A number of people (including one theistic Friend) told me they liked what I wrote below on the Nontheist Friends email list the other day, so I’m posting it here in case it’s helpful to anyone else. I was responding to a Friend who spoke about having a hard time with “God’s will” language:
I had trouble in Meeting yesterday when two people got up and said that God wants us to submit to his will. I had to do a lot of processing in order to hear any truth underlying those words.
Funny, this is one of the concepts I find easier to translate. Let me tell you how I take it, and you can see whether it works for you.
Some of what I think people mean by “submitting to God’s will” is rather bad – a coded endorsement of human structures of authority, for example – but I find this is minimized in liberal Quaker circles, if still sometimes present. So let’s focus on the positive.
The positive meaning I can translate from this is the idea that the universe is greater than us, and constrains us whether we like it or not. I can’t simultaneously make my hobbies or my job my overwhelming priority in life and expect to have good relationships. I can’t never clean my apartment and still expect people to enjoy coming over. I can’t eat whatever I like and still expect to be healthy. And as much as a theist might see all these leadings as expressions of God’s will, the still, small voice I hear telling me “spend time with your loved ones,” “clean your room,” “stop eating so much ice cream” (or even, “stand up in meeting and say this”) I see as simple attentive human responses to living in the world. In this vein, when people say “God’s will,” I translate “the universe’s will,” – or less metaphorically, the felt, existential demands caused by living in my particular place and time in this finite, imperfect world.