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 Six: That Trust in God without Knowledge of Divine Providence
is Weak and Uncertain

DURING that sorrowful journey of Abraham to Mount Moriah, where his son was to be slain, when the third day was now dawning and the mountain lay before them, Isaac, who was carrying the wood on his shoulders, addressed his father, whom he saw furnished with a knife, and said,-----"My father, behold fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust? And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son. So they went on together." [Gen. XXII: 7, 8] And would that we also, especially when difficulties press upon us, and we find no way of escape, would constantly repeat in our mind this single sentence"God will provide."

ABRAHAM AND ISAACAnd with what marvelous Trust in God did Abraham endeavour to carry out the command which, as it appeared, was directly contrary to the Divine promises. It cannot be told what acts of Trust he made during those three days in which he was journeying to the mountain which God had told him of, while he constantly repeated to himself these words,-----"God will provide; He will surely provide in some wonder.

ful way." "For the father," as S. Chrysostom says, "sacrificed the son, offered himself as a victim, God accepted both, and yet the life of the victim remained." And so Abraham, thoroughly trusting in God, came to the mount, to the altar, to the knife, and to the slaying of his son. In good truth that holy man had deeply drunk into his soul that saying which is ever most infallible,-----"The Lord will provide." Whoever desires to receive this Divine form of speech will learn it best by using it every day, and both in his own case and in that of others will discover marvelous traces of Divine Providence. And let us, I pray, briefly review our former life. Through how many turns and windings has Divine Providence safely guided us! From how many and how great perils has it sweetly delivered us! Every one of us may truly say,-----"He sent from on high, and took me, and drew me out of many waters. He prevented me in the day of my affliction, and the Lord became my stay. And He brought me forth into a large place, He delivered me, because I pleased Him." [2 Kings XXII. 17-20] And into what great dangers of life, and body, and soul have I not run, but have escaped! "The Lord will provide." Let us, then, trust in God. But to this confidence in God only he will attain who rightly recognizes also His Providence. Whether there is such a thing as providence is a subject upon which I decline to enter, for Clemens Alexandrinus [Strom. 5] rightly says, there are certain questions which are worthy of punishment, of which sort is it to ask for proofs whether there be a Providence.

1. But what is Providence? Damascene [De Fide Orthod. II. 29] well says,-----"Providence is the Will of God, by which all things are fitly and harmoniously governed." We will state the case thus,-----God foresaw from all eternity in what way each created thing could fulfil its own end, and at the same time He also foresaw all the difficulties which would occur in attaining this end. Therefore, God, by His most holy Will, decreed that such aid should be ministered as that by it all men should have the very best guidance to their own end. And this, from the very creation of the world, He purposed and carried into effect by His boundless power; so that, in this way, Divine Providence, as Dorotheus says, is the source of all good things. And this Providence of His, God from the very beginning brought before people's eyes, by means of the Deluge, by, the burning of Sodom, by the plagues of Egypt, and by the sustenance sent down from Heaven for so many hundred thousand Israelites, in whose presence, moreover, He framed laws, manifested His glory, appointed as a guide of their journey a bright and fiery pillar, sent abundant showers of birds, and gave wonderful victories. God exercises this Providence over all created things; a truth which is most certain. Wisdom exclaims,-----"He made the little and the great, and He hath equally care of all." [Chap. VI. 8]

But, in order that we may fix the knowledge of Divine Providence deep in our inmost mind, it is necessary to lay down this fundamental truth, that nothing is anywhere done in the whole world by accident or chance.[Emphasis added.] If we examine the question with regard only to our own forethought or knowledge, we shall come to the conclusion that many things happen by a kind of chance and fortune, but if with regard to the Divine Intelligence, that nothing at all is done by chance; for the Divine Intelligence is infinite, and extends without any effort to everything which can be understood. God, in a single moment of time, and with one and the same glance of His Eye, if I may so speak, penetrates and sees through all the most secret places and depths of Heaven, and earth, and sea, and Hell. He from all eternity has "ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight." [Wisd. XI. 21]

2. Most wisely does S. Augustine [In Ps. IX] remark,-----"And in this way let all things be referred to the guidance of Divine Providence, which fools think happen by chance, as it were, and accident, and not by Divine Disposal." This will appear by an example:-----A master sends two of his servants, who are entirely ignorant of his intention, by different roads to the same place. That one should meet the other there is a chance, not indeed to the master, but to the servants. And in the same way, that a treasure should be found by a poor man when digging is a chance indeed to that poor man, but not to God, Who willed that the money should be hidden there so that a hireling should dig, and find it, and become rich, not by chance, but the fatherly Providence of God.

It was not by accident, in a case which seemed to be entirely one of chance, that the dead body should be cast into the sepulchre of Eliseus, so that, "when it had touched the bones of Eliseus, the man came to life, and stood upon his feet." [2 Kings XIII. 21] It was not by chance that Moses, when exposed in the cradle of bulrushes, was found by the daughter of Pharao and adopted for her son. [Exod. II. 5] It was not by chance that Achab was wounded between the joints of his armour, although "one of the people shot an arrow at a venture." [2 Par. XVIII. 33] This arrow was sped by the unerring Hand of God, just as was that also which pierced Julian the Apostate. It was only to the archer who shot the arrow that the effect was uncertain. It was not by chance or accident that the sparrows flew about the house of Tobias, and deprived that excellent man of his eyesight, [Tobias II. 11] but God permitted this trial to fall upon him that an example of patience might thus be furnished for posterity. Nothing happens by chance, and so it was no accident that, when our Lord was about to be born, the whole world should be taxed by Augustus. [Luke II. 1] It was not by chance that He sat down by the well of Sichar, when about to converse with the woman of Samaria. [John IV. 5] All these things were noted from all eternity in the book of Divine Providence.

3. But why does God permit so great and such frequent evils? Here even Plato bids us hold our peace. The Judgments of God are a great deep! Admirably does S. Augustine [In Ps. XXXV] say,-----"The storms of this deep arise; you see the wicked flourishing, and the good suffering. There is temptation, there is a surging wave, and your soul cries out, O God, is this Thy Justice, that the wicked should flourish and the good suffer? And God replies to you, And is this your Faith? Have I promised you this? Or were you made a Christian for this end, that you might flourish in the world?"

Let us, therefore, compose our minds, and yield ourselves to the Providence of God, even though we see the wicked in power, the good oppressed, religion overthrown, and justice extinguished; for none of these things would take place if God did not specially permit it, and He would not permit it unless He had the most just grounds for it, and if it were not better thus to permit than to hinder. Nor is it of any consequence that the secret Government of God is not now made manifest. At the last day there will be seen, as in a mirror, the whole course of the human race, and the entire disposal of Divine Providence which God has exercised in the case of separate kingdoms, towns, and families, and in dealing with each individual man, so that it may appear how kind He was to sinners, and how everyone of them is more or less inexcusable; in a word, how the form of government which God employed was accurately adapted both to the varying nature of things, and to show forth His glory.

4. Once upon a time Theodore, who was suffering from violent pain in the head, came to Pachomius and asked him to drive away this suffering by prayer. To whom Pachomius replied,-----"Do you think that this pain in your head, or any similar complaint, befalls you without the Permission and Will of God? Bear it; and when God pleases it will be cured. Abstinence from food is good, and so is liberality towards the poor; but the sick man is a far greater gainer when he patiently and perseveringly waits on the Divine Will." And from this we can understand how that man will know little about tranquillity of mind who is not entirely resting on Divine Providence as his foundation. But he cannot long be unhappy who, by means of a living faith, has penetrated into this secret abode of Divine Providence. "Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them. The Lord keepeth all their bones, not one of them shall be broken." [Ps. XXXIII. 20, 21] God is not like an architect who when he has built a house leaves it. He is not only present with His work every moment, but dwells in it continually.

5. A writing-master, who teaches little boys to form their letters, sometimes guides the hand of one while he pays no attention to another; and why is this? One boy is of a good disposition, ingenious, docile, and well-behaved; while the other is rude, disobedient, and intractable. And in this way God fulfills the will of those who fear Him, and so protects and governs them under all circumstances, and at all times, that all things turn out for their good; whereas in the case of stubborn and rebellious children it is said,-----"When you multiply prayer, I will not hear." [Isai. I. 15] But why is it, they say, that God does not protect and guide us in the same way as He does this or that person? You yourselves are to blame:-----"The eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and His ears unto their prayers. But the countenance of the Lord [i.e., His countenance full of indignation] is against them that do evil things: to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." [Ps. XXXIII. 16-17] To those obedient children God promises:-----"When thou shalt pass through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee: when thou shalt walk in the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, and the flames shall not burn in thee." [Isai. XLIII. 2] "I will be to it, saith the Lord, a wall of fire round about: and I will be in glory in the midst thereof." [Zach. II. 5] The soul of a man who conforms himself to the Will of God, He occupies as His Throne, and reigns there as a King. Let those approach, if they can, who wish to do it harm when God does not give them leave. Jacob, when questioned by his brother Esau about the company that was with him, said,-----"They are the children which God hath given to me thy servant." [Gen. XXXIII. 5] And so he quietly taught him, as S. Chrysostom says, how great was God's Providence towards him.

This marvelous Providence of God is like the ladder which Jacob, when sleeping in the open air, saw reaching from earth to Heaven. [Gen. XXVIII. 12] God, Who is supreme in Providence, had before Him, from all eternity, all things which should ever happen in Heaven and earth. For His Wisdom "reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly." [Wisd. VIII. 1] And such is the Power of His Providence that it cannot be hindered, or deceived, or bamed, or turned aside by anything; yet such is its sweetness that it does nothing contrary to the nature of any creature, most mightily and sweetly foreseeing and disposing all things. It is like the fable of the ancients, who said that there was a golden chain which was let down from Heaven to earth, and that when it had encircled all things it was again drawn up to Heaven. Let us, therefore, day by day, take refuge in the infinite Providence of God; and when we see that the whole world is filled with so many and so great acts of wickedness, this also will come into our thoughts,-----"The Lord shall laugh at him: for he foreseeth that his day shall come." [Ps. XXXVI. 13] If we withdraw our eyes from the world at large, and fix them on our home and ourselves, we shall see about us a Providence so watchful and so full of love, that not even a single hair can fall from our head without its knowledge or permission. And so S. Augustine exclaims,-----"What will be wanting to me, even if my enemy tears me limb from limb, since God numbers all my hairs?"