‘Will’ is a word thrown about a fair bit within Christianity and in related conversations. Within Christianity you get a lot of talk about ‘God’s will’ and what that looks like, especially in light of that famous line from the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done”. In related conversations (I’m going on my own experience with this) the topic of ‘free will’ comes up quite a lot, and what it means to have free will and why God has given it to us. However, despite the frequency that it comes up, I’ve never really heard of will in itself spoken about exclusively. It always seems to be a part of some greater theological discussion.
Soren Kierkegaard’s book Purity of Heart addresses the issue more clearly than anything else I’ve come across in my reading. Kierkegaard is really talking about what it looks like to value ‘the good’ above anything else, without compromise. But going into his ideas isn’t really what I had in mind for this post. It was, in fact, inspired by a graphic novel (as more of my posts are than you might think), specifically my reading of Green Lantern. For those of you unfamiliar with this DC superhero, his power comes from a ring that channels his willpower; his strength is directly tied to his will. Again, that’s not really going to be discussed in this post, but that was what made me realise how much ‘will’ is spoken about without really being spoken about. It’s always a means to something else, never a thing in itself.
Defining ‘will’ is difficult. Dictionary.com’s top definition is “the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions.” Our will is essentially our capacity to think freely and to put those thoughts into action. It’s elusive, and seems to be more of a facet of consciousness than a separate thing. So what does it mean to talk about God’s will? If it is God’s control over his actions then we’re dealing with something fundamentally practical; when we ask for God’s will to be done on Earth we’re asking for His desired course of events to unfold. This sounds fine, especially if you’re a Christian, but it is also a prayer of powerlessness. You cannot pray that prayer and then resist without being in some way hypocritical.
To my mind, and this is a bit scary to consider, you cannot sincerely ask for God’s will to be done without your will matching up to his, or your actions are never going to match up to his. Becoming a Christian doesn’t involve the loss of your freedom to act. This, in some ways, is actually quite challenging, because it means we have a level of responsibility in bringing our wills into line with God’s. This is, of course, impossible. It is impossible because we can never comprehend God’s will on our own. But what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27) and it is through His grace and power that we are able to understand what God’s will is (Romans 12:2).
It would make no sense for God to create us with a will of our own only to want to squash it later on, but He also knows that His will is the best for the world. That’s why part of the journey for us as Christians is learning how to voluntarily bring our wills into line with God’s. Therefore they are still ours, but almost paradoxically they’re God’s as well. I think this is part of what it means to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us: God and man together. I chose the word ‘voluntarily’ on purpose, because of its etymology. According to its Latin roots, to do something voluntarily is to do something by your will; aligning our wills with God is an act of will. It’s also an act of sacrificial will. It’s nothing in comparison to Jesus’ sacrifice (bear in mind His words relating to that also: “yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42)), but what this sacrificing of our wills is is a practical sign of our humility before God and the first step in our will/actions lining up with His will/actions in reality as opposed to merely thought or desire.
I want to leave it there for now because I’m not sure if I’m going off track from what I originally wanted to do. This post was meant to take a little look at will in itself, especially what God’s will means and how we respond to that. You’ll notice that I’ve taken freedom of will for granted; this isn’t the place to debate whether that actually exists or not. The important thing for now is that it is our choice as to how we use our will – our will what to will – and part of the sacrifice of Christianity is being able to sincerely will God’s will.