What do we learn about the will of God for humanity when we ponder the sacred texts of scripture? We find first in Genesis that we were created by God to share his life: this is his will for us. We find that by sin we opposed God’s will and placed our will against God’s. In consequence, we lost our closeness to God, we lost the harmony of our being, we became disordered within ourselves, and our relationships with each other became fraught and conflicted. Our will, rather than being oriented toward God, turned in on itself.
Then began the long, long process by which God, without ever violating the freedom of our will, would lead humanity back to himself. Scripture shows the stages in this process: the covenants with Noah and Abraham; the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land; the Law revealed to Moses; the growth of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, the organisation of Israel’s religious life, the building of the Temple. In the midst of these stages, a theme emerges: God is faithful but the chosen people are wayward, contentious, fickle, heedless of God’s will, prone to idolatry. The prophets and the psalms lament this. Nevertheless, a new covenant is promised in which God will make possible a new depth of relationship with himself:
Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel, but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke…. No this is the covenant I shall make with them, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.
The other great theme that emerges in tandem with this is the prophecy of an individual man who will inaugurate this new covenant in his very person. He will be the messiah. He will be a king, yet he will also be a servant who will suffer. Above all, he will be the faithful son that Israel, in her sinfulness and waywardness, had not been. He will come for the poor and humble of God, and will himself be gentle and humble (see Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-9, 61:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalm 72; Zephaniah 2:3).
Jesus himself said that he was the fulfilment of this hope in Luke 4:16-21:
Jesus came to Nazara… and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read, and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:
The spirit of the Lord is on me,
for he has anointed me
to bring the good news to the afflicted.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.
He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’
Christianity is built on the belief that what Jesus said in the synagogue that day was true, that he was the anointed one of God who would be, in his very person, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed of all the prophecies.
Christians see that the truth of Jesus’ claim is subsequently borne out in his public ministry, in everything he said and did, in his death, resurrection and ascension. Where Israel had been a faithless and fickle son, Jesus remained faithful to the will of God, even unto death. He, and he alone in all history, did his Father’s will. And his own will? It was completely united with the Father’s will, so much so that Jesus could say, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4.34).
Jesus, by his life and his very being, shows us the love with which he unites his will to the will of the Father. Through his Spirit, we are able to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship written on our hearts, by which we journey to the Father. We cannot fully fathom Jesus’ love for us in this life, but we can love him in return. We can strive to follow him. We can give him our will. To do this is to do the will of God.