Recently, I have been engaged in some deep conversations about calling and vocation. I have been reading books on the subject. One of the common themes that emerges is this idea that God's call on our lives is "often against our will." That is, given the opportunity to do what God asks us to do ...or not... most of us would choose not.
The example is then given of Moses, who did not want to speak for Israel; of Jonah, who did not want to go to Nineveh; of Abraham, who did not want to leave his home; of Noah, who did not want to build a boat. And so on and so on.
But if you read back through these stories, something striking emerges: none of these men actually said they were not willing to do what God has asked them to do. These, and many other of our beloved Bible characters, only ever said they were not qualified to do these things.
It was a failure of imagination, not of will.
Moses never said he was not willing to speak for the Hebrews; he said he was a stutterer. He said that there were other men more qualified than him. He said that there were better people to do the job. It's not that he was unwilling to be the spokesman or even that he was unwilling that the Hebrews be rescued from their oppression in Egypt. He simply couldn't fathom, in the greatest powers of his imagination, that he was the guy for the job. He couldn't see it.
Jonah never said he was not willing that Nineveh be turned from its wicked ways. He only said he wasn't the guy for the job. He wasn't the one to take the message. We get kind of a bad impression of Nineveh from the book of Jonah, and it's easy to read into it that he probably strongly disliked the city. But maybe this city just had a powerful reputation for its wickedness, and Jonah, even knowing that he was maybe a decent prophet, did not think he could say anything that would be meaningful for them. He didn't think he had the words to turn them, and if he speaks without turning them, they may turn against him. He couldn't see how this could turn out well - for him or for them.
Abraham was a childless man. He'd longed his whole life for children, but his wife remained barren. Then God says, "Go from here to there, and I will make you a father of many nations." It's not that Abraham was not willing to have children, or even that he was not willing to move. He just couldn't see it.
Noah received the divine blueprint for saving grace. We don't know if he had any background in construction, if he had ever built (or even sailed) a boat before. Maybe there's a parallel to be drawn between the carpentry of man's first saving grace and his second, the carpenter's son. I don't know. But we never see Noah say he's not willing to build a boat. He may have a thousand other questions. He may wonder how he's supposed to accomplish this, and where he's supposed to put it while he does, but he doesn't say he's not up to it. He only says maybe he's not the guy. He doesn't see it.
For all of the stories that we see where we are so quick to say that someone was not willing, a true reading of the story reveals that it has so little to do with will; it's a matter of imagination. It's not that these men were unwilling; they just couldn't see it.
And I wonder if it's not the same for us. Could it be that our greatest challenge is not that our will is so opposed to God's but that our imagination is so limited? Could it be that we just can't see it?
If so, what, then, do we do with the call of God on our lives?