Treating of the Will of God St. Thomas, following St. Augustine, teaches that it is the cause of all that exists.1 The Psalmist tells us that "all that the Lord wills he does in heaven and on earth, in the seas and in all the deeps."2 Again in the Book of the Apocalypse it is written: "Worthy art thou, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things, and because of thy will they existed and were created.3
Hence it is the Will of God which from nothingness drew out the universe with all its grandeur and all that lives in it, the earth with all that is on it and beneath it, all creatures visible and invisible, living and inanimate, reasonable and without reason, from the highest to the lowest.
If God then has produced all these things, as St. Paul says, according to the purpose of his will,4 is it not supremely right and reasonable as well as absolutely necessary that they should be preserved and governed by Him according to the counsel of His will? And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?5
But the works of God are perfect it is written in the Canticle of Moses.6 They are so well done that God Himself, whose judgment is strict and righteous, found when He had created them that they were good and very good.7 It is quite obvious that He who hath founded the earth by wisdom and hath established the heavens by understanding8 could not show less perfection in governing His works than in creating them. So, as He is careful to remind us, if his Providence continues to have care of all things,9 it is in measure and number and weight,10 it is with justice and mercy.11 Neither can any man say to him, Why dost thou so?12 For if He assigns to His creatures the end that He wills, and chooses the means which seem good to Him to lead them to it, the end He assigns them must be good and wise, nor can He direct them towards their end other than by good and wise means. Therefore do not become foolish13 the Apostle tells us, but understand what the will of the Lord is, so that doing it you may receive the promise,14 that is to say eternal happiness, for it is written the world with its lust is passing away, but he who does the will of God abides forever. 15
Nothing happens in the the universe without God willing and allowing it. This statement must he taken absolutely of everything with the exception of sin. 'Nothing occurs by chance in the whole course of our lives' is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, 'and God intervenes everywhere.'
I am the Lord, He tells us Himself by the mouth of the prophet Isaias, and there is none else. I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.1 It is I who bring both death and life, I who inflict wounds and heal them, He said to Moses.2 'The Lord killeth and maketh alive, it is written in the Canticle of Anna, the mother of Samuel, He bringeth down to the tomb and He bringeth back again; the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, he humbleth and he exalteth.3 Shall there be evil (disaster, affliction) in a city which the Lord hath not done? 4 asks the prophet Amos: Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches are from God Solomon proclaims. 5 And so on in numerous other passages of Scripture.
Perhaps you will say that while this is true of certain necessary effects, like sickness, death, cold and heat, and other accidents due to natural causes which have no liberty of action, the same cannot be said in the case of things that result from the free will of man. For if, you will object, someone slanders me, robs me, strikes me, persecutes me, how can I attribute his conduct to the will of God who far from wishing me to be treated in such a manner, expressly forbids it? So the blame, you will conclude, can only be laid on the will of man, on his ignorance or malice. This is the defense behind which we try to shelter from God and excuse our lack of courage and submission.
It is quite useless for us to try and take advantage of this way of reasoning as an excuse for not surrendering to Providence. God Himself has refuted it and we must believe on His word that in events of this kind as in all others, nothing occurs except by His order and permission.
Let us see what the Scriptures say. He wishes to punish the murder and adultery committed by David and He expresses Himself as follows by the mouth of the prophet Nathan: Why therefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in my sight? Thou hast killed Urias the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and host taken the wife of Urias the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes and give them to thy neighbor and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing in the sight of all all Israel, and in the sight of the sun.6
Later when the Jews by their iniquities had grievously offended Him and provoked His wrath, He says: The Assyrian is the rod and the staff of my anger, and my indignation is in his hands. I will send him to the deceitful nation, and I will give him charge against the people of my wrath, to take away the spoils, and to lay hold on the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.7
Could God more openly declare Himself to be responsible for the evils that Absalom caused his father and the King of Assyria the Jews? It would be easy to find other instances but these are enough. Let us conclude then with St. Augustine: "All that happens to us in this world against our will (whether due to men or to other causes) happens to us only by the will of God, by the disposal of Providence, by His orders and under His guidance; and if from the frailty of our understanding we cannot grasp the reason for some event, let us attribute it to divine Providence, show Him respect by accepting it from His hand, believe firmly that He does not send it us without cause."
Replying to the murmurs and complaints of the Jews who attributed their captivity and sufferings to misfortune and causes other than the will of God, the prophet Jeremias says to them: Who is he that hath commanded a thing to be done, when the Lord commandeth it not? Do not both evil and good proceed out of the mouth of the Highest? Why doth a living man murmur, a man suffering for his sins? Let us search our ways, and seek, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts with our hands to the Lord in the heavens, saying, We have done wickedly and provoked thee to wrath; therefore thou art inexorable.8
Are not these words clear enough? We should take them to heart for our own good. Let us be careful to attribute everything to the will of God and believe that all is guided by His paternal hand.
However, you will perhaps now say, there is sinfulness in all these actions. How then can God will them and take part in them if He is all-holy and can have nothing in common with sin?
God indeed is not and cannot he the author of sin. But it must he remembered that in every sin there are two parts to be distinguished, one natural and the other moral. Thus, in the action of the man you think you have a grievance against there is, for example, the movement of the arm that strikes you or the tongue that offends you, and the movement of the will that turns aside from right reason and the law of God. The physical action of the arm or the tongue, like all natural things, is quite good in itself and there is nothing to prevent its being produced with and by God's cooperation. What is evil, what God could not cooperate with, is the sinful intention which the will of man contributes to the act.
When a man walks with a crippled leg the movement he makes comes both from the soul and the leg, but the defect which causes him to walk badly is only in the leg. In the same way all evil actions must be attributed to God and to man in so far as they are natural, physical acts, but they can be attributed only to the will of man in so far as they are sinful and blameworthy.
If then someone strikes you or slanders you, as the movement of the arm or tongue is in no way a sin, God can very well be, and actually is, the author of it; for existence and movement in man not less than in any other creature proceed not from himself but from God, who acts in him and by him. For in Him says St. Paul, we live and move and have our being.9 As for the malice of the intention, it proceeds entirely from man and in it alone is the sinfulness in which God has no share but which He yet permits in order not to interfere with our freedom of will.
Moreover, when God cooperates with the person who attacks or robs you, He doubtless intends to deprive you of health or goods because you are making a wrong use of them and they will be harmful to your soul. But He does not intend that the attacker or robber should take them from you by a sin. That is the part of human malice, not God's design.
An example may make the matter clearer. A criminal is condemned to death by fair trial. But the executioner happens to be a personal enemy of his, and instead of carrying out the judge's sentence as a duty, he does so in a spirit of hate and revenge. Obviously the judge has no share in the executioner's sin. The will and intention of the judge is not that this sin should he committed, but that justice should take its course and the criminal be punished.
In the same way God has no share at all in the wickedness of the man who strikes or robs you. That is something particular to the man himself. God, as we have said, wishes to make you see your own faults, to humble you, deprive you of what you possess, in order to free you from vice and lead you to virtue; but this good and merciful design, which He could carry out in numerous other ways without any sin being involved, has nothing in common with the sin of the man who acts as His instrument. And in fact it is not this man's evil intention or sin that causes you to suffer, humiliates or impoverishes you, but the loss of your well being, your good name or you possessions. The sin harms only the person who is guilty of it. This is the way we ought to separate the good from the evil in events of this kind, and distinguish what God operates through men from what men add to the act by their own will.
St. Gregory sets the same truth before us in another light. A doctor, he says orders leeches to be applied. While these small creatures are drawing blood from the patient their only aim is to gorge themselves and suck up as much of it as they can. The doctor's only intention is to have the impure blood drawn from the patient and to cure him in this manner. There is therefore no relation between the insatiable greed of the leeches and the intelligent purpose of the doctor in using them. The patient himself does not protest at their use. He does not regard the leeches as evildoers. Rather he tries to overcome the repugnance the sight of their ugliness causes and help them in their action, in the knowledge that the doctor has judged it useful for his health.
God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of wellbeing, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above.
This truth has always been familiar to the minds of those truly enlightened by God. We have a celebrated example in Job. He loses his children and his possessions; he falls from the height of fortune to the depths of poverty. And he says The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.10 "Note" observes St. Augustine "Job does not say 'The Lord gave and the devil hath taken away' but says, wise that he is, 'The Lord gave me my children and my possessions, and it is He who has taken them away; it has been done as it has pleased the Lord.'"
The example of Joseph is no less instructive. His brothers had sold him into slavery from malice and for a wicked purpose, and nevertheless the holy patriarch insists on attributing all to God's providence. God sent me, he says, before you into Egypt to save life. . . . God sent me before you to preserve a remnant for you in the land, and to deliver you in striking way. Not you but God sent me here, and made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his house, and ruler over the land of Egypt.11
Let us now listen to Our Savior himself who came down from heaven to teach us by His word and example. In an excess of zeal Peter tries to turn him aside from His purpose of submitting to His passion and prevent the soldiers laying their hands on Him. But Jesus said to him: Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?12 In fact He attributed the suffering and ignominy of His passion not to the Jews who accused him, not to Judas who betrayed Him, nor to Pilate who condemned Him, nor to the soldiers who ill-treated and crucified Him, nor to the devil who incited them all, though they were the immediate causes of His sufferings, but to God, and to God not considered as a strict judge but as a loving and beloved Father.
Let us never then attribute our losses, our disappointments, our afflictions, our humiliations to the devil or to men, but to God as their real source. "To act otherwise" says St. Dorothy, "would be to do the same as a dog who vents his anger on the stone instead of putting the blame on the hand that threw it at him." So let us be careful not to say 'So-and-so is the cause of my misfortune.' Your misfortunes are the work not of this or that person but of God. And what should give you reassurance is that God, the sovereign good, is guided in all His actions by His most profound wisdom for holy and supernatural purposes.
All wisdom comes from the Lord God we find in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, and with him it remains forever, and is before all time . . . and he has poured her forth upon all his works.1 How manifold are your works, O Lord! exclaims the Psalmist, In wisdom thou hast wrought them all2 It could not be otherwise, for God, being infinite wisdom and acting by Himself, cannot act except in an infinitely wise manner.
For this reason many of the Doctors of the Church hold that, having regard to the circumstances, His works are so perfect that they could not be more so, and so good that they could hot be better. 'We ought then' says St. Basil, 'to ponder well on this thought, that we are the work of a good Workman, and that He dispenses and distributes to us all things great and small with the wisest providence, so that there is nothing had, nothing that could even be conceived better.' The works of the Lord are great the Psalmist again says, exquisite in all their delights.3 His wisdom is especially shown in the right proportion between the means He employs and the end He has in view. She reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.4 She (Wisdom) governs men with admirable order, she leads them to their happiness mightily but without violence or constraint, with sweetness and not only with sweetness, but still more with circumspection.
But though you have might at your disposal, says the Sage, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us.5 You are endowed with an infinite strength that nothing can resist but with us you do not use the absolute power of your sovereign authority. You treat us with extreme condescension and adapting yourself to the weakness of nature, design to place each one of us in the best and most suitable situation for working out our salvation. You dispose of us with great favor as persons who at your living image and of noble origin and who, because of their condition, are not to be ordered in the voice of a master as if they were slaves, but with care and consideration. You treat us with the same circumspection as one handles a vase of precious crystal or fragile pottery for fear of breaking it. When it is necessary for our good for you to afflict us or send us some illness or make us suffer some loss or pain, you always do so with a certain respect and a kind of deference. As a surgeon who has to operate on a person of importance takes extra care to cause him as little suffering as possible and only what is strictly necessary for his recovery, or as a father unwillingly punishes a son he loves dearly only because he is obliged to do so for his son's good, so God treats us as noble beings for whom He has the highest regard, or as beloved children whom he chastises because he loves them.6
Looking, St. Paul tells us, towards the author and finisher of faith, Jesus (the only begotten and beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased) .... Consider then him who endured such opposition from sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. For you have not yet resisted unto blood (as He did) in the struggle with sin, and you have forgotten the exhortation that is addressed to you as sons, saying, My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord, neither be thou weary when thou art rebuked by him. For whom the Lord loves he chastises, and he scourges every son whom he receives. Continue under discipline, for God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not correct?7 In short, the purpose for which God acts is a high and holy one, His own glory and the good of His creatures. Infinitely good -- Goodness itself -- He seeks to make them all perfect by drawing them towards Him and making them sharers in His divinity as far as they are capable. But because of the close ties He has established with us by the union of our nature with His in the person of his Son, we in a still more special manner are the object of His benevolence and tender care. A glove is not more fitted to a hand or a sword to a scabbard than what He does and ordains in us and for us is suited to our strength and capabilities, so that everything may serve to our advantage and perfection if we but cooperate with the designs of his providence.
Do not let ourselves be troubled when we are sometimes beset by adversity, for we know that it is meant for our spiritual welfare and carefully proportioned to our needs, and that a limit has been set to it by the wisdom of the same God who has set a bound to the ocean. Sometimes it might seem as if the sea in its fury would overflow and flood the land, but it respects the limits of its shore and its waves break upon the yielding sand. There is no tribulation or temptation whose limits God has not appointed so as to serve not for our destruction but for our salvation. God is faithful says the Apostle, and will not permit you to be tempted (or afflicted) beyond your strength,8 but it is necessary for you to be so, since through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God9 in the steps of our Redeemer who said of Himself, Did not the Christ have to suffer all these things before entering into his glory?10 If you refused to accept these tribulations you would be acting against your best interests. You are like a block of marble in the hands of the sculptor. The sculptor must chip, hew and smooth it to make it into a statue that is a work of art. God wishes to make us the living image of Himself. All we need to think of is to keep still in His hands while He works on us, and we can rest assured that the chisel will never strike the slightest blow that is not needed for His purposes and our sanctification; for, as St. Paul says, the will of God is your sanctification.9