HENRY WANTS IT. THEREFORE GOD WANTS IT.
King Henry VIII was a self-absorbed despot. But he took his religion very seriously. In fact, Henry believed everything he desired was God’s will as well. Whatever Henry wanted, ipso facto, God wanted. And if you didn’t do what Henry told you to do, you weren’t just disobeying Henry. You were disobeying God Almighty. Needless to say, execution was a common tool Henry would use to punish those who would threaten or thwart Henry’s/God’s will. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was tossed aside for being incapable of delivering Henry a male heir. He wanted a divorce from Catherine so that he could marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. This drew rejection from the pope. But, because Henry wanted it, it was also God’s will and separated England from the Church of Rome, by parliamentarian vote. His second wife, Ann Boleyn, also failed to provide him an air. Henry’s right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, had her arrested for treason. Henry had her head cut off. After six marriages, hundreds of bloody executions, power struggles and intrigue, Henry lie in his bed, extremely overweight, writhing in pain, open sores, fever, and his court in disarray. His biggest nemesis, the Duke of Norfolk, awaiting execution from the orders of Henry. They never came. Henry died before he could make them.
In Henry’s mind, he was the It Guy. He believed he was a gift to England, Europe and mankind. He believed God knew this, which was why he helped place Henry on the throne in the first place. God had great taste. His dad placed the Tudors on the throne. Henry was the first Tudor king to inherit the throne amidst lots of other royal families who had as much a right to the throne (if not more) than he did. That reality drove his distrust and ruthlessness in his court. But he was a very devout Catholic (prior to axing Rome from English matters). He prayed. He sought advice of his bishop. He took the outward forms of Christianity very seriously. It was his inner life that remain untouched. How do we know this? Out of the heart comes the thoughts, desires and resulting actions of people. Henry’s paranoia, uncontrollable lust for women and power were clearly not coming from a heart for God.
Henry was a turd. And any student of Jesus Christ could easily see that Henry’s will wasn’t necessarily God’s will. In fact, any student of Jesus Christ would tell you that God doesn’t align His will with yours. You align your will with His. Once more, if you choose not to, God will let you have your way. Romans 12:1-2 states:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are all habitually trained to think, act and live in the pattern of this world. What is that pattern? Well, its selfishness expressed as lust, greed, violence, deception. It’s manipulation of others to achieve what you desire. It’s believing you can control the outcomes of things to see you will vindicated, so long as you do what’s necessary to make that happen. It reflects self-will. If that’s the pattern of the world, what other pattern is better? And how would we be able to change to fit that pattern? From this text, it’s clear that thinking and how we think is the first part that needs to be transformed. And this is done, essentially, by surrendering the project of our life to God. Surrendering to Him means abandoning your will and desire and preconceptions to be open to what He has to say about it, and adjust accordingly. He gives us the indirect means to do accomplish this. In other words, there are simple disciplines we can do so that we can indirectly accomplish, through His continual overtures of grace, those things we cannot accomplish on our own.
Notice that in verse 2, the order is first you present yourselves as a living sacrifice (give up the project of your life and give it to God), next you pursue the transformation of your thought world (study, meditating on His word, other means)…THEN you will be able to discern the will of God. And I would add, you will be able to discern His will especially in the more mundane things, as well as the larger ones. When you can discern His will better, you can adjust your life accordingly. And this isn’t something that happens immediately. It takes a long time and never really ends.
You can’t know God’s will, even in the tiny stuff if you don’t surrender the project of your life and begin the process of aligning yourself to the Kingdom of God, which is God in action in your life and around you. Outside of doing that, the will of God is elusive, resulting in mere platitudes. In such a case, the only will we can be sure of is our own. And off we go equating our will to God’s, if we are so motivated. And the motivation is already there to do it. Ask Henry. Not all of us are geared to be as Oedipal or self-absorbed as Henry. But all of us are intimately familiar with self-will and all that goes with it. Our natural capacity is to ignore God’s will or equate it with our own, so we can get what we want, or what we think we want. It is through the Many are, especially where ministry is very visible. Regardless, outside of God’s Kingdom, our natural inclination is self-will, without much regard to what that means or the wake it may cause.
MAKING WONDERFUL CONSEQUENCES OF HORRIBLE DECISIONS
Although God permits us to have our way, does that somehow tie God’s hands behind His back? Does it make Him innocuous or limited? Hardly. Although God wasn’t in approval of Henry’s long list of desires and expectations, God wasn’t hamstrung. Look at the mess Henry caused by trying to change wives. It led to a split from Rome. People’s lives were destroyed in the wake of his desire to marry a mistress so he could have a son for an heir. Yet, a couple of long term things resulted from all this mess.
First, Henry came from outside the circle of English royal inner circle. Although his father was an earl and his mother a countess, the Tudors weren’t at the top of the food chain. His father attained the throne through battle, of which Henry was the heir. And it was a tenuous victory. As a result, Henry distrusted the inner ring in terms of counsel. He consciously chose men from common background, rather than from aristocracy, to be his closest advisors. After all, Henry thought the son of a butcher wouldn’t be a part of the adversaries vying to unseat him. After parting with Rome, he broke up the monasteries and sold them…not to dukes and lords, but to merchants and commoners. These things led to the end of feudalism and gave rise to the British middle class. More people could access the wealth of the British Kingdom.
Second, Cromwell (his advisor), for the very first time in the history of the monarchy, used Parliament as the pivotal state decision to separate from Rome. Parliament voted to give the church’s leadership to Henry. That would be the catalyst leading to democratic representation. From that point forward, Parliament became a critically important part of British governance. Although the monarchy remained, many decisions would be made by representatives of the people. Of course, British people who came to America brought this sort of governance with them, leading to revolution and a new nation guided by a very similar form of government but without a monarch. Neither Henry nor Cromwell had a clue this one decision to separate from Rome would have such far-reaching impact. And it would probably not be the impact Henry would have desired, had he known it.
Third, because of the split with Rome, Henry’s advisors would recommend something considered radical in that day: publish the Bible in English so everyone could read it. There were several other reforms Henry and his advisors made that let the genie out of the bottle. Although Henry regretted many of these decisions when his circumstances required he abandon them, the genie was out and couldn’t be controlled. This led to church reform in England that gave birth to separation of church and state, autonomous local church bodies, as well as getting Scripture into the hands of common people. Between the rise of Parliament and church reforms, both under Henry’s watch, the seeds were planted for the United States of America, which would initially begin with the religious refugees who were beneficiaries of the reforms and of the legislative form of democracy.
These are very good long term consequences and reveal a sovereign God who can make chicken salad of compost. More such examples could be mentioned. The point being that although these things were accomplished because of wicked desires and acts by a wicked king, God used them to further His Kingdom in ways that were not even on the radar of Henry or his advisors when they were made. Regardless of the short term knee-jerk decisions, God used them for some awesome long term consequences. That’s how God works. He’s a God of redemption. He is constantly bringing all things under the control of Christ. This short bit of history gives us a glimpse of how He does it.
IF WE’RE HONEST, WE CAN IDENTIFY WITH HENRY
I can call Henry a turd. The truth is, I am a lot like Henry. I know what it is like to get what I want and presume God wants me to get it. I can understand blaming others for my own shortcomings and wanting to rid myself of their presence because it reminds me all too much of my own mess. But I’m not the King of England, don’t have a court or a Tower of London to put people. Thank God! Sometimes having extreme limitations can be a blessing. There’s probably no telling what sort of mess I could create were I given such latitude and power. Aside that, although I know I can identify a bit with Henry, I can also see God redeem Henry’s bad choices. I can also see that bad choices do not get in the way of a God of redemption. And that makes me not be so shame-ridden. I’ve made some really bad choices too. But because of Jesus’ atoning and redemptive work on the cross, I am free of my history. I accept His redemptive work on my behalf. And I am truly free. I may not be free of the consequences of my decisions. But I am free of anything that would stand between God and me. That path is clear, flat and open, because of Christ.
Look at what Henry did. The people he deemed dangerous, he simply arrested them and cut off their heads. When his wives wouldn’t produce a son, he did the same. He broke relations with Rome over the fact he wanted to divorce his old wife and trade up with a newer model. And the wake left in the lives of those who felt Henry’s retribution and carelessness were permanently dented. Yet, you can see God using what seemed to be his knee-jerk strategies of getting what he wanted as a long term good which led to religious freedom, representative democracy in the English-speaking world as well as a Bible published in English for the first time. Think of what God can do with the bad choices you’ve made, if you entrust your life in Christ? I doubt you beheaded people or ran a country into the poor house. But if He could redeem that mess, He can redeem yours. There’s no doubt that whatever could be called unfortunate in our perspective, He can turn around and use it for our good.
Think of a former drug dealer who learned how to be street smart among a dangerous crowd. He accepts Christ, turns his life around and becomes a pastor. And although he never returns to that old world again, some of the things he learned on the streets he drew upon when handling difficult situations and difficult people in church. In fact, his street credibility was transformed into a straight-talk honesty that ministered to many people who were simply tired of the Christian charade. I knew that man. Were he still alive, he’d tell you too. God redeems it all. He not only transforms lives, but He transforms the mistakes we make in our lives for His Kingdom. Read the following verses from Colossians 1:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Did you read that? He is reconciling all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And that includes reconciling you! Do you think you’ve made bad choices that prevail over someone who holds everything in subsistence and is reconciling all things in heaven and earth? If you do, you’re probably far more self-absorbed than Henry. There is no bad choice that can keep you from the Kingdom of God. That’s the reason Jesus taught the Beatitudes. He wanted everyone to know that the Kingdom of God is for anyone, regardless of status or position. The Kingdom is even available to the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourning…pretty much all those people you normally wouldn’t think had access to any Kingdom. Remember, the Kingdom of God is God in action in your life and surroundings. You can be a part of that.
Your worst day He transforms so it can be used for His Kingdom. It doesn’t make any difference how bad you are. Do you remember the Son of Sam? His real name is David Berkowitz. He was a serial killer in the 1970’s and he is still in prison. And he’s okay with that. He found Jesus and now ministers in prison. His desire is to reach others with the Kingdom, even if it’s done his entire life behind bars. That’s pretty cool. If God can redeem the Son of Sam, He can handle whatever you’ve been holding on to. It isn’t keeping you from Him, despite what you think (or maybe even taught). So why not take advantage of His offer of a new kind of life now?
If you have accepted Christ but feel in a rut, read Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7. Read Romans 12:1-2. Start to see that the kind of life Jesus offers you in here and now. Heaven when you die is just icing on the cake. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was not merely to get people to go to the good place and avoid going to the bad place. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is to get heaven into you now, where you are. If you haven’t accepted Christ, what in the world could you be waiting for? Get it over with already. The kind of peace Christ gives, even in the bad times, far surpasses any high you could experience on your own, in the best of times. Yes, I don’t know all of you’ve done. It doesn’t matter. In light of all Henry’s mess and how God redeemed that, what have you got to lose?