am”. After all I was a “good person”, at least as far as I was concerned.
For many of us, we’re also quick to say we’re fine with doing God’s will and we’re happy with what God has given us. When your will and goals for your life pretty much line up with the way God is allowing you to live, everything is just fine. Of course, some of those “sins” we talked about before, that we know deep down are wrong, if they don’t seem to be affecting us negatively, we just party on.
God sees all this and He’s thinking, “Let’s see how much you love Me”. And, He sends you a test…a health scare, an untimely death of a loved one, a miscarriage, unemployment, a marriage crisis, an addictive child, your own addiction, etc. Plus, every day He’s seeing how you live by what the Church teaches, your sacrifices for Him and how you worship Him.
You might not fully realize what this all means, but the first big question you have to ask yourself is “Do I want to live by God’s will?” (Most don’t or are horrified to even think about God’s will.)
If your answer to that question is “yes”, then know that it is not just a papered over version of your free will that fits the life you want to live. You will need to find out what God’s will is for you. It might be dramatically different than what you thought or what you want.
Do you think you’re good enough to play God’s game?
Yes, I Want to Live by God’s Will, But How Do I Know What He Wants for Me?
This is really one of the big questions of life. Even if you’ve decided you think you want to follow His will, how do you know what He wants you to do? How are you supposed to read God’s mind?
I will tell you that I struggle with this question a lot and I’m still trying to understand God’s will for me. But, I’ve come to realize that we can make it a lot more complicated than we really need to. Truthfully, the answers are really pretty clear for the biggest chunk of our lives.
We envision all these goals, dreams and “forks in the road” that we need to evaluate. And, we try to think very long-term, as if we can create this big life plan looking out decades into the future.
Some of that is just fine, but realize that God says to us pretty much “Just live one day at a time, and give this moment, this day to Me.” In my simple mind, I reflect on the Our Father where Jesus told us to say “Give us this day our daily bread”, which means to me that all we really need is the resources to live this one day well.
God has told us His will for each day in Church teachings, the Bible, the Catechism, official pronouncements of popes or bishops and writings of the best Catholic writers.
The trap that many of us fall into is thinking we just need to follow our conscience. We may start to reject many of the Church teachings. We should follow our conscience, but we need a well-formed conscience. So, we must know what the Catholic Church teaches. Ignorance is not bliss in God’s eyes. It’s actually irresponsible. I will confess that I was ignorant for most of my life.
And, if you plan to substitute your own judgment or that of some enlightened culture or friends/family that are pressuring you to accept something clearly contrary to the Church…I wouldn’t want to be out on that limb with you. If you are struggling with one of these teachings or don’t understand it, why don’t you go talk to a priest or ask in the Confessional? Sadly, the answer is that often we don’t want to submit ourselves to the hard truths of our Faith.
If you’re married or have a religious vocation or are single, there are some aspects of your life that are pretty clear. A priest or nun can’t be out dating and flirting because that’s against their state in life. And, chances are you can’t give up everything just to pursue your dream of being an actor if you have a wife and six kids.
Our idealized culture sometimes revels in someone who leaves it all behind to follow their dreams or takes big risks with their lives. But, those are just fairy tales in God’s eyes. Value the life you have and perhaps the mission He’s given you. I know I have fallen prey to the “did it my way” approach at times and it has gotten me in trouble. There are times when I should just have submitted to what was best for my family and not my own selfish will.
God is going to give you opportunities and challenges. You will misread some of the situations and go down a path that wasn’t really God’s will. Don’t beat yourself up for that. But learn to get better at evaluating these opportunities, the people He sends into your life and the talents He gives you. What path is consistent with the truth of the Church? And, do your analysis in prayer, possibly in the Adoration Chapel. Consult other good Catholics, read appropriate Catholic literature, watch great Catholic media, etc.
And, the challenges, the hard stuff, the suffering that you just want to run away from? Learn to accept it. Our first inclination is to find the easy way out…which could mean a divorce, a different lifestyle, despair because of an illness, or turning your back to God.
Most of life, perhaps 95%, is truly surrender to Church teaching, your state of life, and the challenges God has given you. Some is the result of your sins or the sins of others.
We may not like to admit it or submit to it, but most of us have pretty much the same will for our lives. How we love, forgive, follow commandments, sacrifice, worship, etc. are all laid out clearly and none of us is exempted.
Certainly, you should examine your life. Have the gumption to critically evaluate all aspects of your life. Are you following the basics as I’ve laid out above? What is God saying by how your life is progressing, the doors He’s opening and the doors He’s closing? What people and resources are appearing for you? Try not to overreact to these clues or act too quickly.
Discernment is a word you hear a lot and it’s very much used for the process of whether to become a priest or a nun. Such discernment involves talking to the right people, consulting good resources, prayer, time alone with God, the Eucharist, Confession and more. You should discern before you get married or evaluate how to best live single life. And, perhaps at major decision points in your life.
Does that sound like how you are making decisions now? Are you examining, surrendering and discerning?
I only wish I had entered into a process like this much earlier in life. I offer it to you now to help with your journey.
And, I realize that my rejection of God’s will was part of His plan for me. He let me go down, make mistakes and mess things up. I still get it wrong a lot.
There is salvation at the end of this journey.
For me and for you.
© John S. Cohoat, 2017
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