Scriptures - Exodus 3:1-15, Matthew 16:21-28
Both the scripture readings today speak to the fulfillment of prophecy and what might be understood as Moses’ and Jesus’ respective destinies. God tells Moses that he is to free the Israelites and Jesus foretells of his own death and resurrection.
These two scriptures got me to thinking a lot about destiny and what that means to me and perhaps other people of faith. When we look at interpretations, even definitions of destiny, that is “a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency” (that’s from Webster), the belief is, naturally quite philosophical, as well as complex and simplistic at the same time.
So, in doing my research I learned that John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement, rejected the Calvanists’ theory of pre-destination, that is, "that some persons had been elected by God for salvation and others for damnation.”
Which is possibly where the term, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” comes from.
Rather Wesley and other Christians influenced by Dutch Theologian, Jacobus Arminius, believed that “while God is omnipotent and knows the choices that individuals will make, he still gives individuals the power to ultimately choose (or reject) everything, regardless of any internal or external conditions relating to the choice.”
As a Methodist, I’d rather believe that although God may know what I’m going to do, I still have choices in life. And in modern society, most of us have the luxury, or the dilemma, of many choices…we can choose where we live, our occupation, what we eat, who our friends are, when, and if, we’ll have children and ultimately who, if anyone, we want for a life partner. (Some people make that choice more than once, but that’s what free will is about.) Anyway, we now have a lot of choices, probably more than people have ever had and even more than many cultures still have.
So, how do free will and destiny work together? Does it mean that no matter what choices we make we are fated to end up where we end up?
Likewise, some people are born into wealth, status, and power and it is as if a life of comfort is mapped out for them. John Robbins, who as the sole heir to the Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream empire, was groomed to take over the family business. Instead, he turned down his inheritance and walked away from a fortune. He’s now an environmental, wellness, and human rights activist. Imagine turning down all that ice cream!
So, if the environment in which we were born and raised isn’t necessarily our destiny, what is? Rather than being destined for a certain life, I like to think that we are called to follow a certain path. The thing is, because we have free will, we can ignore that calling. We have a choice.
Moses and Jesus had a choice. Ok, when you’re facing a burning bush and God is talking to you directly, you might feel as if you don’t have a choice. Still, Moses argues with God. He has the audacity to ask God, “Who do you think I am?” “Why me?” Or, in the words of my youngest daughter when she was in high school, “How you gonna tell me?!” God has to get angry before Moses realizes that he is indeed the one to free his people. That is his calling.
Jesus already knows his calling. His difficulty is convincing his disciplines of it. When Peter questions him, Jesus becomes angry because he knows this is what he has to do. Not long before this Jesus had spent time in the wilderness where he was tempted, so it’s obvious that he was given a choice and he chose to suffer for humankind.
Jesus goes on to talk about suffering and self-denial. The Message Bible offers an interesting interpretation of the scripture. It reads: “Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how.”
For Jesus knows that in following him, his disciplines will suffer. As He will. Very few of us will ever suffer to that extreme, but life is about suffering.
Buddha said this, “What is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering and sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering.”
Modern medicine has given us tremendous relief from suffering from physical ailments. We can take a pill for a headache, arthritis, stomach ache. TV ads urge us to ask our doctors for a prescription for any number of disorders. But, there’s no pill for the suffering of longing. If we’re going to suffer, shouldn’t it be for something worthwhile?
The scripture continues, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
And, “finding ourselves, our true self,” I believe is our calling, our destiny, if you will. I believe we are all called to give of ourselves, some of us more dramatically than others. Few of us can be like Mother Teresa, but no one’s calling is less important than anyone else’s, and no one’s call is more important than another’s. If our calling is to be a good parent and encourage our children to be kind, compassionate people, that’s vitally important. If we are called to be honest in our business dealings, protest against injustice, recycle…these are important means to finding ourselves, our true selves and ultimately realizing our destiny.
Can I just add a disclaimer here…the more you follow that calling…the more you will be asked to do, give, be. You’re going to asked to play more music, teach more yoga, lead more Bible studies, blog more… That’s just the way it works. We have to make choices about how much we can do, give, be…but that’s why we have free will.
We can choose to ignore the calling and just do what we want to do, but in the words of Jesus, “What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”