Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book One: 

Chapter One: All Punishments Proceed from God

1. Nothing whatever is done in the world [sin only excepted] without the Will of God. No power belongs to Fortune . . . these are but the dreams of heathen . . . Christian wisdom treats all idea of Fortune with contempt.

2. All evils, except sin, are from God. In all sin there are two things to be considered: guilt and punishment. Now God is the Author of the punishment which attaches to sin, but in no way of the guilt. So that, if we take away the guilt, there is no evil belonging to the punishment which is not caused by God, or is not pleasing to Him. The evils then of punishment, like the evils of nature, originate in the Divine Will. We mean by evils of nature, hunger, thirst, disease, grief, and the like, things which very often have no connection with sin. And so God truly [and,  effectively and positively] wills all the evils of punishment and nature for reasons of perfect justice, but only permits sin or guilt.

So that the latter is called His Permitting Will, the former His Ordaining Will. All, therefore, that we call evil proceeds from the Will of God. Thus Theologians teach; and this foundation must be laid as deeply as possible in the soul, for it is of the utmost importance humbly to receive, and ever to hold, as an infallible truth, that the first cause of all punishments and evils is the Divine Will, always excepting guilt, as I have said already.

Having carefully laid this foundation, we arrive at the following conclusion: Since whatever is done in the world happens through the Permission or Command of God, it is our duty to receive everything as from the Hand of God, so conforming our will to His most holy Will, through all things, and in all things, as to ascribe nothing to accident, chance, or fortune. These are but monstrous conceptions of the ancients, and are not for an instant to be endured among Christians. And it is not only to fortune or chance that nothing is to be ascribed, but neither to the negligence or persevering care of man, as prime causes. Vain and idle are such complaints as, ''This or that happened to me because this or that man hated me, or managed my affairs badly, or did my business carelessly. Things would certainly have turned out differently if he had only been well disposed towards me, and had entered into the business with all his heart, and had not spared his pains." This kind of philosophy is vain and foolish. But true, wise, and holy is this, "The Lord has done it all." For, as I have already said, good and evil things are from God.

3. And here very many persons deceive themselves through miserable ignorance, for they persuade themselves that only those evils which arise from natural causes-----such as floods, earthquakes, landslips, barrenness, scarcity of corn, damage caused by the weather, troubles arising from disease, death, and the like-----are inflicted by God, since in this case there very often is no sin which can be connected with the punishment; but that those evils which derive their origin from vice and human wickedness [as, for example, calumny, deceit, theft, treachery, wrong, rapine, oppression, war, murder] are not from God, and do not proceed from His Providence, but from the wickedness and perverse will of those who devise such things as these against others. And hence those complaints so frequently in people's mouths of late year: "This scarcity of corn is not God's doing. It is caused by men immoderately greedy of gain, and not by God." Such ways of speaking are mad and impious; they are utterly unworthy of a Christian man, and should be banished to the shades below the earth.

But in order to make my meaning as clear as possible, I will illustrate it by an example. Take the case of a man who wishes his neighbor to be stripped of all his goods, and who, in order to put this abominable design into execution, creeps secretly into the house of the man he hates, sets fire to it, and immediately hurries away. Presently, when the house is in flames, he runs to the spot with others, as if with the intention of helping to put out the fire, when all the while it is quite different: for, if occasion serves, he does not try to keep the flames under, but collects spoils for himself, and secretly removes from the fire plunder to increase his own property. All such designs as these, regarded by themselves, without perversity of will, and all such actions as these, considered "in genere entis" have God as their Author. God brings these things about, just as He brings about other things in creatures void of reason. For as these last can neither move, nor do anything without God, so cannot the incendiary either enter a house, or leave it again, or scatter fire in it, without God. But it does not follow that these several acts are evil in themselves, for they may also be compatible with virtue, but the will of the incendiary is evil; it is a most wicked design which that abandoned man has followed, and of this God is not the Author and Cause, although He has permitted this design to be carried into execution. He might indeed have hindered it, if it had so pleased Him. Since, however, God by His Own just Judgment did not hinder that wicked design, He permitted it. The causes of His Permission I shall give further on.

4. The same line of reasoning holds good also in reference to other sins; and this may, perhaps, appear the clearer from the following example. Take the case of a man who is lame in consequence of a wound which he has received; he attempts to walk, it is true, but he moves over the ground with greater pain, and with a more awkward gait than a sound man. Now the cause of motion in the foot is the natural impelling force, but the cause of lameness is the wound, not the moving power of the soul. And just in like manner God is the Cause of that act which anyone performs when sinning, but the cause of error and sin in this act is man's free will. God supplies help to the act, but not to that wandering and departure from law and rectitude. Although, therefore, God is not, and cannot be, the Author of sin-----yet it is, nevertheless, most certain that all the evil of punishment arising from second causes, whether rational or irrational [in whatever way, or for whatever reason it may happen], proceeds entirely from the Hand of God, and from His most benign Disposal and Providence. It is God, my good friend, it is God, I say, Who guided the hand of him who struck you. It is God Who moved the tongue of him who slandered you. It is God Who supplied strength to him who wickedly trampled you under foot. God Himself, speaking of Himself by the mouth of Isaias, declares [chap. XLV. 7]: "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I, the Lord that do all these things." And how completely does the Prophet Amos confirm this, when he says [chap III. 6]: "Shall there be evil in a city, which the Lord hath not done?" Just as if he had said, there is no evil which God does not do, by permitting the evil of guilt, and by ordaining and working out the evil of punishment.

Thus God, intending to punish the adultery and murder of king David by the sin of his incestuous son Absalom, says [2 Kings XII. II, 12]: "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 . . . I will do this thing in the sight of all Israel, and in the sight of the sun." St. Augustine said: "In this way God instructs good men by means of evil ones." Thus it is that the Divine Justice makes wicked kings and princes its instruments, as well for exercising the patience of good men, as for chastising the forwardness of bad.

5. But it may be objected-----if this is the case, if the Will of God is the origin of all evils [as defined above-----CT], why do we strive against it? Why do we attack disease with medicines? Why do we oppose armed battalions to the enemy?

It is good, my friend, not to be wiser than we ought, but "to think soberly." [Rom. XII. 3.] That war and deaths of all kinds are from God, it is clear enough. But the conclusion drawn from this, viz., that therefore we must not resist an enemy, and must not grapple with disease, is bad. For the will of sign is one thing and the will of good-pleasure is another. Let us take disease as an example. From whatever cause it arises, without the smallest doubt it proceeds from the Divine Will. Since, however, the sick man does not know ho long God wills that he should be afflicted, he may very properly strive against it, and use any lawful means to recover his health. But when he has tried all remedies, and has made no progress . . . let him feel fully persuaded that it is the Divine Will that he should be afflicted with a protracted illness. This is the right way, then, to reason: God wills that you, my sick friend, should be ill; but because you do not know whether He also wills that you should never be cured, you may, for that reason, use lawful remedies. If, however, He wills that the disease should continue, He will withdraw all efficacy from the medicines, so that you may not be cured. And the same is to be said about enemies. God often willed that the children of Israel should be attacked, lest they fall into sluggish ways; but as long as it did not appear that He willed that they should also be overcome, so long might they resist the enemy. It would have been otherwise if God had warned them, as He did by the Prophet Jeremias, that they should surrender themselves to King Nebuchodonosor. In the same way, too, if a fire which has broken out cannot be extinguished by any amount of labor, it is a plain proof that God willed not merely that the house should catch fire, but that it should be burnt down, either to try His friends, or punish His enemies . . .

6.  . . . why should it be thought strange  that Divine Providence and Justice should use wicked men as its instruments, when even devils themselves fulfill this office? "It happens," says S. Gregory [Mor. II. 14], "by a wonderful dispensation of piety, that, through the very means by which the malignant enemy tempts the heart in order to destroy it, the merciful Creator disciplines it that it may live." It is said of Saul: "the day after the evil spirit from God came upon Saul." [I Kings XVIII. 10.] But how could that spirit be evil, if it was from God? How could it be of God, if it was evil? And this the same history explains, when it says: "An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." [I Kings XVI. 14.] It was an evil spirit in consequence of the desire of his own perverse will, but it was a spirit of the Lord, because sent from the Lord to torment him. S. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo [in Ps. XXXI. Exp. ii. 25], throws much light on this; nor will it be amiss to quote his words at length:

"What is right in heart?" he inquires. "Not resisting God. Attend, my beloved, and understand the right heart. I speak briefly, but yet a thing of all the most to be commended. Between a heart right, and a heart not right, there is this difference: Whatever man, let him suffer what he may against his will, afflictions, sorrows, labors, humiliations, attributeth them not but to the just will of God [let this be well observed], not charging him with foolishness, as though He knoweth not what he doth, because he scourgeth such an one, and spareth another; he indeed is right in heart. But perverse in heart, and forward, and distorted are they, who, whatever evils they suffer, say that they suffer them unjustly, charging Him with injustice through Whose Will they suffer; or, because they dare not charge Him with injustice, take from Him His government. Because God, saith one, cannot do injustice, but it is unjust that I suffer, and such an one suffer not; for I grant that I am a sinner, yet surely there are some worse, who rejoice, while I suffer tribulation; because, then, this is unjust, that even some worse than I should rejoice, while I suffer tribulation who am either just, or less a sinner than they, and it is certain unto me that this is unjust, and it is certain unto me that God doth not injustice; therefore God governeth not the things of men, nor is there any care for us with Him. They then who are not right in heart [that is, who are distorted in heart] have three conclusions. Either there is no God; for, 'the fool hath said in his heart there is no God.' [Ps. XIII. I.] Or, God is unjust, Who is pleased at these things, and Who doeth these things. Or, God governeth not human things, and there is no care for all men with Him. In these three conclusions there is great impiety." And then a little further on the same Father continues: "So that is the right heart, brethren. Let every man to whomsoever anything happens say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.' [Job I. 21.] Lo, this is a right heart, 'As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.' He said not, 'The Lord gave, and the Devil hath taken away.' Attend, therefore, beloved, lest haply you should say, the Devil did this for me. Unto thy God alone refer thy scourge, for not even the Devil doth anything against thee, unless He permit Who hath power above, either for punishment, or for discipline: for the punishment of the ungodly, for the discipline of His sons. For 'He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.' [Heb. XII. 6.] Neither must thou hope to be without a scourge, unless haply thou wish to be disinherited; for 'He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.' What, every son? Where then wouldst thou hide thyself? Every one; and none will be excepted; none without a scourge. What? even to all? Would you hear how truly: He saith all? Even the Only-Begotten, without sin, was yet not without a scourge." This is, indeed, a noble piece of instruction, and thoroughly worthy of Augustine. But since, according to that Father's meaning, neither devil nor man has power against any one, except by the Permission of God, I must briefly mention what sort of things God permits; for that reason, and on what grounds He permits them.