Thought for the Day by Robin Fishwick
“Evil Human Desires” and the Will of God
When young people gathered on Woodhouse Moor recently, on one of the first warm days of this year, there was a wide degree of criticism which even received national attention. Some of this criticism was valid – about not taking their litter away and not social distancing – but I suspect that at the heart of much of this was a resentment that other people were relaxing and having fun at a time of crisis. You can sense a similar frustration in Peter’s letter today. “Here we are at the end of days, this age is about to end and God’s Kingdom is about to come on Earth – so what are you lot messing about at?”
There was a similar feeling in Europe in the early 17th Century with the rise of Puritanism. After the religious turmoil of the Reformation and ensuing wars, there was a resurgence of the feeling that the world was about to end. The response of the Puritans was to reject all worldliness and concentrate on the will of God. Too often, though, this came hand in hand with a very narrow view of what the will of God is. Closing theatres and banning Christmas are two of the things Puritans are now most famous for.
This view of the will of God contrasts with the Jesus of the Gospels. In fact Jesus himself seems to be portrayed by his religious contemporaries as not sufficiently Godly and far too Worldly (Luke 7:34). Jesus’ disciples are criticised for not being strict in their religious observance, Jesus is criticised for receiving the hospitality of “sinners” and receiving lavish gifts. There is also a sensuality in some of the attention he receives that seems to get tongues clicking.
Looking at Quaker history, I can see how that apparent conflict between the supremacy of the will of God and the richness of human experience has gradually resolved. Quakers maintained that simplicity of the Puritans, the sense that all things must be subjugated to the will of God, but over the years have come a realisation that science, music, art and culture are not ungodly pursuits but on the contrary ways of encountering the divine. For all Christians, we need to be wary of a false dichotomy between human desires and the will of God. As Peter reminds us, it is love that is the key. Without love, the pursuit of pleasure becomes a hollow, destructive and exploitative endeavour. With love, the whole range of human experience becomes a hymn of praise.