How do we know what’s God’s will, and what’s against His will, and what we’re free to choose or not choose? And how do we choose rightly when nobody except God knows what we’re actually choosing when we decide to go to this school or that city?
Of course, very often it’s obvious. I didn’t have to wonder what I would do this evening, or what I’ll be doing tomorrow morning. I’m going to church, because church is good and God is there and He is good. To a large extent I don’t have to wonder what I’ll be doing any morning this week either: I’ll be at working teaching classes, dealing with supplies, and supervising students. I don’t even have to wonder what I’ll be doing any evening this week: unless something unforeseen comes up I’ll be finishing up work, coming home, smiling at people on the bus, eating dinner, going to Bible study, washing dishes, and whatever else presents itself as needing to be done.
Most of that stuff just works itself out as I (or anyone) respond to immediate circumstances, and although I am in one way free in those circumstances, in another way freedom is not what is most immediately apparent about them. I wrote last week about Chuck Smith advising, as pastors so often do, to give everything to God, which is all very well, but also very vague — as it must be, since we’re all doing somewhat different things. The theory seems to be that if we know the big picture (trusting God as much as possible) then the details will be worked out moment by moment the way all that other stuff I don’t think about in advance is.
I did and didn’t know that having a job wouldn’t answer my question, whatever it is. I wish I knew what it is — something about the will of God. I did know, because I remember consciously thinking so, but then I didn’t, because I was somehow disappointed when it did not in fact even remotely suggest an answer. My question is something like: how am I to live? The job says: go to work on time, learn to drive, be more organized. That’s all to the good — very sensible. But then it throws in a dash of intrigue: it’s a job about art. I don’t know how I feel art. Actually, it might be more accurate to say I have a free choice in how to feel about art, which may be worse. I tend to distrust freedom. Is there a right answer? What do you mean there may be many right and many wrong answers? I want to do this life thing correctly. So… love God and your neighbor and be a properly human sort of person. …But I want an answer. A real one. Perhaps not.
Anyway, there’s art. I’m an art teacher. I’m not bad at art — people think I’m rather good at it in fact. I have a faculty, apparently. In any event, I’ve studied how to make and teach and talk about it, and know a good deal about that. But for four or five years I’ve had this question staring at me that I don’t know how to answer: now what? How do I answer? I try to answer by inclination, but it has no opinion on the matter — I can happily make something if it comes up, or can rather more happily not bother. Art, for me, is not exactly an expression of myself. Writing is a much more accurate expression, and so usually I would rather write than make something — it’s more natural. But I don’t just answer: so then it’s decided, I won’t make art — because I spent so long learning it, and am now responsible for that. I suppose I am. I ask conviction: am I responsible for all that time and energy spent learning art? Do I have a responsibility and an obligation toward it. Conviction is silent — it murmurs back: sure, fine, but really you have a responsibility to love God and your neighbors, and to try to keep the commandments; making things isn’t one of them. I ask circumstance and get back that I should make enough art to show my students what I’m talking about, and that it would certainly be helpful if I were working on it on my own account as well. Past that it’s silent.
To be continued…