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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Ultimate

One Sunday I came home from church when I was the pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Ken and I were reporting in on the interesting things that happened that morning as we have for 35 years! I said, "A really interesting woman came to church this morning. Her name is Ann Weatherhead. She's a runner and we talked until everybody had left the building."

Ken said, "Is she related to Leslie Weatherhead?"

I said, "No." But my NO dragged out into about 3 syllables in my cynicism at such a ridiculous question. Weatherhead is a common name in Cleveland. In fact there is a Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve Univeristy so why would I think this was Leslie Weatherhead's relation?

Leslie Weatherhead was a British theologian from the World War 2 era and beyond. His famous book is The Will of God. In it he describes how basically everything is the will of God; whether it works out the way God originally intended or not, there will be the ultimate will of God. Leslie Weatherhead was a very controversial figure, shaking up the religious establishment of his day. I imagine him a bit like Rob Bell!

His grand-daughter, Ann, had never read him. So of course the first thing I did was hold a study on The Will of God. She was mortified by his dated language and illustrations but I tried to assure her that in fact he was contemporary for his time. Ann has never been quite sure where she stands with all of her grandfather's theology (her parents didn't subscribe to it at all and it was only because she came with a running friend that she even showed up at church that first Sunday) but even as I type, she is in England, checking out some of her ecclesiastical/theological roots.

The will of God is an elusive phenomenon. In Acts 21 Paul is sure that he knows what the will of God is. But then, so do his friends. Paul thinks the will of God is that he goes to Jerusalem; his friends think the will of God is that he doesn't go to Jerusalem. But Paul is a bit like Leslie Weatherhead. He believes that no matter what happens in Jerusalem, ultimately God's will is made known because what's important is that he will faithfully witness to God, no matter what happens. The will of God isn't that Paul is spared imprisonment and even death; the will of God is that God's grace is shared. Paul ultimately (an important word, I think, in describing the will of God) gives witness to God's grace--through his trials in Galilee with the political and religious leaders, through his hardships in getting to Rome (ship-wrecked and all), and through his imprisonment in Rome once he gets there. Ultimately it's all God's will.

In the end, Paul arrives in Rome where they haven't heard much--and what they've heard hasn't been good-about Christianity, but Paul takes it on as his personal mission to share the grace of Jesus with others. Specifically with those who haven't been in the inner circle. Sort of like Ann Weatherhead, to tell you the truth. She's the original none, seeking but unsure, embarrassed by less-than-spot-on Christianity, and yet a person with a heart of gold. Had she known him, she would have gone to Paul's open door. Having known her, run with her (a couple half marathons), hung out with her at the Barking Spider at Case Western Reserve University on their gospel night, I know that God's will is ultimate; far beyond my ability to express or know it, or Ann's.

What about you? How do you know what God's will is?


Brent Olson said...

I don't know God's will, can't know, don't need to know.

"Where were you when I made the world?" from Job is a very comforting verse to me, because it plainly states that there is much that is completely beyond my understanding.

But even with my very limited understanding, there is still plenty to do. I'm still working on " you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me..." and I expect to keep working on that the rest of my life.

And that's enough for me.

Mike Day said...

This may sound dumb, but I offer no apology for that. Yet my perspective is much like yours, if you embrace Leslie Weatherhead's theology. I have read some of him many long years ago. So when I see his name in your blog I seem to recall some of his intent. That fits with my perspective. To wit; If it is, it is God's will. Now my Pastor does not accept that, at least not categorically. In part perhaps. But not in all things as I do. So I offer my thanks to you Bishop for the reminder of Leslie Weatherhead. His work could present some illumination to the benefit of our modern and secular generation