Discerning God’s Will

Most of us have seen bumper stickers which proclaim to all the world, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” There’s certainly something compelling about that simple formula. The trouble, of course, lies in figuring out what God actually says.

When someone claims to hear God’s voice, how can we be certain that it is God’s voice and not a symptom of schizophrenia? And when somebody professes to know the Lord’s mind with certainty, who’s to say that this knowledge isn’t a self-serving projection or merely wishful thinking?

False teachers have always been present among God’s people, motivated by either delusion or by abject self-interest. “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!”‘ we read in Jeremiah. “How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back — those who prophesy lies and who prophesy the deceit of their own hearts?” (23:25-26). Adds Jesus himself: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt.7:15). How little has changed over the course of the last few millennia!

So how, in the face of multiple and conflicting claims, do we decide what really is the Lord’s will? In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus provides clear insight into the process through which we must go on the way to discernment. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” he asks rhetorically; “No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51). Disagreement and healthy debate among God’s people are precisely how God’s will is discerned.

“From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three,” he says; “they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (12:52-53). What a magnificent image of The Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion today! Just as freedom never abides in a country without a “loyal opposition,” so God’s truth will never be rigorously debated (and therefore taken seriously) in a church which refuses to tolerate theological outsiders in its midst.

Look It Up

How is God’s will discerned in Acts 15?

Think About It

When in history have Christians claiming to know God’s will absolutely been led to persecute others?


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