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 Two:

Chapter One: The Commencement of Conforming
the Human Will to the Divine

THERE was once upon a time an eminent Divine who for eight years besought God with unwearied prayers to show him a man by whom he might be taught the most direct way to Heaven. One day, when he was possessed of an unconquerable desire to converse with such a man, and wished for nothing so much as to see a teacher of truth so hidden, he thought that he heard a voice coming to him from Heaven, which gave him this command:-----"Go to the porch of the church, and you will find the man you seek."

Accordingly he went into the street, and at the door of the church he found a beggar whose legs were covered with ulcers running with corruption, and whose clothes were scarcely worth three pence. The Divine wished him good day. To whom the beggar replied,-----"I do not remember that I ever had a bad one." Whereupon the man of letters, as if to amend his former salutation, said,-----"Well, then, God send you good fortune." "But I never had any bad fortune," answered the beggar. The Divine was astonished at this reply, but repeated his wish, in case he might have made a mistake in what he heard, only in somewhat different words:-----"Say you so? I pray, then, that you may be happy." But again the beggar replied,-----"I never was unhappy." The Divine, thinking that the beggar was playing upon words merely for the sake of talking, answered, in order to try the man's wit,-----"I desire that whatever you wish may happen to you." "And here, also," he replied, "I have nothing to complain of. All things turn out according to my wishes, although I do not attribute my success to fortune."

Upon this the man of letters, saluting him afresh, and taking his leave, said:-----"May God preserve you, my good man, since you hate fortune! But tell me, I pray, are you alone happy among mortals who suffer calamity? If so, Job speaks safely when he declares,-----'Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries.' [Job XIV. 1] And how comes it that you alone have escaped all evil days? I do not fully understand your feelings." To this the beggar replied,-----"It is so, sir, as I have said. When you wished me a 'good day,' I denied that I had ever had a bad one. I am perfectly contented with the lot which God has assigned me in this world. Not to want happiness is my happiness. Those bugbears, Fortune and Misfortune, hurt him only who wills, or at least fears, to be hurt by them. Never do I offer my prayers to Fortune, but to my Heavenly Father Who disposes the events of all things. And so I say I never was unhappy, inasmuch as all things turn out according to my wishes. If I suffer hunger, I praise my most provident Father for it. If cold pinches me, if the rain pours down upon me, or if the sky inflicts upon me any other injury, I praise God just the same. When I am a laughing-stock to others, I no less praise God. For sure I am that God is the Author of all these things, and that whatever God does must be the best. Therefore, whatever God either gives, or allows to happen, whether it be pleasant or disagreeable, sweet or bitter, I esteem alike, for all such things I joyfully receive as from the hand of a most loving Father; and this one thing I will-----what God wills. And so all things happen as I will. Miserable is the man who believes that Fortune has any power against him; and truly unhappy is he who dreams of some imaginary unhappiness in this world. This is true happiness in this life, to cleave as closely as possible to the Divine Will. The Will of God, His most excellent, His most perfect Will, which cannot be made more perfect, and cannot be evil, judges concerning all things, but nothing concerning it. To follow this Will I bestow all my care. To this one solicitude I devote myself with all my might, so that whatever God wills, this I also may never refuse to will. And, therefore, I by no means consider myself unhappy, since I have so entirely transfused my own will into the Divine, that with me there is no other will or not will than as God wills or wills not."

"But do you really mean what you say?" asked the Divine; "tell me, I pray, whether you would feel the same if God had decreed to cast you down to Hell?" To which the beggar at once replied,-----"If He should cast me down to Hell? But know that I have two arms of wondrous strength, and with these I should hold Him tightly in an embrace that nothing could sever. One arm is the lowliest humility shown by the oblation of self, the other, purest charity shown by the love of God. With these arms I would so entwine myself round God, that wherever He might banish me, thither would I draw Him with me. And far more desirable, in truth, would it be to be out of Heaven with God, than in Heaven without Him." The Divine was astonished at this reply, and began to think with himself that this was the shortest path to God.

But he felt anxious to make further inquiry, and to draw forth into sight the wisdom which dwelt in such an ill-assorted habitation; and so he asked,-----"Whence have you come hither?" "I came from God," replied the beggar. To whom again the Divine,-----"And where did you find God?" "Where I forsook all created things." Again the Divine asked,-----"But where did you leave God?" "In men of pure minds and goodwill," replied the poor man. "Who are you?" said the Divine. "Whoever I am," he replied, "I am so thoroughly contented with my lot that I would not change it for the riches of all kings. Every one who knows how to rule himself is a king." "Am I, then, to understand that you are a king?" said the other. "Where is your kingdom?" "There," said the beggar, and at the same time pointed with his finger towards Heaven. "He is a king to whom that kingdom on high is transferred by sure deeds of covenant." At last the Divine, intending to bring his questions to an end, said,-----"Who has taught you this? Who has instilled these feelings into you?" To which the other replied,-----"I will tell you, Sir. For whole days I do not speak, and then I give myself up entirely to prayer or holy thoughts, and this is my only anxiety, to be as closely united as possible to God. Union and familiar acquaintance with God and the Divine Will teach all this."

The Theologian wished to ask more questions, but thinking it would be better to postpone this to another time, took his leave for the present. As he went away, full of thought, he said to himself,-----"Lo! thou hast found one who will teach thee the shortest way to God! How truly does S. Augustine [Conf. VIII. 8] say,-----'The unlearned start up and take Heaven by violence, and we with our learning, and without heart, Lo! where we wallow in flesh and blood!' And so Christ, when giving thanks says,-----'I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes.' [Matt. XI. 25] Beneath a filthy garment, forsooth, great wisdom often lies concealed. And who would think of seeking for such Divine learning in a man of so mean an appearance? Who would believe that so much of the Spirit was hidden under such unlettered simplicity? Lo! those two arms of unconquerable strength, Oblation of Self and Love of God, draw God whithersoever this poor man wills! With these arms God permits Himself to be closely bound; other embraces He refuses."