One of the features of my town square is a statue celebrating the Confederacy. Another is a fellow who stands on a soapbox and preaches the love of Jesus Christ to fornicators. According to him, everyone who comes to the town square is a fornicator. I often stop to chat with him. The last time we spoke he was kind enough to gift me with a book, Why Millions of Believers on Jesus Are Going to Hell by Christopher J.E. Johnson.
The book revolves around Mathew 7:21: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter in the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” This is from the Authorized King James Bible which Mr. Johnson says is “the true preserved Word of God, and the Bible every Christian should be studying.”
Not being a Christian, I prefer the New Revised Standard Version, but in either case Jesus’ point is clear: If your belief in Jesus doesn’t lead you to do the will of God, then your belief is hollow. But what is the will of God?
As Jews, Jesus and I know God as YHVH from the Hebrew root h-y-h meaning “to be” or “to happen.” If YHVH is the happening of all happening, then the will of YHVH, the will of God, is the way of each happening. Everything that happens happens the way it happens because the conditions for its happening are such that nothing else could happen, and those conditions are the will of God, i.e., the nature of reality.
For example, I am a food addict. I didn’t choose to be a food addict; I was born that way—the will of God. Does this mean I am powerless over my eating? Yes, it does. Does this mean I am helpless regarding my addiction? No, it doesn’t.
I would say that my addiction is the will of God, and I am powerless to overcome it. But I am not helpless within it.
Being powerless means I cannot change the conditions of the moment. Being helpless means I am at the mercy of those conditions. Powerlessness is a given. Helplessness is not. While I cannot change the conditions of the moment—these being the will of God—I can work with them in a way that is liberating rather than addicting.
Imagine you are caught in a rip current. One response to this situation is to swim against the current toward the shore. Doing so will likely result in your drowning. Another response is to allow the current to carry you where it will. Given the circular nature of rip currents, the current itself will eventually carry you back toward the shore. You are powerless to defeat the rip current, but you are not helpless within it.
Coming back to addiction, I would say that my addiction is the will of God, and I am powerless to overcome it. But I am not helpless within it. When I find myself in the grip of the desire to overeat, I can fight it or be surrendered to it. Paradoxically, I find that when I fight it, I overeat; and when I am surrendered to it, I don’t.
The reality in which you find yourself is the will of God: “birth and death, prosperity and disaster” (Deuteronomy 30:15), “light and dark … good and evil” (Isaiah 45:7). You cannot change the will of God, but you can work with and within it. This is the heavenly work Jesus is calling you to do. When you do otherwise, you find yourself in hell.
Continue reading more from Rabbi Rami Shapiro: “Spirituality and Donuts.”