“God Willing…”

This phrase has always confused me. More than a question of faith or religion, the saying’s fundamental meaning has eluded me for years. I first remember hearing it while living in Michigan talking with corn farmers. They would often use this expression when referring to the weather, as in “God willing, we’ll get some good rain this season” or “God willing, the frost wont set in early.” While these people were of varying and diverse faiths, the saying was something of a common thread in all my conversations while living there; and now that I’m so far away from that place and time it’s almost a happy coincidence that reminds me of just how similar we as people really are.  Here in Ghana though, this phrase can be heard in almost every conversation.

See you in the morning, God willing.

God willing, I’ll get into university next year.

Your car will be ready by, God willing, next week.

God willing, the fried rice is coming.

 But what separates Ghana’s use of this expression from that of Michigan is more than its frequency but the faith behind it. In Michigan it seemed more of a colloquialism, sort of like eh in Canada or ya’ll in the South. But here it is said with a smile of quiet reassurance that if perhaps it isn’t God’s will and the rain disappears and the fried rice isn’t coming, you don’t get into university next year and I don’t see you in the morning, things will be ok.

What makes one society more religious than another? There are many differences between the US and Ghana, language, food, history, climate, history. All these things add color to the culture but fail to explain the question of why faith is something shared in one place and kept private in another. What’s even more remarkable is not that faith is just a prominent facet of society in Ghana but that every religion is held with equal and shared respect and esteem. Where does this come from? It comes from nothing.

This religious faith and shared respect for divergent beliefs comes from having nothing else to cling to, no sure foundation against the sometimes tumultuous environment of a nation climbing out of first-world conditions. You aren’t always sure if you will see that person in the morning. You may never go to university, or even high school for that matter. These things are often out of your control, and with no tangible face to entrust your unsure future you turn to God, or Jesus, or Allah. You essentially relinquish possession of your future, your frustration, your fright, and your fear to someone who you believe is better equipped to deal with those things. While letting go of negative emotions may be liberating, even healthy, giving up on your future and feeling helpless are not.

Now this is not so much a religious discussion as it is a developmental topic. Human beings should be secure about the present and allowed to plan for the future with that same fervor. And those who have a vision of their own futures should reach out to those wandering in the mists of uncertainty, giving them something solid to hold on to until they can see theirs as well. I believe this is my duty as one who has been given everything, faith in the future and the comforts of the present. There is so much that can be done, so many opportunities to help someone feel comfortable enough in the present to have hope in the future. This is one of the things I will pack up and take home with me when it’s time to go, and this is the reason I come back to Ghana.