If God Wills

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If God Wills

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The first phrase I learned after moving to the Middle East was ahlan wa sahlan (welcome).

The second phrase, which I hear nearly as often, is inshallah (God willing).

Inshallah peppers most conversations. Usually, the term is tagged onto any plans made for the future, such as, "We'll meet for coffee tomorrow afternoon, inshallah." At a basic level, the phrase defines all human plans as operating only within the bounds of divine will.

Initially, hearing the term used so frequently was a bit unsettling. Trying to navigate unfamiliar bus stops, I would ask, "Will this bus go to the Abdali station?" The driver responds with "inshallah." (Suddenly, it seems that only divine favor will get us through the crazy roundabout traffic.)

In a taxi, the request, "please turn left here," elicits a noncommittal "inshallah." (The turnoff, 20 meters ahead in a quiet neighborhood, instantly seems riskier.) In reality, the expression is often used like the word "yes" with an asterisk. It means, "Yes, but I won't presume to tell the future in advance."

Sometimes we joke about misuse of the phrase. I might press a student about finishing a homework assignment, but he responds with "tomorrow, inshallah." How can any teacher argue, if completing homework only occurs in accordance with the will of God? So I'm thinking, "Okay, Omar, but you can't blame your decision to play Nintendo all night on God's will."

Inshallah can seem downright evasive. Having missed a deadline, it leaves a loophole. Perhaps divine will kept us from completing our task. At times, it seems like "tomorrow inshallah" means "never."

Yet hearing this caveat inserted into all plans has affected how I think about the future. Over time, I noticed a parallel between the inshallah mind-set and a basic Christian principle.

I now find myself silently thinking, "If God wills," when I make plans for next year. Many centuries ago, a man named James, actually the human half brother of Jesus Christ, advised thinking in such terms:

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15 James 4:13-15 [13] Go to now, you that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: [14] Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. [15] For that you ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
American King James Version×

Taking this passage as an example, we could tag "if the Lord wills" onto every sentence we speak. But we won't, though, because the attitude that underlies the phrase is more important.

Do we boast of our plans as though the future were entirely within our control? Or, more dangerously, do we simply delete God from the planning board of our life?

Today we try to limit all uncertainty. We buy health insurance, life insurance and car insurance. We even buy extra insurance just in case others have not. We stock up on food and water. We diversify our savings. In reality life today is uncertain. Thinking with an "if God wills" mind-set can help us to keep our focus daily on the true source of inspiration and hope.

God's faithfulness remains constant. He has a plan for humanity far better than any insurance. Ultimately, you can be sure how the story concludes.

Want God more involved in your life? Check out the booklet You Can Have Living Faith. VT