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Thy Will Be Done

by Ronald R Johnson (

This is an article entitled, “Thy Will Be Done,” by Lloyd C Douglas, published while Douglas was pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester, Indiana (USA), sometime between 1903 and 1905. The date and name of the periodical are not given, but he is identified as being in North Manchester, which was his first pastorate. The essay is on p. 23 of Scrapbook 1 in Box 5 of Douglas’s private papers at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Even in his day, people questioned why bad things happen to good people. Douglas doesn’t answer that question, but he challenges the belief that such tragedies are God’s will. The last paragraph is especially noteworthy:

A steamer burns just off the New York coast and brings destruction to hundreds of our own faith, and before we recover from the shock the newspapers tell the story, in broad type, of a wreck on the railroad near Chicago, that sends more than a score of Sunday-school workers to instant death, and twice that number to the hospitals, from which they will be taken later, maimed and invalided.

And we are all praying, ‘Thy will, O God, be done!’ I am wondering what we mean when we offer that petition. Can it be that we conceive these tragedies, which bring suffering and sorrow into hundreds of homes, to be the will of our Heavenly Father, who proclaims himself the Strong Tower of Defense and Preserver of his children? Has not the Great Ruler a right to better treatment at the hands of his friends, who have taken a vow of fealty to him?

When Christ came to earth his supreme mission was to do the Father’s will. Being of one purpose, the Second Person of the Trinity manifestly dare not overthrow or thwart the designs of the First Person; yet, with this fact facing us, we find the Master-Man healing all manner of diseases, proving that diseases were not in accord with God’s will: opening sightless eyes and soundless ears; causing the lame to walk and the dead to return to life. It is not to be thought of that the Savior would defeat his Father’s plans; so the conclusion is inevitable: God did not and does not approve of the affliction of humanity.

Christ did not come heralded as the Great Tormentor, but as the Great Physician.

To lay these afflictions at the charge of God, therefore, is to do him grievous wrong and dishonor the attributes of divine goodness. It is no more God’s will that men and women should suffer pain, illness, or bereavement than that sin should have entered into the world and victimized the human race.

The statement, ‘Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth,’ is inspired and true; but does he send his chastisements in the form of wholesale slaughter? God imposes tests of faith upon his children, but does he ordain general massacres as such tests? The hero of the greatest faith-test in Old-World story was asked to conclude his operations while the knife was still upraised.

The Christian world does not want to believe in a God who manifests no mercy—nor need it, if his Word is properly interpreted.

At the time of the fall, man received the threatened curse. Not only was this divine judgment levied upon man, but applied quite as forcibly to nature. Nature has been made for man, and, in a sense, her destiny was coupled with the destiny of man; so when he fell, nature fell too. ‘Thorns and thistles’ were to grow unhindered. The winds, that had gently stirred the foliage in the Garden of Eden were now to blow unbridled. Storms would rage; conflagrations destroy; floods devastate. What sin was to man’s soul, nature’s ravages would be to his body. And nature inflicts her depravity upon the just and the unjust, because her redemption, while provided in the atonement, has not yet been accepted.

Redemption, to be efficacious, must be embraced by its object. The oak tree cannot say: ‘I accept the redemption provided for me in the atonement.’ Man can say that, and secure for himself the personal application of such salvation, but not until this redemption of individuals shall have been perfect—in a word, not until all men have been judged in the light of this redemption will nature be restored; which restoration is foreseen in the ‘new heaven and new earth.’

Until that time the ‘rain falls on the just and the unjust,’ and the floods come, and the wind blows and beats upon the house on the rock, and the house upon the sand. And he, who told the story of the two foundations, would prefer his friends to think of him rather as the rock than as the devastating flood.

North Manchester, Ind.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Against a Parochial View of God

by Ronald R Johnson (

The controversial side of Lloyd C Douglas…

From a farewell sermon entitled, “Five Years of Akron,” delivered at the First Congregational Church of Akron on October 31, 1926. (He was on his way to a pastorate in Los Angeles.) This is reprinted in Living Faith, pp. 77-92:

I have attempted to present an idea of Deity which portrays Him as a conscious kinetic energy, speaking to the world through all the media of His creation; not a parochial Jehovah, or Zeus, or Apollo, especially concerned with the welfare of any particular class of people at any particular time in history – but a Universal Father of all mankind.

And, because I have so believed, I have made no effort to disguise my opinion that every alleged quotation of God’s voice, reported in holy books (ours or any other’s) which reveals Him as a parochial God, or engaged in any thought or action not consonant with the thoughts and acts of a cosmic and universal God – is no more to be believed or credited, because written several thousand years ago by some pious shepherd, than if it were to have been written yesterday afternoon on some preacher’s typewriter.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

What to Do with “Everyday” Life

by Ronald R Johnson (

One of the things I find so interesting about Lloyd Douglas is the insight he had early in his ministry (only eight years after graduating from seminary) that Christians in modern times were being forced to choose between two very different approaches to the world: the mindset and intellectual habits of “everyday life” in twentieth century society vs. the mindset and intellectual habits of the ancient Greek world. He got this idea from Shailer Mathews, Chair of the Religion Department at the University of Chicago, when Douglas and his wife attended a lecture series by Mathews on the east coast sometime between 1909 and 1911.

Douglas believed that faith in Christ should not require people to abandon the mindset and intellectual habits that served them well in their jobs Monday through Friday. He was thinking here of professionals especially. The state universities were increasingly producing waves of graduates who were taught to question assumptions, consider alternatives, and put ideas to the test. These habits were not only making the workforce more productive; they were also changing the way people lived their personal lives. On Douglas’s view, there was nothing either irreligious or antireligious about this way of approaching things; what made this new approach a threat to Christian religion was the fact that the church’s leadership was still largely committed to the mindset and intellectual habits that were common during the days of Christ: that is, the ancient Greek and Hebrew worldviews.

Douglas saw it as his personal and professional mission to divest Christian faith of the old secular philosophies and worldviews that had wrapped themselves around it and were threatening to choke the life out of it. There was nothing in the teachings of Jesus, he thought, that required people to believe in Aristotelian cosmology or biology or any other kind of -ology. Yet he saw leaders of the faith railing against the latest scientific discoveries because those leaders were still stuck in the old ways of viewing the universe and its history. Christ’s message, he felt, was for all time, and must not have its future tied so closely to ancient ways of thinking.

He therefore chose to spend ten years (1911-1921) ministering at two universities (the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan), where, he says, “I daily faced the new problem of a readjustment in religious thought, to make it consonant with the more recent disclosures of the philosophical and religious world.” (This is from a sermon, “Five Years of Akron,” preached at the First Congregational Church of Akron on October 31, 1926, and printed in The Living Faith, p. 80.) His objective was not to force the gospel to fit the culture, but to clear away the old cultural vestiges that were still clinging so tightly to Christian faith.

I believe that we Christians in America are still largely unaware of the problem that he saw so clearly one hundred years ago. That is one of the reasons why I feel it is so worthwhile – and even vitally important – for us to hear his voice again.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: