I received some great news yesterday.
I’ve been accepted into Yale Divinity School!
I’m humbled, excited, proud, nervous, and just about everything in between.
But there’s a catch.
Whether or not I am actually able to attend Yale, or any other school that I’ve applied for, is entirely dependent upon where my wife “matches” for her residency. This May my wife will graduate from medical school, which is awesome and I’m incredibly proud of her. However, that’s just half the battle. After med school, all doctors must do time in residency before their medical training is complete. Unfortunately, the residency process is not as simple as just applying for an open position at a hospital of your choice.
Medical students must first apply to dozens of hospitals, some of which will grant them an interview. After the interviews are done, students rank those hospitals based on which ones they would like to attend most. The hospitals also rank the students based on who they want to be in their program. Then comes the really fun part: a computer “matches” every student in the country to a particular hospital.
This isn’t an immediate process. In began last September and will not end until this spring.
All medical students this year (except those in really competitive fields such as urology and ophthalmology who find out “early”) will find out where they go at the same time: March 16th. At 12pm that day my wife, along with thousands of other people, will open up the envelope that will quite literally reveal our future. We could end up any in of a dozen spots from Connecticut, to South Carolina, to California, and many other places in between. The envelope will tell us what to do.
Although, that’s not to say I would not have liked a few envelopes in the past to tell me what to do with my future. Instead of having to decide on my own what college to go to, or what career to pursue, or where to live, wouldn’t things have just been easier if I could have opened up an envelope to tell me what to do, who to be, where to go, or even what meal to eat when I can’t decide between steak or seafood?
Sure, that might take “free will” out of the equation, but it would keep me from doing the “wrong” thing.
Of course, there are almost never envelopes waiting to be opened which will tell us which decision we “should” make. But that doesn’t stop us from looking for them. And it doesn’t keep us from becoming enslaved to them either.
How do you become enslaved to imaginary fortune telling envelopes? It’s actually quite easy. Many of us do it without it even realizing it, especially if we are people of faith.
As Christians we may not have “envelopes”, but we do have something far more powerful: God’s will.
For many of us, God’s will is a predetermined plan for our lives. For many of us, God has already written the story of our lives, making all of our decisions for us in advance. It is simply our job to figure out what that will, or plan, is and follow it. In other words, we need to find the envelopes God has left for us and follow their directions.
Here’s the catch…….there are no envelopes.
It makes for a nice narrative. It fits well within theological systems which demand that God is in control of absolute everything at all times, having already predetermined everything. However, this sort of theology undermines the very foundation of the Christian faith.
When we look at the cross we see a God who has given up control. Period.
Either God gave up control and allowed humanity to murder Jesus, or what we are witnessing is either an act of patricide, suicide, or both; neither of which are theologically tenable.
That act of kenosis, or giving up, would be frightening and probably cause to abandon faith in God if the story stopped there, but it doesn’t. We when continue on to Easter morning we see a God who is ultimately in control, but who is willing to give up some of that control for the sake of God’s creation.
This should have a profound impact on our understanding of God, the future, and how we are called to live our lives.
If the Biblical narrative teaches us anything, it’s that the people of God are in a dynamic relationship with their God. They are not mere robots responding to the push of a divine button. There are countless times with they reject the commands of God. If they weren’t free to do this, and it was in fact God who forced them to do this, then they could not be held accountable and God would be both the author of sin and the source of evil.
Instead, we see a God who chooses to journey with God’s people. God certainly goes before them leading the way, but God is not standing at the finish line waiting for them to find envelopes scattered along the way which will show us the “right” path.
God journeys with us.
God gives us the power, ability, and responsibility to make our own decisions. God allows us to decide where we want to live, who we want to marry, what job we want to have, or even what color car we want to buy. God does not force anything upon us. Even when God “calls” us to something particular, God does not force us to “answer”. Instead, God has chosen to work through us, rather than work above or before us predetermining all of life. If that were the case, then “life” would be nothing more than a grand illusion, a divine joke.
That’s not to say that God does not have a “will” or a “plan” for our lives, but we must be very clear about what that means. God does not have a unique will for each of our lives because God has not predetermined every moment of our lives. God’s will is the same for all of us: God wants us to be in a loving relationship with God so that we can participate in God’s redemption of all things.
Likewise, God does have a “plan” for each of us, but it is not a mystery we need to unravel or an envelope we need to find and open. We all have gifts, talents, abilities, and passions. If we believe that God created us, then there is only one place from which those gifts could have been given, there is only one source of our talent and (healthy) passions: God. God gave us the talent to do the things we do well and the passion to do them. God gave us these gifts and passions because God wants us to use them. When we do that, when we use our gifts for the kingdom of God, then we are doing the “will” of God, we are living out God’
In other words, God’s will or plan for our lives should be a source of freedom and fulfillment, not life draining enslavement. If you want to be a teacher, teach. If you want to be a musician, play your music. If you want to go into business, go into business. If you want to be a plumber, be a plumber. But do it all for the glory of God and you will find yourself right smack in the center of God’s will for your life.
We don’t have to fret and worry about choosing the “wrong” path, because there is no “wrong” path, at least in the sense an occupation or college or place to live where God cannot accomplish God’s redemptive work. It is here where we can really see the amazing grace of God at work. Regardless of where we choose to go or what we choose to do, God can and does work through us, even when we make mistakes.
There may be no fortune telling envelopes to open, but that’s a good thing.
Because we don’t know what lies around each corner we must be prepared for anything. This preparation forms us into to better people, matures our character, and enables us to answer the call to be ready “both in season and out of season.” Not knowing and then having to make decisions as life unfolds allows to be active participants in our own lives, rather than lazy robots waiting for God to push a divine button. God created us and gave us wonderful gifts, talents, and passions because God wants to see what we can do with them. Like any parent, God is waiting to see what we become. He has the same ultimate plan for all of us, but the in between time is wide open.
So use the gifts and passions God has given you for the kingdom of God. Direct them in such a way that they become redemptive work and you will not have to worry about whether what you are doing is the “will of God” or “God’s plan of your life” because you will be dwelling in God’s presence. God’s heart will become your heart, God’s mind your mind and you will be the person God created you to be, living the life you were “supposed” to live.
I don’t know what that envelope will say on March 16 when my wife opens it. But I do know that God has journey with us in the past, preparing the way when we moved to Memphis five years ago. And because He has journeyed with us before and has promised to do so again, I have no doubt that God will be with us no matter where we go. And no matter what we choose to do, if we do it in service to the kingdom of God, then we will be right smack in the middle of God’s will for our lives.
Grace and peace,