There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.That's C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. The blunt force of the either/or proposition he creates makes a great pocket reference for understanding one of the most difficult lines we confess. Either we say those words to him--"thy will be done, Lord"--or he says them to us--"very well then, your will be done." Go burn in hell.
Joel Nederhood, in his book of devotions, The Forever People, claims that what Jesus himself wants in that petition of the Lord's Prayer is that we become more like the angels, simply taking God's orders without question. "The reference to heaven in the perfect prayer," Nederhood says ("Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"), "reminds us that there is a realm where the will of God is absolutely supreme." Therefore, he says, "Those who want to live eternal life beginning now realize that God's will must be supreme."
Honestly?--I like that better.
It's hard not to think of that single petition as a concession speech, because it is. We lost. He won. We give up. What we confess in those few words is that our will is of little or no consequence, a concession that is, for most of us, a mean bullet to bite.
A friend loses his job, gets fired. That he did seems unimaginable, given his commitment and experience. You think you know him well enough to believe he simply couldn't have been lazy or slipshod. You've seen him at work, heard him talk about it. No matter. He got canned.
You're mad as heck. You're outraged. You feel like bawling. You want to raise Cain, even though you remember that Cain was certainly no hero.
Should you get into it? Should you Lone Ranger the thing, or stay on the sidelines and tell yourself that all things must pass?
When we beg God that his will be done are we throwing in the towel? Don't we thereby become human bean bags who lie around in dreadful passivity waiting for someone to sit on us? Doesn't saying "thy will be done" virtually insure we'll live on welfare for all of our born days?
Is concession something you do only when failure is imminent? Christ himself, on the cross, precedes this very grand concession with one last blast of his own human rebelliousness.
"And He went a little farther, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Jesus Christ knows very well what has to be done. He's been told from eternity that he will die for our sins, he will die and be raised anew. He knows what's in front of him so well that he actually asks his father to call the whole gig off--the manger, the water into wine, the blind man, the woman at the well, that bottomless meal on the Mount, all that adulation on a donkey, Peter's altercation, Pilot's half-hearted sentencing, the beating, the crown of thorns, even the nails through his hands--write it off, Father, he says, "let this cup pass from Me." Jesus Christ asks the boss, his beloved father, to forget the whole thing. Was there ever a moment in his thirty-some years when he was more human?
That's when he concedes. "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
Could he have done more? Could he have, as the soldiers said, simply stepped down off the cross and waltzed back into town? Couldn't he have called in flights of angels with assault rifles? Couldn't he have acted? Did he just have to hang there on nails and take it?
Here's a take on an eternal question that has no clear answer. "Thy will be done" admits, in faith, that there was and is and always will be a better way than ours--which is to say, there's God's way. That admission--that firm belief--shouldn't stop us from going to bat in this world for things that matter. But it also insists, in faith, that our moment at the plate may very well not be his. Our faith in his will doesn't keep us from acting, but it does insist that we admit, right from the get-go, that we could be wrong.
Jesus himself tried. With every element of his being, he tried to reverse course: "take this cup from me." That's what he begged.
But that taking was not to be, and he knew it.
Thy will be done. There's always a better way, and it's his, not ours.