Someone I know, who I prefer to remain nameless in this place, not too long ago said something all humble-like regarding something he’d done. After everything was finished, and lots of praise was being offered, this individual admitted that he was, “…just glad to be an instrument of God.” Cringe, as a descriptive word, might be a little strong for describing my actual response to the post, but the sentiment is close enough.
I think in nearly every instance, this concept of being an instrument of God is a misleading one, and quite frankly is often a little dangerous. In the wrong context it’s essentially a (not the only) driving force behind so very many horrible things ever done in the name of religion. When you think you’re an instrument of God, you’re automatically right. Unquestionably. After all, if you were a tool of the divine and yet you’re not right, then the necessary implication is that the Divine would have been mistaken, if nothing else, in the usage (or “service”) It intended you for. But the implications go deeper than that – if you’re not absolutely right as an instrument of God, then God is not only mistaken is how It used you for whatever purpose you served, but also the “god-thoughts” that led to It using you as an instrument for Its purposes. Not many people will try to say that God was wrong about something. And so when Christians have witch hunts or Muslims use airplanes as living bombs they’re so completely certain that their mission is God’s work, which means we’re necessarily faced with the fact that either they’re mistaken or God is (or, if God isn’t wrong, we’re forced to admit that God – in allowing tragedies like witch hunts and 9/11 – is unjust, cruel, vicious, and temperamental). We can probably accurately speculate which case might be the reality.
How about instances of beauty, though? If someone does something wonderful – especially if it “blesses” others – surely it’s the Lord working through that person, right? Don’t hate me, but I’m not convinced. Why can’t something like that just be good example of karma at work?
As I’ve been considering this, a Catholic Christian prayer comes to mind – one that I’ve absolutely been touched by since I encountered it years ago. Many are familiar with what’s erroneously known as The Prayer of Saint Francis (of Assisi). I’ve included it here…
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This prayer, regardless of its actual origin, carries much meaning and is something I’ve used before to help regain perspective and direction. But, you must be thinking, surely this prayer points out that God DOES use others as instruments – after all, the very first line has the speaker asking for just that. What about 10 of the other 14 lines? The author isn’t asking that God sow love where there is hatred. “Let me sow love,” the prayer goes. The prayer doesn’t actually even request God to do those things through the one praying. This is a prayer of karma (although not necessarily Karma Yoga). I really think one needs to be careful with deciding what God’s used as an instrument.
In Hinduism, we’re often taught that we’re not the Doer. In that light, specifically, it could be construed that God uses us as instruments, and my next post is planned to touch on that a bit, so keep your pants on. But Hinduism also teaches that we cannot refrain from acting. So then we do do something, right? Surely. In all the advice Krishna offers Arjuna, he never once says, “You have to do what you have to do because I’m doing great things through you.” He gives a million other tidbits to Arjuna regarding the nature of action and how we’re to view action and how we should approach it, etc… but it’s never said that this is how God uses people as instruments in this world to accomplish anything. In a related vein, I’d wager that God accomplishes very little in the world insofar as people usually understand words like “accomplish” and concepts like being used as divine instruments.
Being a so-called instrument of God doesn’t mean God did or does do anything through you. But it might mean that through you, others are able to glimpse God. This isn’t splitting hairs, but even if you want to think that it is splitting hairs, it’s all the same. Just be careful what you think God is trying to do, as this has historically been quite a risky gamble.
Aum Mahaganeshaya Namaha