What God Wants
I’ve often heard pastors and televangelists talking about what God wants. What God wants us to do or feel or say or [mostly] give. I’ve always thought it fairly presumptuous to claim to know what God wants from our perch on the little blue ball way over there on the edge of that second galaxy to the right… But then I hear myself asking a study group what they thought God’s highest value is and when they don’t come up with exactly what was in my head, telling them exactly what was.
And if my hypocrisy didn’t sink in at the moment, the next week one of the attendees pulled me aside to say that he’d related the exchange to another pastor who told him that it was pretty presumptuous to think I had any idea of God’s highest value. Karma is a witch.
Is what God wants and his highest value the same thing? I guess we can suppose God would also want his highest value, but I think there’s a distinction as well. When we talk about what God wants, we’re typically talking specifics: what God wants us to do, what to say, what to think, believe, feel—in short, what. And like our country’s Constitution that is only about four thousand words long but now has millions upon millions of lines of legal code defining what those four thousand words mean, defining what God wants is also a legal interpretation, an application of the values that animate God in the first place. And just as we fight over the millions of laws in our country, we fight over the specifics of what God wants as well—over the application of his highest values to our choices and relationships and moments.
How can we really know what God wants? Well, I think we start with God’s highest value, which doesn’t describe what God wants from us as much as how God exists himself, the manner in which God proceeds. And just how can we know that any better?
For at least four thousand years, Hebrews have been rubbing up against the God they have shared with us for the last two thousand, and all that experience has impressed on them one outstanding feature that is enshrined in their most famous and essential prayer, the Shema: Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is ehhad–one. Or better translated, multiple things functioning as one–a unity. This is the fundamental genius of the Hebrew people starting with Abraham—that in distinction from all other world religions, God is one, oneness, unity.
When Moses encounters the burning bush and asks who it is that speaks from the flames, the answer in Hebrew is hayah asher hayah, or I am [that, who, which, what, when, where, how, because, in order that] I am. Asher is the original multipurpose device, a Swiss army pronoun that points to God from all directions at once. Moses’ God is calling himself pure existence, pure being, pure presence–a presence like gravity pulling all things into itself, into unity.
When Jesus was asked to identify himself, he said over and over that he and the Father were one. That no one needed to see the Father because they could see him, and everything they saw in him and saw him doing was only because it already had been done by the Father—Jesus doing only what he had seen God doing, functioning as one.
Unity is the four thousand year-long thread that runs through the expression of the experience of God in all three of the world’s monotheistic religions and is the core of what Jews, Christians, and Muslims know about God. And so I would think that if unity is God’s preeminent feature and function, that it must be his highest value as well, his will—which in Hebrew means his pleasure, delight, desire, and deepest purpose…not God’s what, but his how.
God’s will be done, unity be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Is that what God wants? The difficulty lies only in the way we ask.
It may well be presumptuous to ask what God wants. How could we possibly know? But I don’t think it’s at all presumptuous to ask how God wants. Turns out that God’s most distinguishing feature, the one that changed the course of the Hebrew nation and the world’s history, is not a what at all–not an outcome or event or object; it’s a how: a way, a process with attitude, a motivating characteristic and essence. If there is one absolute truth we can all know and agree upon, even if we disagree on who or if God is, it’s that as a way of living and choosing, unity is better than disunity, connection better than disconnection.
With the right how, any what will do. With the right how, we and the Father are one. Once we know how to live and love and connect with the same pleasure and purpose as God, then the specifics of what God wants, don’t need to come from God at all. When we and the Father are one, the choice of what we do, say, think, can come directly from us with no loss in translation. When we get the right how, our choices will naturally reflect what we’ve already seen the Father doing.
We don’t need to ask or teach what God wants. Only how.
With the right how, we can face our own burning bush moments with the trust that only unity–multiple things functioning as one–can muster.
That’s a distinction worth making, an expression of an experience worth presumption.