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 Nine: How Great is the Providence of God Towards His Enemies
as Well as His Friends

GOD sees distinctly, and with a single glance, past, present, and future things. We are all of us present before His Eyes, Adam as well as Antichrist, the whole human race, all created things. "Wisdom reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly." [Wisd. VIII. 1] From the loftiest Angels to the meanest worms the sleepless care of God extends, yea, and is never absent. Moses and Aaron, of old, proclaimed,-----"In the evening you shall know that the Lord hath brought you forth out of the land of Egypt: and in the morning you shall see the Glory of the Lord." [Exod. XVI. 6, 7] Of a truth we shall all of us know, in the evening of death, the marvelous Providence of God towards each one of us. "The steps of man are guided by the Lord; but who is the man that can understand his own way?" [Prov. XX. 24] God, in the perfection of His Providence, leads us a long journey, and often through winding paths and inextricable labyrinths, but He knows by what way to guide us to the heavenly pastures. Why, therefore, do we murmur against this most watchful Leader? If anyone sets out on a journey with a companion who is thoroughly acquainted with the road, and when rough, difficult, and marshy parts come in sight begins to complain, and says,-----"By what a round-about way you are leading me, my good friend? Unless I am much mistaken, we have long ago left the proper path,"-----his guide will quickly reply,-----"Do not be alarmed, good sir, but leave it all to me. I have led you by a circuitous path, I allow; but if we had kept a straight course we should have fallen into those quagmires, from which we should never have extricated ourselves. Trust yourself to me, and I will guide you in such a way that you shall not be sorry for having had me for a companion." And in this way, Divine Providence guides us. We must go, indeed, through many by paths, and long circuitous windings of the road; why then are we angry with our most excellent Guide? Only let the road be safe, and what does it matter if it is rough?

2. It seems to me that Saul would have been the best of kings, if he had only finished his life as well as he began it. "There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he." [1 Kings IX. 2] While he was seeking his father's asses he found a kingdom. But let us examine a little more attentively God's providence towards him.

  God had said to Samuel,-----"Tomorrow about this same hour I will send thee a man of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel." [Ver. 16] And the way in which he was sent was this:-----"The asses of Cis, Saul's father, were lost:" whereupon he bade his son go and seek them. Saul therefore took one of the servants with him, "and when they had passed through Mount Ephraim, and through the land of Salisa, and had not found them, they passed also through the land of Salim, and they were not there: and through the land of Jemini, and found them not. And when they were come to the land of Suph, Saul said to the servant that was with him: Come, let us return, lest perhaps my father forget the asses, and be concerned for us. And he said to him: Behold there is a man of God in this city, a famous man; and all that he saith cometh certainly to pass. Perhaps he may tell us of our way." [Ver. 3-6] Saul thought that the opportunity was not to be lost, and so after his long wanderings he came to Samuel, being entirely ignorant of what was to follow. Scarcely, however, had they seen one another's face, and began to speak together, when God said to Samuel, "Behold the man, of whom I spoke to thee, this man shall reign over My people." [Ver. 17]) And thus things fell out in their proper order. Saul both found the asses which he sought, and a kingdom which he had not so much as dreamt of. How vast is the depth of God's Providence! How great its hidden mystery! Saul was thinking of nothing less than a sceptre and royal crown when he was raised to a throne by Divine appointment! And so the asses were not lost by chance; neither was it by chance that he did not immediately find them; nor yet was it by chance that the plan of going to Samuel was suggested by the servant. All this was done by the singular Providence of God, and for this special purpose, that the sceptre over Israel might be conferred on Saul.

But perhaps you may inquire, -----
"Why did God will that Saul should be anointed king, when He knew that he would commit many wicked acts, and end his life so miserably? And I, too, would ask,-----
"Why did God, by His Grace, create Angels, when He knew that they would be tormented for all eternity in Hell? Why did he place Adam in that pleasant garden, from which He knew that in a short time he would be expelled? Why did our Lord choose Judas Iscariot to be an Apostle, when He foreknew that he would be a traitor? Why did be send his Apostles into a certain city of the Samaritans, when He knew beforehand that they would not be received!" S. Jerome [Cont. Pelag. III. 2] replies to these questions. "Do you desire," he says, "to know the reason? God judges present things not future, neither does He by His foreknowledge condemn anyone who He knows will be such as hereafter to displease Him; but so great is His goodness, and so ineffable is His mercy, that He chooses one whom at the present He perceives to be good, but knows will be wicked in the future, giving to him the opportunity of conversion and repentance." Adam, therefore, did not sin because God had foreknown that he would sin, but God foreknew because Adam would hereafter determine to sin through his own will. "So that," as S. Ambrose says [In Rom. IX], "Adam was not harmed because he received the command, nor Judas because he was elected to be an Apostle, but God imposed neither on the former a necessity of transgressing, nor on the latter of becoming the traitor, and if each had preserved that which he had received, he might have refrained from sinning. Those who are foreknown to God as persevering in that which is good are often evil in the first instance, while others that are foreknown as determining to persevere in evil are sometimes good at the beginning." "Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall." [1 Cor. X. 12] The chief of the Apostles fell, do you therefore watch. Judas fell; it was that you might stand. And here we have a remarkable proof, as Enthymius says, that neither human energy can effect anything without Divine Aid, nor Divine Aid profit at all without human energy. Peter and Judas are examples of this.

3. But to return to the history of Saul. Wonderful was the Providence of God towards him in all things! He who so often had wickedly designed to destroy David by the sword of the Philistines is himself enclosed by a vast army of those same Philistines, and being forsaken by God, and having consulted a sorceress as a crowning act of wickedness, he heard from Samuel the tidings of his coming ruin, which the miserable king could neither endure nor avoid. Alas, how watchful was the Divine Vengeance! Nothing, O my God, escapeth Thy Providence! This same Saul also refusing utterly to destroy the Amalecites, when God commanded him, is brought to such a depth of misery that he would have esteemed it a kindness to have been slain by an Amalecite! Truly "weight and balance are judgments of the Lord." [Prov. XVI. 11]

But Divine Providence is wont neither to punish all acts of wickedness immediately, nor to leave them altogether unpunished. If it were to punish none, many would say that there was no such thing as Providence; but if it were at once to inflict the penalty on all, they would believe that no state of reward or punishment remained after this life. And so God by punishing some displays His Providence, and by leaving others unpunished reserves them for the punishment of a future life.

4. In such a way, then, does Divine Providence lovingly embrace in its government all adverse things which happen in this world, as that it disposes all the ills of life, and orders them for our good, and permits sin also for deep and secret ends of its ordinance. It is the same Providence which does good and permits evil. Of a truth God would never permit any evil, unless He were so powerful as from every evil to elicit good. What greater evils ever could have happened than the sin of Adam, and the crucifixion of our Lord? And yet the transgression of our first parent drew down God from Heaven to take upon Himself the form of man; the death of Christ restored to us Heaven, and every blessing. God is such a skillful workman, that out of all forms of evil, just as if they were pieces of leaden coin, He is able to produce gold of the finest quality. "To them that love God, all things work together unto good." [Rom. VIII. 28] The vileness of Magdalen has corrected many; the fall of Peter has raised up many; the doubtfulness of Thomas has confirmed many. The words "thou reapest that which thou didst not sow" [Luke XIX. 21] are in reality commendation for God, since He sows not sins, and yet from thence He gathers a harvest of many blessings. Of a truth God "sucks honey out of the rock, and oil out of the hardest stone" [Deut. XXXII. 13], when from great evils He produces greater blessings.

In such a way, then, does Divine Providence watch around us and ours as that it has already decreed, to the smallest particular, all the sufferings even of the body. So that let everyone at the beginning of sickness reason thus with himself: -----
This disease, from whatever cause it arises, whether from my own intemperance, or from the malice of another, or however it was contracted, is from Divine Providence, which so adjusts its violence to my strength that its commencement, increase, crisis, and cessation all depend entirely on the same. Thus the malady which now affects the head cannot fasten upon any other part, or increase in intensity, or last for a single hour more than God has decreed. The same Providence also disposes the effect of remedies and curative agents in such a way as that the physician either understands what mode of treatment is to be followed, or cannot keep pace with the progress of the disease and mistakes its character, and that medicines, suited or unsuited to the complaint, are administered opportunely or inopportunely. All the variations of disease, even their smallest fluctuations, are so directed by the ordinance of God, that whatever the Divine Will appoints comes to pass. And thus, in good truth, "Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God." [Ecclus. XI. 14] "For all healing is from God." [Chap. XXXVIII. 2] And precisely in the same way should we reason about Divine Providence, in reference to all adversities which befall either the mind or the body. Has an enemy slandered you? Reflect, then, that all his calumnies, all his words, yes, every syllable, were weighed out from all eternity in the balance of Divine Providence! As much as has been permitted him will he say against you, and not a single syllable more. Why, therefore, do you vainly struggle and chafe! Apply the same line of reasoning also to all your other sufferings, since their order, number, intensity, time of duration, and attendant circumstances are all most accurately arranged by Divine Providence. Submit yourself, then, to it, and say,-----"I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because Thou hast done it." [Ps. XXXVIII. 10] Thou, O my God, hast done this. Thy Providence, Will, and Permission have sent this upon me. Since Thou, therefore, hast done all this, I should be impious if I were to murmur against Thee; I yield myself then, to Thy Will, and whatever proceeds from it I endure.

5. And this daily meditation on the Divine Will produces in the soul the deepest peace, entirely subjecting the will of man to the Divine in a sweet and delightful way. Whoever, then, yields himself absolutely to the guidance of Divine Providence is free from troubles of numberless kinds: he dwells "in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence and in wealthy rest." [Isai. XXXII. 18] And so a holy Abbot used to say, -----"Man will never have rest, unless he is able to say from his heart, 'I and God are alone in this world.' " And this S. Augustine confirms, when he says [Conf. III. 11],-----
"O Thou Good Omnipotent One, Who so carest for everyone of us as if Thou carest for him only; and so for all as if they were but one!" And therefore, my good friend, God cares for you, and exercises His Providence towards you in such a way as if He had nothing else to care for. A great multitude does not disturb Divine Providence; it is the same whether it be one man or a thousand.

And here there is a thought full of comfort; God does not govern us as a prince does a province, or a king a kingdom, who stand in need of the help of so many others. There are viceroys, governors, councilors, and others among whom the cares of government are divided. But it is not in this way governs all men with such a Providence that He embraces each individual man with a peculiar care, and the whole of mankind with a general. "The eyes of the Lord in every place behold the good and the evil." [Prov. xv. 3] "The Lord beholdeth the ways of man, and considereth all his steps." [Prov. V. 21]