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 Five:

Chapter Three: In What Way Trust in God is to Be Confirmed
and Encouraged in Adversity

LOOK at a pilot in a storm, a soldier on the field of battle, an athlete in the arena. No one can tell what you are capable of, no, not even your ownself, unless you are exercised with afflictions of various kinds. There is need of trial in order to become acquainted with oneself. No one has ever learnt what he could do except by trying. Great men rejoice at times in adversity, just as brave soldiers exult in battle. Virtue is greedy of danger, and thinks of whither it is advancing, not of what it will have to endure, since whatever it endures is a part of its glory. How can I tell what advance you have made in Trust towards God, if all things turn out as you desire? How can I tell what courage you have to bear poverty, if you are rolling in riches? How can I tell what constancy you have to endure ignominy, and disgrace, and universal hatred, if you reach old age amid the approbation of all, and pass your life without an enemy? In good truth, there is need of trial for the knowledge of self. There is no great difficulty in saying in prosperity,-----"The Lord  is my Firmament, my Refuge, and my Deliverer." If a beggar begins for the first time to say,-----"I am now easy in my mind; this week, at least, I shall not be starved," when he has a bag bursting with bread, he shows that he is a man destitute of hope. "Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience." [Rom. VIII. 24, 25] Our Trust, therefore, shines most conspicuously at that time when flowing blood proclaims wounds, when waves beat into the frail ship, when we are enclosed in difficulties; this is the place, and this is the time for Trust. In what way, however, Trust can best be shown in the midst of misfortunes we will now proceed to show.

1. And here two points are to be laid down as a fundamental principle. In the first place, let us be thoroughly assured that everywhere, and in every rank of life, there are miseries and calamities in abundance; for that life is made up of these our Lord Himself proclaimed,-----"In the world you shall have distress; but have confidence, I have overcome the world." [John XVI. 33] "All that will live godly in CHRIST JESUS shall suffer persecution." [2 Tim. III. 12] Secondly, let us remember the declaration of S. Paul,-----"Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human; and God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it." [1 Cor. X. 13]

And now that this two-fold foundation has been laid, S. Cyprian [Grat. 3, cant. Jud
æos] is the first to come and teach us Trust in God in adversity, as follows:-----"Your servant, perchance, has committed an offence against you, and deserves to be struck either with a hand or stick. You strike the fellow with the lightest possible hand, when he at once begins to rave, refuses to serve you any longer, runs out of the house, and complains to your enemy of I know not what injuries. Now suppose I should be inclined to plead this man's cause, should I meet with a favourable reception from you? 'This servant,' you would say, 'has, in good truth, offended grievously in more than one particular. He deserved to be beaten, and severely too; but he has shown resistance under correction, and has rushed from the house, which is a capital offence. If, however, he had sought for friends to plead for him, he might have seemed to have been angry with some reason; but to hurry off to enemies, and to give vent in their presence to numberless complaints against his master; this, indeed, is an act which well deserves capital punishment.' "

And now, my Christian friend, behold yourself under this figure of the slave! If you are punished by God, and far more gently indeed [for this is the way of God] than you deserve, why do you refuse to submit to the punishment? And why do you give utterance to such unbecoming words as,
-----''Well, then, I will commit some offence worthy of transportation or imprisonment; I will drink myself drunk to drown my cares? Why should I not occasionally indulge my I tastes, since I am weighted down with so many evils from God?" This, my friends, is to hurry off to the enemies of God. Why do you not rather go to His friends, and hope for pardon from their intercession?

Trust in God, and begin afresh to show yourself a good servant. Where there is Trust in God, the will is united to God. It is most disgraceful that when a Master, Who is so good, desires to punish a servant, who is so bad, he should yet dare to say,
-----"I will not be punished; I have done nothing to deserve punishment, or at least so heavy a one." Away with all such speeches as these! Trust in God; and abide in your own proper place. S. Jerome [Ad Fabiolam], encouraging to this Trust, says,-----"Many are the wiles and snares which surround us; but let us say, 'Though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death I will not fear, for Thou art with me.' If the armies of all the devils in Hell are confederate against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid; and though there rose up war of all the wicked men in the world against me, yet will I put my trust in Him. But if hosts of devils trouble you, and you begin to be inflamed towards different sins, and your thoughts say to you, 'What shall we do?' Eliseus shall answer, 'Fear not: for there are more with us than with them.' " [4 Kings VI. 16] Well does S. Ambrose [De Joseph. 5] say,-----"There is most help where there is most danger, for God is a Helper as necessity arises, and in tribulation." It is God Who turned the rock into a storehouse of honey and oil that the people of Israel might "suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the hardest stone." [Deut. XXXII. 13] He refreshed so many hundred thousand men with a stream of the purest water, where not even a sparrow would have found enough to satisfy its thirst. God has winged messengers so swift that they even outstrip the wind, and such succour as this does He send to His people. Let us, then, trust in God with all our heart, since the Lord is with us. But still, is it not often our wish to inquire, as Gedeon asked of the Angel,-----"If the Lord be with us, why have these evils I fallen upon us? Where are His miracles, which our fathers have told us of?" [Judges VI. 13] Wonderful things are told us concerning God's providential! care over us; we are commanded to trust in Him in all things, but meanwhile we are tossed about hither and thither by the waves of manifold calamities. If, then, say we, the Lord is with us, how is it that we are encountered by so many misfortunes, and are pressed down with so many ills?

2. To this question S. Bernard will well reply. When endeavouring to console the Abbot of S. Nicasius at Reims on account of the departure of Drogo from his monastery, he says [Ep. 32],
-----"Let not this tempest, terrible as it is, drown you. Let your humble prudence anxiously study not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good. You will overcome by bravely fixing your hope in God, and by patiently waiting for the end of this business. It is good for you to be humbled beneath the mighty Hand of God, and to desire on no account to resist His Supreme Disposal." Let the devil indeed rage as he will, he hurts no one without Divine Permission, for he does not dare to touch even the swine until Christ gives him leave. [Luke VIII. 32] How, then, will he assault you, or touch you, or harass you, if Christ does not permit him? Why, therefore, do we fear Cerberus, who is now bound with a chain, and does no harm to anyone unless one comes too near him?

In order that the Apostles might make proof of themselves and their Trust in God, our Lord led them with Himself into a ship, and gave permission to the winds to stir up the troubled sea. During the storm the disciples thought that they were now being swallowed up by the waves, and, which was worse, "He was asleep." [Matt. VIII. 24] And so they cry out,
-----"Lord, save us; we perish." To whom Christ replied,-----"Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" Why are you disturbed by so much dread? Where is your Trust in me? What matters it that Man sleeps, if only God, Who never sleeps, watches for you?

And from this we clearly gather that Trust in God nowhere shines out more conspicuously than in the midst of dangers, and when all things are in direct confusion. In the midst of what storms and ruin did Job himself stand perfectly erect! His enemies drove away all his cattle, and upon that which remained fire fell from Heaven and consumed. One great ruin buried all his children beneath it; and Job himself, not so much covered with wounds as reduced to one great sore, and bitterly assailed also by the tongue of his kindred and wife, lost everything except his noble Trust in God. And so now banished to the dunghill, seated amid worms which burst out on all sides, and wiping off the corruption which ran down from himself, not with a cloth but with a potsherd, he still, like a triumphant wrestler, cried out,-----"Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him: and He shall be my Saviour." [Job XIII. 15, 16] And this most destructive tempest was followed by a profound calm and joyful tranquillity. Oh how often "does happier fortune follow on a beginning full of tears!" If, therefore, calamity assails anyone, let him increase his Trust in God. For what, I would ask, are you accustomed to do, my good friend, when a sudden shower of rain overtakes you? In the town I suppose you would enter some house; but if you are caught in the open country, you look round for some spreading tree under which you might shelter yourself from the rain. Behold, then, your roof, your tree, your secure refuge, is Trust in God; nor can there ever be so opportune a shelter in solitude, a roof in a storm, a fire or bath in time of cold, as will be to you in all adversity this Trust in the Lord of the Universe! In one word, whatever storms descend upon you, you will stand perfectly secure beneath this well-roofed covering. Trust in God, then, and as sailors make all preparations for their voyage, but wait for a wind from God, so, if you do not fail in your duty, God will take care of the rest.

3. But you may say, it is an evil greater than may be supposed, to be harassed, not merely by the wicked, but also by those who are thought to be good: this it is which affiicts and disquiets one. But there is nothing new here, my good friend. Even in the time of the Apostles it was a common and well-known form of sin to bring forward a spurious kind of law, and to adjust on Fraud the mantle of Justice; nor was it at all unusual to receive injuries from friends and relatives, and from those to whom one had done the greatest acts of kindness. Nay, things were even worse than this, for kindnesses were turned into crime, and the blood of those for whom blood ought to be poured out was not spared. Not only did Achitophel, who was one of the counselors of David, persetute him to the death, nor only Saul his father-in-law, but Absalom also, his son. And by whom was our Lord put to death? Not only by impious idolaters, but also by His Own chosen people. By these "was I wounded in the house of them that loved Me." [Zach. XIII. 6] What injuries, too, did not our Lord receive from His Own disciples? Iscariot, whose feet a few hours before He had washed, and to whom He had given His Body to eat, sold his Lord, most ungrateful bearer of the purse that he was, while Peter, so full of love, denied Him, and the rest forsook Him. And why do we wonder? "A man's enemies shall be they of his own household." [Matt. X. 36] But the man who trusts in God gains an easy victory over all such things.

But you may ask how is this Trust in God, in time of adversity, to be stimulated? See, then, I will set before you briefly six examples.

First of all, when things go wrong with you, turn to God as soon as possible, and at the very moment, and complain to Him of whatever is troubling you. And here nearly all of us err grievously; when adversity presses upon us we fill the ears of many of our friends with numberless complaints: but God is the last of all Whose help we implore, utterly inverting the order of things. But far otherwise did King David act:
-----"I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains," he says, "from whence Help shall come to me. My Help is from the Lord, Who made Heaven and earth." [Ps. CXX. I, 2] He who does not do this at the beginning of every calamity is so overcome by anger, grief, or a sense of injury, as to be unable to control himself. As soon, therefore, as you feel that you are troubled, say,-----"Lord, what wilt Thou have Me to do?" And the interpreter of the Divine Will will answer you,-----"Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord." [Ps. XXVI. 14]

Secondly, keep silence and bridle, at least, your mouth and tongue; if you cannot restrain your mind. Receive this counsel from the wisest of kings,
-----"I said: I will take heed to my ways; that I sin not with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me. I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence from good things." [Ps. XXXVIII. 1-3] Keep silence, therefore, for if in the midst of troubles and injuries you give rein to your tongue, know for a certainty that you will be hurried away headlong; scarcely will you begin to speak but you will offend; therefore, keep silence, and specially about your enemies. You are not able to speak well about them; then at least do not speak ill. Let your conscience be your comforter, and God that most just Judge, Whose eyes neither your adversaries nor their machinations can escape. Trust in God, I say, and keep silence.

Thirdly, when you have turned to God and have begun to keep silence, next surrender yourself wholly to the power of the Divine Will. Unite and devote your entire self as closely as possible to it; but give thanks also to God, because He thinks you worthy to suffer innocently, or, if you are guilty, that you may still regain your innocence by patience. In this embrace of the Divine will, let man hold God in his arms, as it were, and say with Jacob when wrestling with the Angel,
-----"I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me." [Gen. XXXII. 26] If, when a ship is in peril on the water, two persons, through fear of the impending danger, should so embrace as that each should fold the other in his arms, they would necessarily perish together if the ship were to be lost, for, in proportion as the peril is greater, the closer does their embrace become. And just in the same way must the Divine Will be embraced, so that man may cleave to God with an indissoluble bond of union, and say,-----"I will not let Thee go, O my God; I will drag Thee with me under the very waters; we must sink together; even in the waves I will embrace Thee, the more trusting in Thee, the less I trust in myself."

4. Fourthly, when the storm has a little subsided, compose yourself to prayer, call upon Christ to plead your cause, and commend all your affairs to him, and do not think it enough to have done this once, or twice, but do it again and again, if need be, for many days and years. And do not cease till, by firm trust and constant prayer, you open the Hand which God, like a man of prodigious strength, shows to you shut, with the fingers firmly pressed together. When King Ezechias had received the impious letter of Sennacherib he "went up to the House of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord." [4 Kings XIX. 14] And do you too, whoever you be, that are afflicted, spread your letter also before God, and whatever complaints you have, lay them down before this most Just Judge and Benignant Parent. If, however, you do not obtain what you seek, acknowledge the secret Judgments of God and His Providence, which has been firmly fixed from eternity, and commend yourself entirely to it. You have done what lay in your power, and the Good God will take care of the rest. Fifthly, avail yourself of the advice of a prudent and upright man. The son of Sirach says,
-----"Do thou nothing without counsel, and thou shalt not repent when thou hast done." [Ecclus. XXXII. 24] Take the greatest care also that you follow not your own feelings, and the impulse of your own mind. You have at once lost meekness, you have lost all patience, if you admit as counselors feeling and impulse, for the worst of all counselors without doubt are they. God began this web which excites your wonder, and He knows best of all, in what way the weaving is to be carried out; but if you unseasonably interfere, and repeat,-----"So I will, and so I command, let my will stand for reason" [Juv. Sat. VI. 222]; you will, as far as lies in your power, disturb the sweet arrangement of God, and, therefore, to no one but yourself must you attribute the evil result.

Every misfortune arises from that which Baruch mourns over when he says,-----"We have sinned before the Lord our God: and we were not obedient to Him, and we have not hearkened to the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His commandments, which he hath given us." [Baruch I. 17, 18] Therefore, have Trust in God, for so much the securer will you be against every enemy in proportion as your Trust in Him is stronger.

Sixthly, but if you have used all diligence, and yet nothing turns out according to your wishes, do not direct your anger against God, or against any creature, but rather reflect that God accurately knows all that you have suffered, or that you will have to suffer, and that He wills that these sufferings should be the trial of your constancy. And for this reason let whatever pleases God, please you also. "We are happy, O Israel: because the things that are pleasing to God, are made known unto us." [Baruch IV. 4]

5. But if God should not cease to chasten His children, and should exercise them first with one kind of calamity and then another, He is only doing that, which every good father and mother do. When parents chastise their children, every now and then they ask, after one or two blows,
-----"Will you do it again?" If the child is silent when beaten, the father continues to beat him, and if he still refuses to answer, through obstinacy, the father continues the punishment, still asking, every now and then,-----"Will you do it again?" And so he goes on till the child says,-----"I will not do it anymore." Then the father replies, "Go, then, and take care that you do not do this again." And in this way God also is wont to punish us, and inquire,-----"Are you ready to submit yourself entirely to My Will, and to trust in Me in all things?" And then, because we are either silent through obstinacy, or do not reply in earnest that we will obey the Divine Will, God oftentimes continues the chastisement, only waiting, however, till we say from our hearts,-----"I am ready, O my Father, I am ready to obey Thy Will in all things. What wilt Thou have me to do?"

But this Trust in God, of which I am speaking, will not long abide unless patience and perseverance strengthen it. In the temple of Solomon there were two pillars, one of which was called Jachin, and the other Booz [3 Kings VII. 21]; and to these two columns patience and perseverance are well compared. On these pillars Trust must be supported. Patience represses excessive sadness, while to perseverance nothing seems too long, however slowly time may pass. And springing from these columns Trust in God is ''as Mount Sion: he shall not be moved for ever." [Ps. CXXIV. 1]