I don’t know God’s will, and neither do you. We have the Torah, Christians have the Gospels, Muslims have the Qur’an, Hindus have the Vedas, Latter Day Saints have the Book of Mormon, etc. They may reveal some aspect of the Divine in the context of those who already (or are persuaded to) believe, but that’s not the same thing.
“Will” is something fluid, and it relates to circumstance. “Will” does not exist independent of experience. “Will” is intention, and intention is an internal process that cannot be identified without the specific participation of the intender.
I know that there are people who disagree with me entirely. One segment of them – not the only one, by the way – attributes God’s will to all sorts of nonsense, including sports victories, political candidates, hurricanes and achievement awards in various entertainment categories. Crapola. Maybe God wanted you to win that Oscar® and maybe God wanted that hurricane to aim for Mar-a-Lago or maybe God doesn’t care about any of it. The point is, you don’t know.
Anyone who claims to know God’s will in such circumstances is guilty of confusing personal opinion with God’s intention. And, with all due respect, that’s blasphemy to a believer and evidence to a non-believer.
I have been guilty of this hubris too many times. It occurs when I stand graveside and, as the casket is lowered or the earth is replaced, I recite the traditional words of the devotional hymn Tzidduk HaDin, roughly paraphrased as “This is God’s will.” It begins with Deuteronomy 32:4. “The Rock, whose work is perfect and whose every way is just, is a faithful God without deceit, just and upstanding indeed.”
To be fair, the poem is more comforting in its entirety than this introductory line makes it sound. I am attached to it because of sentiments that occur part-way through like “God forbid that You wipe out our remembrance” (more a prayer than a statement). But having watched the terminus of long fulfilling lives and truncated lives of undeserved suffering in the same open ground, I am always jarred to recite these traditional words: The Rock, whose work is perfect. The only people who want to believe that it is God’s will that their loved one died are those who refuse to believe that it is God’s will that they suffered beforehand.
And, too, generations of devoted Jews before me have recited this hymn at the grave. I remain enough of a traditionalist not to cast aside the custom of our forbearers out of my own discomfort. Plus, truth be told, I count on people either not entirely understanding what I said or being caught up in their bereavement at that moment rather than looking to enter a theological disputation.
And maybe I can justify it by saying death’s inevitability is part of the divine plan and therefore it is death itself which seems to us to be God’s will, not so much this particular death. Maybe.
Yet if, at this most irreversible of moments, we really dare not claim to know God’s will, then how much the more so when the facts are not in. Sexual orientation? The age of the universe? Competing claims to parcels of land? Gender roles? Infertility? Disability? To assign these circumstances to God’s will is to close off the possibility of human understanding. To reduce the answer to any question to “it’s God’s will” is to delegitimize the question itself.
What separates me from the non-believer, the disbeliever or the atheist? Quite simply, I do not deny that there is such a thing as God’s will. I have merely arrived at the conclusion that I don’t know it. And neither do you.
Ironically, this little bit of humility is tremendously liberating. It means that the best I can do is my best, not some bar set by others that I must clear. Billions of my sisters and brothers have struggled to know what is unknowable, and in solidarity with them, I struggle as well.
But anyone who looks you in the eye and says he or she knows God’s will is just plain wrong. It is the Rock whose work is perfect. Not me, not you, not them.