Conforming to Gods Will – Two Fundamental Principles

by admin on October 23, 2010

NOT as I will, but as thou willest (Matt. xxvi. 39). For two ends, the saints tell us, the Son of God descended from heaven and clothed Himself with our flesh, making Himself true man. The one end was to redeem us by His precious blood, the other to teach us by His doctrine the way to heaven and instruct us by His example. For, as it would profit us nothing to know the way if we remained shut up in the prison, so, says St. Bernard, it would not profit us to deliver us from prison if we did not know the way. And as God was invisible, that we might see Him and be able to follow and imitate Him, it was necessary that He should make Himself man and clothe Himself in our human nature, as the shepherd clothes himself with the shepherd’s smock frock, which is the skin of a sheep, that the sheep may follow him, seeing their own likeness. St. Leo says: “If He were not true God, He would bring us no remedy; if He were not true man, He would give us no example.” He did the one and the other in all completeness for the excess of love that He bore to men. As His redemp­tion was copious (Psalm cxxix. 7), so also was His teach­ing; for it was not only given by words, but much more abundantly by the example of His deeds. Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts i. 1). He first began to do, and that all His life long, and afterwards to preach for the last three years of His life, or two and a half.

Now, among the things that Christ our Redeemer taught us, one of the chiefest was that we should have an entire conformity with the will of God in all things. He taught us that, not only in words—instructing us how to pray, He set down for one of our principal petitions, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. vi. 10)—but He also con­firmed this doctrine by His example: I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me (John vi. 38). And at the time of accomplishing the work of our redemption, that Thursday of the Supper, in that prayer in the Garden, though His body and sensible appetite naturally shrank from death—and so to show that He was true man He said: Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me (Matt. xxvi. 42)—yet His will ever remained quite ready and desirous to drink the chalice which His Father was sending Him, and therefore He added at once: Yet not my will, but thine be done.

To go to the root of the matter and establish ourselves well in this conformity, we must suppose two brief but very substantial fundamental principles on which all this matter must turn as upon two hinges. The first is that our advancement and perfection consist in conformity to the will of God; and the greater and more perfect this conform­ity, the greater will be our perfection. This foundation lends itself to being readily understood, for it is certain that perfection consists essentially in charity and love of God, and a man will be more perfect the more he loves God. Full of this doctrine is the holy Gospel, full the epistles of St. Paul, full the writings of the saints. This is the great­est and first commandment (Matt, xxii. 38). Charity is the bond of perfection (Col. iii. 14). The greatest of these vir­tues is charity (I Cor. xiii. 13). The highest and most per­fect is charity and the love of God. But the highest and most exalted and purest point of this love, and what we may call the acme of it, is conformity in all to the will of God, so as to have one will of acceptance and one will of refusal with His Divine Majesty in all things. St. Jerome says, and he has it from a pagan philosopher: “To have the same I will and I will not with him whom you love; that is true friendship”—Eadem velle et eadem nolle, -ea demum firma amicitid est. It follows that, the more conformable and the more united to the will of God a man is, the better will he be. Further, it is clear that there is nothing better or more perfect than the will of God. Therefore, the more a man seeks and conforms himself to the will of God, the better and more perfect will he be. So that other philoso­pher argued: “If God is the most perfect being there is, the more perfect any other being will be, the more it is assimi­lated and made like to God.”

The second fundamental principle is this, that nothing can happen or come about in this world but by the will and ordinance of God—always understanding, except fault and sin, for of that God is not cause nor author, nor can He be; for as it is repugnant to the nature of fire to freeze and to that of water to warm and to that of the sun to darken, so it is infinitely more against the goodness of God to love evil. So said the Prophet Habacuc: Lord, thine eyes are too pure to bear the sight of evil, and thou canst not give coun­tenance to iniquity (Hab. i. 13). As we say here on earth, “He cannot bear the sight,” to give to understand the abhor­rence that one has for a thing, so he says that God cannot bear the sight of evil for the great hatred and abhorrence that He has for it. Thou art not a God that wiliest iniquity (Psalm v. 5). Thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity (Psalm xliv. 8). All Holy Writ is full of the abhorrence that God has for sin, and so He cannot be cause or author of it. But apart from this, all other things and all penal evils and afflictions come of the will and ordinance of God. This foundation, also, is quite sure. There is no such thing as fortune in the world; that was a fiction and error of the heathen. The goods that the world calls goods of fortune are not given by fortune—there is no such thing—but by God alone. So says the Holy Spirit by the Wise Man: Good things and evil things, life and death, poverty and riches, God gives them all (Ecclus. xi. 14).

And though these things come by means of secondary causes, still it is certain that nothing is done in this great commonwealth of the world but by the will and ordinance of that sovereign Emperor Who governs it. Nothing comes by chance in respect of God; all is registered and sorted out by His hand. He counts all the bones of your body and all the hairs of your head; not one of them shall fall but by His ordinance and will. Why do I speak of men ? Not a spar­row falls into the net, says Christ our Redeemer, but by the dispensation and will of God. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall to the ground without the providence of your Father (Matt, x, 29). There is not a leaf that stirs on a tree but by His will. So the Wise Man says of lots: Lots are thrown into the urn, but God it is that directs them (Prov. xvi. 33). Although the lots are drawn from the caddy or urn, think not that they come out by chance; they come out only by the ordinance of divine providence, which disposes and wills it so. The lot fell upon Matthias (Acts i. 26). It was not by chance that the lot fell on Matthias, but by a particular case and providence of God Who was pleased to choose him for His apostle by that way.

Good philosophers attained to this truth even by the sole light of nature and said that, although in respect of nat­ural causes many things happen by chance, yet in respect of the First Cause they are not by chance, but intended quite on purpose. They give this example. A master sends a servant in some direction on business and sends another servant by a- different way to the same place on other busi­ness, without the knowledge of either of them, but meaning them to meet there. The meeting of the servants is by chance in respect of themselves, but in respect of their mas­ter, who intended it, it is not by chance, but thought out and intended of set purpose. So here, though in respect of men some things fall out by chance because they neither intended nor thought of them; yet in respect of God it is not by chance, but by His knowledge and will, He having so ordained it for secret and hidden ends known to Himself.

What we have to draw from these two fundamental prin­ciples is the conclusion and thesis which we proposed—that since all that befalls us comes from the hand of God and all our perfection lies in conforming ourselves to His will, we should take all things as coming from His hand and con­form ourselves therein to His most holy and divine will. You must not take anything as coming by chance or by the industry and contrivance of men, for that is what generally gives so much pain and annoyance. You must not think that this or that came upon you because So-and-So man­aged it, and if it had not been for this or that thing, things would have gone otherwise. You must make no account of that, but take all things as coming from the hand of God, by whatsoever way or whatsoever roundabout process they come, since it is He Who sends them by those means. One of those famous Fathers of the Desert used to say that a man could not find true repose or satisfaction in this life unless he reckoned that there is only God and himself in the world. And St. Dorotheus says that those ancient Fathers made a great point of taking all things as coming from the hand of God, however small they were and in whatever manner they came about, and thereby kept themselves in great peace and quiet and lived a heavenly life.

A Further Explanation of the Second Fundamental Principle

IT is a truth so settled in Holy Writ that all afflictions and penal evils come from the hand of God, that it would not be necessary for us to take time in proving it, were it not for the obscurity which the devil with his cunning tries to throw over it. From the other also certain truth which we stated, which is that God is not cause or author of sin, the devil draws a false and lying conclusion, making some people believe that, though the evils that come to us by means of natural causes and irrational creatures, as sick­ness, hunger, and barrenness, come from the hand of God, because there there is no sin nor can be in such creatures, since they are not capable of it; yet the evil and affliction which come about by the fault of a man who wounds me, robs me, dishonors me, does not come from the hand of God nor is guided by the ordinance of His providence, but by the malice and damnable will of another man. This is a very great error. St. Dorotheus says very well, rebuking this error in those who do not take these things as coming from the hand of God: “There are those who, when another person says a word against them or does them any other ill turn, forget God and turn all their rage against their neigh­bor, imitating dogs who bite the stone and neither look at nor take account of the hand that threw it.”

To banish this erroneous action and secure a firm founda­tion in Catholic truth, theologians observe that two ele­ments there are combined in a sin that man commits; the one is the movement and exterior act, the other, the dis­order of the will wandering away from what God com­mands. God is author of the former; man, of the latter. Let us take the case of a man quarreling with another and killing him. To kill him he must needs put his hand to his sword, draw it and brandish his arm, and deal the blow, and do other natural movements which may be considered by themselves apart from the disorder of the will of the man who does them to kill another. Of all these movements, considered by themselves, God is cause and He produces them as He produces likewise the effects of the action of irrational creatures. For, as these creatures cannot stir nor act without God, so neither can man. He cannot stir his arm nor put his hand to his sword. Besides that, these natural acts are not evil of themselves, for, if a man practises them in necessary self defense or in a just war or as a minister of justice, and so kills another, he would not sin. But of the fault, which is the defect and disorder of the will, whereby the wicked man does the injury, of that deviation from reason and perversion of the same, God is not cause, although He permits it where He might hinder it; but hin­der it He does not, in fulfillment of just judgments of His own. They illustrate this by a comparison. A man has a wound on his foot and goes limping. The cause of his foot’s going is the virtue and motive power of his soul; but of his limping, the cause is the wound and not the virtues of the soul. So of the sinful action that man does, the cause of the action is God, but the cause of the fault and sin that there is in the act is the free will of man. Thus, though God is not nor can be cause or author of sin, yet we must hold for certain that all penal evils come from the hand of God and by dispensation of His providence, by whatever way and in whatever manner they come, whether they come by means of natural causes and irrational creatures or by means of rational creatures. God guided the hand of him that hurt you and the tongue of him who gave you the opprobrious name. Shall there be evil in the city that the Lord hath not done? says the Prophet Amos (iii. 6). Holy Writ is full of this truth, attributing to God the evil that one man does to another and saying that it is God Who did it.

In the Second Book of Kings, in the account of the chas­tisement wherewith God chastised David by means of his son Absalom for the sin of adultery and murder that he had committed, God says that it was Himself that was to do it. So I will raise up over against thee evil from thine own house (II Kings xii. 11). Hence it is also that the impious kings, who in their pride and cruelty inflicted most atrocious chastisements on the people of God, are called by Scripture instruments of the divine justice. Ah, for Assur, the rod of my indignation! (Isaias x. 5). And of Cyrus, King of the Persians, by whom the Lord intended to chas­tise the Chaldeans, He says: Whose right hand I have grasped (Isaias xlv. 1). On which St. Augustine has this excellent remark: “God deals with us as an earthly father is wont to do. When the father is angry with his son, he takes a stick which he finds hard by and chastises his son with it. Then the stick he casts into the fire, and keeps for the son the inheritance. In this way God is wont to take wicked men for an instrument and scourge to chastise the good.” We read in ecclesiastical history how, at the destruction of Jerusalem, Titus, general of the Romans, going round the city, saw the ditches (moats) full of corpses and dead bodies and all the neighborhood infected by the stench. Whereupon he raised his eyes to heaven and with a loud voice called God to witness that it was none of his doing that so great slaughter had taken place. And when that barbarian Alaric was going to sack and destroy Rome, a venerable monk met him and begged him not to be the cause of so many evil deeds as were likely to be com­mitted on that expedition, And he replied: “I am not going to Rome of my own accord, but some person assails me every day and torments me, saying: ‘Go to Rome and destroy the city.'” Thus all things come from the hand of God and by His ordinance and will. So the Royal Pro­phet David, when Semei reviled him and flung stones and dirt at him, said to those who would have had him take vengeance on the fellow: The Lord hath commanded him to curse David; and who shall dare to say, Why hast thou commanded it? (II Kings xvi. 10). He means to say: “The Lord hath taken him for the instrument of my affliction and punishment.”

But what great thing is it to recognize men as instru­ments of the divine justice and providence, since the same is true even of the devils themselves, obstinate and hard­ened as they are in their malice and anxious for our per­dition? St. Gregory observes this marvelously in that say­ing of Scripture: An evil spirit of the Lord tormented Saul (I Kings xvi. 23). The same spirit is called “spirit of the Lord” and “evil spirit”—”evil” by desire of his evil will; and “of the Lord” to give us to understand that he was sent by God to give that torment to Saul, and God worked by him. And this the text itself there declares, saying: An evil spirit, sent by the Lord, tormented him (Spiritus nequam a Domino) (I Kings xvi. 14). And for the same reason, says the saint, the devils, who afflict and persecute the just, are called in Scripture “God’s robbers”: “rob­bers” for the evil will that they have to do us harm; and yet “of God” to give us to understand that the power they have to do us harm they have from God. So St. Augustine makes this excellent reflection: “Job did not say ‘The Lord hath given, and the devil has taken away,’ but he referred all to God: The Lord hath given., and the Lord hath taken away (Job i. 21); for he knew well that the devil could do no evil but what God permitted him to do.” And the saint goes on to say: “Let no one say, ‘The devil has done me this ill turn;’ but attribute your affliction and scourge to God, since the devil could do nothing against you nor touch even a hair of your head unless God gave him permission there­to.” Thus the devils could not enter into the swine of the Gerasenes, without first asking permission of Christ our Redeemer (Matt. viii. 31). How could they touch you, how could they tempt you, without God’s leave ? He who could not touch the swine, how shall he touch the children?

Editors Note

Please remember that death is not evil.  Death is the wages of sin.  All actions that happen in the universe are good, in and of themselves.  A knife going into a person is good, in and of itself.  One knife might be from a doctor, another from a thief.  It is only the motivation that might be evil.  For the surgeon, the motivation is good.  For the murderer, the motivation is evil.  This concept is valid for any action.  Even the events that happened on 9/11.  The actions, in and of themselves, are good.  There is no evil in any action.  It is only the will of a person that may be evil.  Remember, that it is through pain and suffering that good is brought about.  This is the paradox of Catholicism.  Jesus redeemed us through his volitional suffering.  We, the Mystical Body of Christ, extend this redemption throughout mankind as well, through the “evils” of the world.  The best explanation of Why God Permit’s Evil is in the book I’ve just read entitled “Why God Permits Evil.”  I have provided a link to in the side bar with a picture of the book with the same title.

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