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 Four: 

Chapter Four: A Most Remarkable Instance of a Man
Who Refused to Submit His Own Will to the Divine

THE Prophet Jonas was a striking example of a man who with great reluctance delayed to yield himself to the control of the Will of God, and was on that account afflicted for so long and in such various ways, until he submitted his entire will to the Divine.

1. Let us hear what command the Divine Will gave to Jonas. "Arise, and go to Ninive." (Jonas I. 2) This was the first part of the command. The second was-----"And preach in it." (Ver. 2.) Jonas arose indeed, and left the place where he was, but he went not to Ninive. He "rose up to flee into Tharsis from the Face of the Lord." (Ver. 3) And here was a twofold act of disobedience-----not merely not to preach in the city in which he was bidden, but not so much as to go to it. Quickly, however, did God follow him as an Avenger, and fought with wind and sea, and every inclemency of the sky, against the rebellious will of Jonas. "The Lord sent a great wind into the sea: and a great tempest was raised in the sea, and the ship was in danger to be broken." (Ver. 4) But not even yet did the fugitive perceive that the tempest was closing around him, for "Jonas went down into the inner part of the ship, and fell into a deep sleep." (Ver. 5) Nothing however is worse, nothing is more perilous than false security; and so the angry sea grew rougher and rougher, and the clouds which gathered on all sides obscured the light of day. The sailors hurried trembling to their duties; they furled the sails before the tempest, and threw out into the sea whatever seemed to burden the ship. But when the storm still continued, they determined to have recourse to lots,-----"And the lot fell upon Jonas." (Ver. 7) When, therefore, they questioned him, he replied,-----"I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord the God of heaven, who made both the sea and the dry land." (Ver 9) But is it so, Jonas? Do you really fear God? Then why do you not obey the Will of God? Many people speak in this way. "We fear God," they say, but all the while they neglect the Will of God. But this, my good friends, is not to fear God-----to cry out against His Will. Nor would the sea be quieted by these words of Jonas, but raging more and more, it increased in fury, and caused huge mountains of waves to roll against the ship. And so Jonas is at last thrown out into the sea; but he first confessed his sin, saying,-----"I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." (Ver. 12) How honestly and truthfully have you spoken, Jonas! Your own will stirred up all this rage of the sky, this battle of the winds, this wondrous disturbance cf the stormy sea; it is the sole cause of all this! You were commanded to go to Ninive, not to Tharsis. But a master is waiting for you in the sea who will teach you to will, and to will not, the same as God. "And they took Jonas, and cast him into the sea, and the sea ceased from raging. (Ver. 15) Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonas." (Chap. II, 1) Such are the fruits of following one's own will! In this way must we be taught to receive the easy yoke of the Divine Will. And thus Jonas, who was now shut up in the living body of a whale, and who went down almost to the lowest depths, while balancing uncertainly between the living and the dead, exclaimed,-----"When my soul was in distress within me, I remembered the Lord." (Chap. II. 8) Yes, at length we come to ourselves, and begin TO WILL that which for a long time we resolutely willed not. And now, Jonas, are you willing to go to Ninive? I am willing to go. Are you willing to preach to the Ninivites? I will preach to them. Are you willing to perform the vows which you made in the belly of this monster? I will perform them. "And the Lord spoke to the fish: and it vomited out Jonas upon the dry land." (Chap. II. 11) The former commands of the Divine Will are then repeated:-----"Arise, go to Ninive, the great city: and preach in it the preaching that I bid thee. And Jonas arose, and went to Ninive, according to the word of the Lord." (Chap. II I, 2, 3) Jonas has now cast out his own will; he now altogether wills that which God wills; he now hastens with all his might to the place whither he was at first commanded to go; he now lifts up his voice, and exhorts the people to repentance; he now submits himself to, and obeys, the Divine commands. Would that he may continue to do this to the end, and not return to his own will.

2. Alas! for the fickleness and inconstancy of the human will! That which a moment ago was God's, now begins to be his own again! "And Jonas was exceedingly troubled, and was angry." (Chap. IV. 1) And here are the worst signs of man's own will again contending with the Divine. He who brings his own will into harmony with the Divine is never so far disturbed by troubles as to break forth into rage and vent his indignation against God. And what is it, I pray you, Jonas, which again drives your will, so lately in perfect harmony with the Divine Will, into such a state of disagreement with it? Hear the fresh cause of variance:-----"Is not this what I said," he exclaimed, "when I was yet in my own country? therefore I went before to flee into Tharsis: for I know that Thou art a gracious and a merciful God, patient, and of much compassion, and easy to forgive evil." (Chap. IV. 2) This, then, is the point of variance between the Will of God and that of Jonas. God. willed to spare the Ninivites; Jonas willed that they should be punished; and he says that his soul had forewarned him that it was vain for him to utter threats, since the execution of vengeance would not follow upon them, for that God was easily appeased. It seemed, then, that nothing was left but to pray to God,-----"And now, O Lord, I beseech Thee take my life from me: for it is better for me to die than to live." (Chap. IV. 3) It may be better for you, Jonas, but perhaps not so Pleasing to God. But your own will does not take this into account; it thinks only of what is pleasing to itself; but whether this pleases God or not, it has little care. "Then Jonas went out of the city, and sat toward the east side of the city: and he made himself a booth there, and he sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would befall the city." (Chap. IV. 5.) And not even yet is his will at rest. He leaves the city, that he might the more conveniently behold its destruction. But why does Jonas leave it? Why does he not continue to exhort the citizens to lasting penitence? What need is there of his making for himself a new habitation with a creeping plant? A thousand houses in the city would have received the welcome preacher of penitence. But this did not please his will, for which not only the largest cities, but the world itself, are sometimes too narrow. Jonas thought that immediately after he had left the city fire would be rained from Heaven, and the city be utterly overthrown; for thus God had commanded the prophet to threaten,-----"Yet forty days, and Ninive shall be destroyed." (Chap. III. 4) And for this reason Jonas places himself in safety, and quietly waits to see whether God will give any effect to His threatenings; or whether he will so quickly blot out all the iniquity that had been committed, and spare that most abandoned city. For a long time he waited to see the expected sight from Heaven; and when the sky continued calm, and no flames flashed from it, or stones burst forth from it; when vengeance seemed entirely to sleep; when the pleasure also which he derived from his ivy began to fade; when the sun struck fiercely upon his head; and when the great heat caused him to faint, then at last, Jonas, bearing so great patience of God with utter impatience, and growing very angry, "desired for his soul that he might die, and said: It is better for me to die than to live." (Chap. IV. 8) And when he was asked whether he thought this anger right, he presumptuously replied, "I am angry with reason even unto death." (Chap. IV. 9) Consider, I pray you, the cause of such impotent rage. Jonas poured out so much bitterness, and well-nigh fainted for grief, "because it had not fallen out to him as he imagined." (1 Mach. VI. 8)

O Jonas, what implicit faith does your will exhibit, but chiefly in itself and its own instincts! Why are you so troubled at the Divine pity and patience? Do you not know that it is God's property to pity and spare? Do you wish to invest Him with the impatience of man, so that when He is injured He should strike at once; and when provoked, should immediately send forth His thunderbolts? This savours of man's nature, and not of the Divine. Such is our disposition, that when scarcely touched we assail the person who touches us with blows and kicks; when hardly injured at all, we strike with the most passionate blows; for nothing, in truth, are we better prepared than for vengeance. We run, or rather we fly, when we are going to punish. But not such is God. "The Lord is gracious and merciful, long-suffering, and of great goodness. The Lord is sweet to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works." (Ps. CXLIV. 9) "Neither will God have a soul to perish, but recalleth, meaning that he that is cast off should not altogether perish." (2 Kings XIV. 14) But why, O Jonas, do you grieve so much that your palace of ivy is destroyed by a worm? You neither taught the worm to gnaw, nor the ivy to grow. The Lord gave it to you, and the Lord has taken it away from you; why then do you show your wrath against Him? But if the destruction of that shading ivy is a matter of such grief to you, should not the overthrow of a city, I which is as large as a kingdom, cause you sorrow? And therefore, my good Jonas, conform your own will entirely to the Divine Will. Has the ivy perished? You will that it should have perished. Is Ninive preserved? You also will that it should be preserved. Nor is there any further reason why you should grieve, except on account of your own will not having been brought into immediate subjection to the Divine.

3. Behold, Christians, what is the effect of being under the influence of one's own judgment and will, and into how great errors this one thing draws even the saintliest men! We can effect nothing so long as we have not entirely subdued our own will. While this rises up and opposes the Divine Will, no gifts, or vows, or prayers, or sacrifices are acceptable to God. Pleasing to God is fasting, pleasing are alms, pleasing is earnestness in prayer, but only so far as each is harmony with the Divine Will. One's own will, indeed, knows how to be liberal in offerings of money, to set apart times for fasting, to have recourse to prayer; but all these acts are utterly hateful to God if they are not conformed to the Divine Will. And so God, when forbidding fasts (wonderful indeed to re. late) and sacrifices, and other things acceptable to Himself, says,-----"Do not fast as you have done until this day." (Isaias LVIII. 4) And what, then, was the fault of this fast of the Jews? It savoured too much of their own will. "Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors." (Ver. 3) I love the fast, but I hate man's own will, which spoils the fast. If anyone sets before a man who dislikes onions a dish of the most costly food, but which tastes of garlic, it will neither please him, nor stimulate the jaded stomach. It will excite a nausea, and not a desire for food. And in the same way fasting is like food of delicate flavour, and is commended by the Angel,-----"Prayer is good with fasting." (Tobias XII. 8) But if the onion and garlic of one's own will are mingled with it, then away with it, for this food from the heavenly table is turned to loathing. S. Chrysostom says,-----"He who sins and fasts does not fast for the glory of God, nor humble himself, but spares his substance." Man's own will defiles and destroys everything.

And this constitutes the extreme misery of those who are cast down to Hell, that they rage with such perversity of will, that throughout all eternity it will never be in harmony with the Divine Will. The damned will never will that which God wills, nor will they be able to will it. S. Augustine says with great force:-----"Such will be their will, that they will ever have within themselves the punishment of their wickedness, but will never be able to entertain a single feeling of goodness; for as those who shall reign with Christ will have no traces of evil will left in them, so those who shall be condemned to the punishment of eternal fire with the devil and his Angels, as they have no period of rest remaining, will also be incapable of having a good will." And what could there be more full of terror than Hell, even if there were in it only this single punishment,-----to be for all eternity utterly alienated from the most holy Will of God, and never to be able to be brought into harmony with it! There fore, O my God, so that I may forsake my own will, I teach me to do Thy Will!