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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 6 - "Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven"

In the first study in this series, we already talked about the petition "Thy Will Be Done," and how it is what Guardini calls the "gateway" to the whole prayer.  Reviewing that briefly, remember on page 4 of Guardini's text when he said: "So, this will must be something that is worth asking for; somethng precious for which we have to petition with all the earnestness and ardor of prayer; something holy and salutary." (Romano Guardini, The Lord's Prayer, page 4).  Guardini then goes on in the next paragraph to explain that God's will is that which He demands of us and binds us in conscience.  Further, it is His holy intention for the world and for us as individuals - God's will is universal in application, yet also personal for those who respond to Him.  Yet, as we begin the current chapter, Guardini notes in page 45 that there is a paradox in regard to God's will, an odd way to open the chapter, yet appropriate to the theme of the overall book.

The paradox Guardini talks about is one in which the will of God is the mightiest of powers (including the fact that it was the driving force in the creation of all things) but at the same time it seems so weak in the world it created.  What does that mean???  Guardini goes on to elaborate it this way - it is the highest object of meaning, yet is continually in danger of being lost, but by whom?   Is it the natural forces of the earth itself?  Not at all - as we have seen, God's will has allowed for man, being created in His image, to be a creature of free will, and at the Fall unfortunately man made the wrong choice, bringing into the world a sin and destruction that sometimes obstructs man's vision and makes the will of God conflict with his own.  As Christians therefore, being renewed by the waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit, we are urged to be the custodians of that unseen phenomenon called "the will of God" in this world, and we enter into an understanding with God Himself in order to do this.  That is why this petition, "Thy will be done," is a passionate plea on our part to realize the fulfillment of His holy will.

How is God's will in danger of being lost?  All one has to do is look around at our current society, which is driven by the force of what Scripture calls "the way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV).   A few verses earlier in that same passage of Scripture, the writer also notes that "He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is perverse in his ways despises Him." (Proverbs 14:2 NKJV).  This is why we as Christians, when we are adopted into the promise of salvation, must struggle against these things, and at times our stand on that is not going to be popular - this current "debate" over the abomination of "gay marriage," for instance, is a case in point.  But, God's will is far superior to any wisdom man has, and therefore even when a lot is stacked against us by what is appearing to be an increasingly wicked society, we must become even more impassioned with praying to our God that "thy will be done."

Now, in reviewing the gateway petition "Thy will be done," we now look to the second part - "on earth as it is in heaven."  On page 45, Guardini notes that this petition is stretched between what he phrases as the divine "above" and the human "below," but I need to clarify here what he is saying, as that wording can carry some misunderstanding.  Warren Smith is an Evangelical Protestant apologist who, before his conversion, was heavily involved in the New Age movement,  In recent years Smith has been monitoring some current trends in Christian circles, notably this whole "Emerging Church" movement (which I believe is heretical), and one thing he notes is the popularity of a recent translation of Scripture called The Message by this guy Eugene Peterson.   Although apparently seeking to "modernize" archaic language in Scripture to supposedly make it more readable to a contemporary audience, Peterson treads on some dangerous ground when he renders some questionable wording in the Lord's Prayer in regard to the petition "on earth as it is in heaven."  Peterson's The Message translates this as "as above, so below," and on the surface it appears as if he is affirming what Guardini is writing in our focal text for this study, but as we shall see he really is not, and I am about to explain why.  When the invocation "as above, so below" is traditionally understood, it has a what is called a monistic connotation.  Monism is a system that underlies the whole of occultic/New Age thinking, and it goes back to ancient Eastern religious texts which assert a belief that all things are God - God is all, and all is God, in other words.  The phrase therefore "as above so below" actually embodies this principle by saying as all in the cosmos is actually God, so all on earth is likewise.  Another word for this is pantheism (Warren Smith, Deceived on Purpose.  Margalia, CA: Mountain Stream Press, 2004.  pp. 32-35).  A variation of this principle, panentheism, asserts too that God is within everything, a view that was Christianized by such liberal theologians as Jurgen Moltmann who incorporated into his "Theology of Hope."   It is therefore important to understand better what this petition is saying, free of some potentially heretical language.

As for what heaven is, I first want to say that many concepts and perceptions of heaven we get from the media are often wrong -  the definition of what heaven is needs to be drawn from Holy Scripture and the Fidei Depositum containing what the Church historically has taught.  Jim Garlow and Keith Wall, both Evangelical Protestant ministers, co-authored an excellent book a few years back entitled Heaven and the Afterlife (Minneanapolis:  Bethany House, 2009), and in it they note that the Bible actually talks about three heavens, of which two - the temporal and permanent - are pointed to in Scripture (Garlow and Wall, pp. 137-139).  Guardini concurs with some of that when he begins to unpack this in his text by saying that although heaven is the place where celestial bodies move (traditionally called "the second heaven" in Scripture) this is not the right context for the petition in the Lord's Prayer.  The reason for this, Guardini notes, is that the cosmos cannot be the reference because the will of God is not fulfilled any differently "out there" than it is anywhere else, and that the "second heaven" is still subject to natural forces - planets after all orbit stars, stars burn, supernova, and burn out over the course of time, and asteroids and comets still shoot through space.   Also, heaven is not merely "up there," and here Guardini also elaborates as to why the phrasing of "as above so below" is also incorrect - simply put, there is not an "above" or "below" in that context to where we can simply point our fingers.  And, although noting heaven as "the place where God lives" is getting closer, it too is inadequate because it arises from different sources - much of that perception is based, as Guardini notes, on the speculation of natural science, fairy tales and mythology, and the limited understanding of man to make things tangible to fit into his own reason.  What heaven is arises from its source in faith, not in man's trying to "figure things out."  And, because of that, we must ask Revelation (meaning Holy Scripture in general) to satisfy our need to know what heaven is. Therefore, we go to the source, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to us from heaven, and then returned back. So, how does Christ reveal this to us?  That is where our discussion goes next.

When we seek out Christ for these answers, we quickly find out that perhaps we ask the wrong questions!   For one thing, upon reading the Gospels and what Jesus taught, we see that heaven is not something set apart, but is rather bound up with the living existence of God himself.  When Jesus speaks of the Father, for instance, he always adds the preposition "in heaven."  It is Christ who connects heaven with man, and in so doing we are taught that it is man's blessed goal and final condition.  We are also urged to "lay up treasure in heaven" (Matthew 6:20).  What that means is that we, as Christians, plae in heaven the goal and standard of our thoughts and actions.  As we do so, the fruits and forms of the final perfection of our lives begin to show outwardly and transform inwardly.  Remember those "fruits of the Spirit" we read about in Galatians 5:22-23?  Also, let's look at Phillipians 3:20 - "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  In other words, remember the study on "Thy kingdom come" last time?   The kingdom of God (which is in its perfection in heaven) is "now but not yet."  If we recall the parables of Jesus, He told us that the kingdom of God is embodied in the parable of a mustard seed - it seems small and insignificant, but it grows.  And, furthermore, Jesus told us that if we receive Him into our lives and trust Him for our salvation, then the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21).  At this time, we cannot point and say that heaven is here, or there, or yonder - that physical manifestation of heaven may not be possible for us until either our individual repose or the communal rapture of us all on the last day.  Yet, we manifest it in our lives, and instead of a location at this point it may be more feasible to even speak of heaven as a dimension, a "mystery of faith" that we participate in yet cannot define.

Heaven, of course, is the dwelling-place of God, but again, what does that mean?  First, it must be understood as that place in which God is with himself.  That means not necessarily a place existing in itself "in" which God is, but rather, as I Timothy 6:16 tells us, it is "the inaccessible light in which God dwells."  In finite human language, heaven then signifies God insofar as He dwells with Himself, and as such it is not a tangibility, but is freely and completely reserved to Himself alone.  The mystery of this can never be fully comprehended in this life and our limited human understanding, but when we enter into our eternal reward one day we will experience heaven as its fulness in God Himself.

So, now that we have dealt with what heaven is (although as a question that cannot be given a full answer in this life) we now ask that if the will of God is to be done in heaven, by whom is it to be done?  The answer to that is God Himself!   In essence, Guardini notes, the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the will of God.  In the Holy Spirit, God fulfills His will of ceaseless self-giving, in that the Father gives Himself to the Son, and the Son gives Himself back to the Father (John 1:1, 10:38).  The Holy Spirit (and Jesus) are "with Him" as divinely self-surrendered, yet eternally preserved and sheltered.  The very root and essence of heaven therefore is the inpenetrable mystery of blessed unity of self-giving and self-knowing.  This, of course, is the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit.

On earth, then, the will of God is done by the creature (specifically, us).  God's will in creating the world was that he might be in it, and that the world in giving itself back to him should reach up to Him and become one with Him in love (not in a pantheistic sense either).  In the created order, there are two groups of created beings in whom this will finds perfect fulfillment:

1.  the angels
2. The Church Expectant

Both are with Him there by the grace of the Holy Spirit, as we established earlier.  The Holy Spirit, again, shares divine presence with the Son, who giving back to Himself is reunited with the Father.  The will of God in creation, by result, is fulfilled by life in the Spirit (Psalm 39:4).  In heaven, the divine will is done fully and completely.  On earth though, if we do not fulfill the will of God, it is because we don't recognize His holy truth.  Or, His will seems unimportant or is misunderstood on our part.  In heaven however, the Church Expectant (the saints and those who died in Christ) and the angels are penetrated fully by the Holy Spirit, and therefore can do nothing else but fulfill God's will!  In Greek, we note a phraseology that is used in Ephesians 4:15 - it is aleqeun ev agape, which we translate as "the truth in love," but it is much more than that.  There is a an accusative tense here that denotes "to do" or "to be," and when it is rendered in its full literal translation, the idea communicated here is "to do the truth in love" or 'to be the truth in love."  The indication here is that we are to take on an attribute of God in that regard in order to more perfectly fulfill His will in our lives, and it is the Holy Spirit that makes this possible.  In this world, we (the Church Militant, those of the Church currently living) often fail and fall short in this due to the fact that the reality of the world often seems to us stronger and more attractive.  We have to remember that although we have been cleansed and transformed by Christ at baptism from original sin, we still bear the effect of something called concupiscence, which is an effect of our fallen nature.  Concupiscence simply means that we have a propensity in our flesh to commit sin, and oftentimes the world we live in entices the flesh to give into this concupiscent attribute of our nature - Satan also utilizes the things of the world to appeal to that propensity through temptation, and we struggle with that daily on this earth.  This is why we are told first in Ephesians 6:12 that we battle against "powers and principalities" (arcon) and in order to do this, we are also admonished in James 4:7 to "resist the devil, and he will flee from you," because Satan is described as "our adversary the devil, who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."  This is a battle we face on a continual basis, and even Jesus was tempted of Satan in the Gospels in the wilderness, but the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus at that time with the ability to resist, as we should as well.  These things we face on this earth, however, are not faced by our brethren of the Church Expectant in heaven, because they are flooded with the divine perfection which no power on earth can wrest away.  Therefore, without the burden of concupiscence, they cannot do anything but fulfill the eternal will of God, and in that characteristic there consists their blessedness.  Also, being perfected by Christ, they are no longer capable of sin, because the desire to sin is now gone, and instead this inundation of the power of divine love propels their very being.  

Now that we have talked at length about heaven, what of the earth?   We know that it is this planet upon which we live, but as previously discussed, it also encompasses time of man's struggle with concupiscence to sin and the pilgrimage of faith.  By nature, man knows little of God - there is this inward thing that man has which tells him somehow there is a supreme being who is the source of all that is, but over the years either it has been corrupted or suppressed.  Also, as a result and effect of the Fall, man's heart is not inundated with the power of divine love as the saints in heaven are - concupiscence and temptation of the things of this world cloud that possibility, even for the most faithful sons and daughters of the Church (although as we walk closer with Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, we grow in it). Therefore, man can (and does!) forget, overlook, and lose sight of God with the mind and intellect - science and reason even attempt to rule out God's existence, although as established in earlier chapters we studied, there is this inward sense which is even reflected in the languages of mankind that came with man at his creation as part of his speect (note Guardini, page 31).  Therefore, we need to examine what it means for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The mystery of creation affirms that God created the whole universe, including our world - we, despite some who seem to think otherwise, didn't come "from the goo to the zoo to me and you," but rather were literally and specifically created by God in that we come from two common ancestors called Adam and Eve.  By a thought, God made the non-existent exist. And, the earth and all that he created upon it were made to stand and last.  God gives each of us the freedom to live in accordance with its true being, and we can choose not to or joyfully embrace He who will restore us to the fullness of being qua being, meaning restored to being by virtue of what we were created to be.  This choice, for man, is called free will.  In his very excellent text The Physics of Christianity (New York:  Doubleday, 2007) Frank J. Tipler, a professor of mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans as well as a committed Christian himself, wrote that free will and God's omniscience ("all-knowing") are possible and mutually consistent because reality is a multiverse that is subject by what is called the quantum theory of identity - what that means is that God is unique in who He is, and we are created by Him as being unique in the metaphysical sense of being qua being - it is by virtue we are created as we are.  Reality is a creation of God as well though, in that it was constructed, as Tipler notes, so that He can be both known as well as yielding free will for His creatures in this reality (Tipler, p. 264).  Therefore, as Guardini notes in his text, the very mastery in which God has created the world gives occasion to risk, namely the risk that the world will misunderstand itself and think it can do without God (a type of idolatry).  Although we are given the latitude for that risk, taking it still leads to a sin, and unfortunately it occurs quite frequently in human history.  

The "anxiety of the Christian," as Guardini denotes it, is constructed of several things.  First, it is a fear for his (or her) own salvation and that of the world.  Second, man is prone (and frequently does) misinterpret creation's masterful perfection and thus abuse it by sin.  As Acts 17:28 affirms, essential nature and existence only exist in God!  Man's being in the world really and truly is possible only from God, and in God.   Because of the effects of the Fall, man unfortunately doesn't exist as a perfect and complete being, but rather in a state of movement toward God - given, sometimes that movement takes wrong turns however, as false religious systems attest.  However, the closer to God one gets, the more complete and real one becomes.  This movement then is nothing other than the fulfillment of the will of God, and our positive response to it.  Therefore, to do God's will is to come nearer to Him, and in doing so, one becomes more real.  Furthermore, in doing so, the creature (us) is meant to reach his (or her) place with God, being we have donned His holy self-indwelling (the Holy Spirit) by grace.  Guardini, on pages 51-52 of his text, illustrates this with the imagery of the mother, and his point is that it is more terrible than a child rejecting the mother who nurtured and gave life to it when creation turns away from God by sin.  And, God is sorrowful at that choice (Genesis 6:6).  At this point, it is important to mention that God doesn't take some sadistic glee at dealing out judgement on his creation for their inquity - it breaks his heart.  Also, despite some popular theologies that misinterpret God as a wrathful, vengeful demiurge who wants to barbecue people in hell, the reality is that hell is a real place, and it wasn't originally created for us - therefore, God is not the one that sends us there; we send ourselves by choices we make to reject Him, and it grieves Him.  Even Lucifer, despite the fact he is a being now of indescribable evil and contempt, was originally created by God and in being was good, but Lucifer chose his fate and fell as a result of his own error, not because God wanted it to happen.  So, as a mother can never reject the life she has brought into the world and nurtured, God doesn't reject His creation.  Rather, His creation often rejects Him, and therefore chooses its fate.  
In conclusion, Christ came "to save that which was lost" (Luke 19;10 NKJV).   Therefore, He Himself teaches us to pray "Thy will be done on earht as it is in heaven."   We are to pray this so that God may grant man the impulse to turn back to Him in this life, as there will be no further opportunities in the next.  We also do not literally see His light on earth, but we pray by faith as if we did - remember, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV), and "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God" (Hebrews 11;3), and in that we also must understand that this "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17).   Therefore, one of those "works" is the unceasing prayer that "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," and in doing so we must also let the Holy Spirit animate us to do our part to participate in doing the will of the Lord in this life, so that we may live in the will of God in the next.