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 One: 

Chapter Two:
In What Way, and For What Reason, the Will of God Permits This and That

HERE the greater part of men fall into the most miserable error, since with them the Divine Permission scarcely differs from human, inasmuch as it rests in idleness, doing nothing, and does not restrain those who wish to act, even though it can. From this one error countless evils spring. In consequence of this we rush one upon another, and, as though we were the artificers of every misfortune and the authors of every evil, we mutually assail one another with tongue, and hands, and teeth, as if God all the while were an indifferent Spectator of our quarrels, and allowed the most grievous acts of injustice when He could prevent them. This is the very seed-plot of all disorders, and for the purpose of uprooting it I proceed to lay down three points to be considered in every Divine Permission. The first is the Will of permitting. The second, the Cause of permission. The third, the Will which co-operates with that which is permitted.

1. The better to understand this I must repeat that there are two kinds of evils. The first comprising those things which cause vexation, pain, loss, disgrace, such as poverty, imprisonment, disease, banishment, death, which are not to be called evils so much as bitter medicines administered by the Divine Hand. The second comprising those things which are properly called evils, as sin. The former kind God truly wills, either for the punishment of the wicked [as S. Augustine says], or for the correction of His children. The latter God cannot be said to will, but to permit. For since God truly wills all things which truly exist [for by His Will all things are, and without it nothing exists], sin [which is improperly said to exist] He cannot will, but permits. But since God most clearly foresees all things that will be, He could easily prevent whatever He wills to prevent. Since, however, He does not prevent numberless things, we must conclude that God by His Own most just Will, from Eternity willed, and so decreed, to permit them. God, then, suffers anything to be done, not through being unwilling, but through willing it. Men, indeed, permit many things which they are either unable to prevent, or which they certainly would prefer not to be done. But not so the Supreme Ruler of all things. There is, therefore, in God a Will of permitting, which I have set down as the first point under the head of Permission. And now the question arises, why God should will to permit sin, or what is the cause in God of for his Permission.

2. Never certainly would such infinite Goodness permit so great wickedness in the world, unless it could thence produce greater good, and turn to salvation things which were devised for destruction. God permitted the jealousy of his brethren to exercise its malice against innocent Joseph; but with how great good was this Permission, not merely to his parents and brethren, but to the whole land of Egypt! God permitted guiltless David to be harassed with the most cruel injuries by wicked Saul, but it was to the greatest advantage of David himself and the entire kingdom of Israel. God permitted Daniel, most unjustly accused, to be cast into the den of lions, but it was to his own great good and that of many others. But why do I mention such as these? God permitted His Own Son to be crucified by murderers, but His Permission was for the ineffable good of the whole human race. And so from every Divine Permission there flow the greatest increase to the Divine Glory, and the richest blessings to the human race. Hence the Goodness of God and His Mercy, hence His Bounty and Power, hence His Providence, hence his Wisdom and Justice shine forth in a way which is altogether wonderful. Hence it is that the courage of many grows, the contest thickens, rewards are multiplied, and crowns of victory are increased.

And how worthy of wonder does Divine Providence show itself in these daily Permissions! For what great thing is it if you have produced good from good? But it is great indeed if you produce good from evil. Anyone can be a pilot in a calm sea, as the saying is. It requires no great skill, when the wind is favorable, the ship stout, the sea calm, the stars shining brightly, and the rowers well-used to their work, to reach the harbor already in sight; but when the winds are raging, the ship dismantled, the sky thundering, pirates lurking around, the rowers unskilled in their work, and the stars hidden from sight, still to reach the wished-for harbor, this in truth is a feat to be admired in a pilot. And such is God in His Permissions. By means of seeming contraries He conducts to a happy end. By means of so many sins of men he advances His Own Glory. In such an accumulation of wickedness He causes His Own dear ones to shine the more conspicuously. Under God's guidance, acts of fraud turn to the advantage of the person who has been deceived; vexations and injuries add strength to the vexed; the wickedness of so many abandoned men strengthens the piety of others, and preserves them from perishing; and where many are thought to be utterly swallowed up they emerge again. The dungeon and chains opened for Joseph the way to an exalted throne of dignity; the envy of his brethren was of more service to him than the kindness of all the world besides. The treachery of Saul conferred on David a kingly crown. The den of lions raised Daniel higher than any courtiers or kings could have done. From the Cross Christ passed to Paradise; from Olivet He ascended to the Throne with the Father. But if God did not permit sins, and did not ordain what He permitted, and did not by His Ordinance turn them into good, we should have difficulty in recognizing the avenging Justice of God. But in this way we are taught lessons of deeper wisdom, and are constrained to confess a most wonderful order and connection of causes, by which so many blessings emerge at length from evils of such magnitude. There are, therefore, manifold causes for the Divine Permission. And this was the second point.

3. The third point is the Will of God co-operating in everything which He permits. God decreed from eternity not only what in the course of time He would permit, nor only the most just causes of His Permission, but He also had, and still has, a Will which co-operates in all His Permissions. In the schools of Theologians it is a point most clearly laid down, that God is the Helper of all those things which really are done and exist. Nothing exists anywhere without the help of the First and Chief Cause.

Since, then, God from eternity decreed to permit all those things which He does permit, and this for the most just reasons; and furthermore since He makes Himself a Helper in His Permissions, why do we assail Heaven and men with so many and such foolish complaints? Why do we so often rail at the Providence and most just Permissions of God? Why do we not rather ascribe all events to the Divine Decree, feeling sure that most just and weighty grounds of Divine Permission are lying underneath, and that an end of the deepest moment is proposed, against which it ill beseems us to struggle? Good and evil wills alike serve God; and among their various ends they all come to this, which, if I may so call it, is the End of ends.

Without question the holiest men have ever held it as the most certain truth that all things happened to them as if God were the Doer of them; because turning away the eyes of their mind from the thought of another's sin, they constantly viewed the Permissions of God as the actual and efficient causes of whatever happened. For God is so Good that on no account would he permit evil, unless he knew that from it He could produce greater good. Saint Augustine speaks most admirably to the point: "God has judged it better," he says, "to work good out of evil, than to allow no evil. For since He is supremely Good, He would in no way allow any evil to be in His Works, unless He were as Omnipotent as Good, so as to be able to bring good even out of evil." Excellently, too, does Theophilus Bernardinus speak: "God," he says, "winds Himself in among our errors and sins in a most penetrating way, not indeed as approving and participating in them, but as turning us away from them and correcting them, since out of evil things He brings forth the more good, just as if it was fire out of water." And here we must reflect, as the same writer admonishes us, that all who hurt us [in whatever way the injury is done] support a two-fold character. One in which they have wicked intentions towards us, and devise no common mischief against us; the other, in which they are able to effect what they have devised, and are the instrument of the Divine Justice which punishes us. If they only acted out the first character, viz., of malicious people, they would not hurt us at all; but because they support the other also, they do the work of God, Who justly punishes us, even though they act in ignorance of His designs. In this way Nabuchodonosor was a servant of God; and so, too, Attila, Totila, and Tamerlane, the scourge of God. Thus also Vespasian and his son, for the love of glory, and to increase their dominion, endeavored to destroy the Jews; but they erred. In reality they were the executioners and ministers of the Divine Vengeance against that impious nation. The Jews could not digest their happiness without the help of these Imperial warm baths. But that we may follow out this line of reasoning more closely, let me ask a few questions.

4. I direct my questions to you, my Christian friend, to you particularly who so frequently disturb Heaven and earth with your complaints. Be kind enough to tell me what you find fault with in the man who has injured you? Is it only with his will of injuring you, or only with his power, or both? With both, you will say. But I will instruct you not to find fault with either. Not with the will of injuring, for this without the power is vain, and has never done you any harm at all. Not with the power of injuring, for this is from God, and is just and right. You know that "there is no power but from God." [Rom. XIII. 1.] Why do you then complain that one is able to do to you what God permits him to do? A great injury is done to me, you will say. But what sort of injury is it, let me ask? God punishes your sins, exercises your patience, multiplies your reward, and is an injury done to you? Yes, but, you say, I am filled with indignation at this wicked man, and his will which is so thoroughly corrupt. But you persist in looking at man, while I wish you to look at God alone. However corrupt the human will may be, what has it been able to do? What has it done? You do not grieve on this account, because he willed to injure you, but because he actually did injure you, or was able to injure you. But why, I would ask, and how could he do this? Whence did he derive the power? And why had he the power? Was it not from the Divine Power and Permission? And if it is Divine, is it not also just, laudable, and holy? Therefore, either hold your peace, or else direct your complaints against the Divine Permission, and engrave this on your mind, that God never would permit that the wicked will of another should devise any evil against you, if it were not for your good, provided that you yourself do not become a hindrance. "And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good?" [I Pet. III. 13.] Saint Augustine says, most admirably: "Fear not the enemy; so much he doeth as he hath received power to do. Him fear thou that hath the chief power. Him fear that doeth as much as He willeth, and that doeth nothing unjustly, and whatever He shall have done is just. We might suppose something or other to be unjust: but inasmuch as God hath done it, believe it to be just. Therefore, thou sayest, if anyone slay an innocent man, doth he justly or unjustly? Unjustly, certainly. Wherefore doth God permit this? Thou desirest to dispute before that thou doest anything, in consideration whereof thou mayest be worthy to dispute, why God hath permitted this. The Counsel of God to tell to thee, O man, I am not able. This thing, however, I say, both that the man hath done unjustly that hath slain an innocent person, and that it would not have been done unless God permitted it; and though the man hath done unjustly, yet God hath not unjustly permitted this." And in the same way he speaks of the death of our Lord: "Accordingly, my brethren, both Judas, the foul traitor to Christ, and the persecutors of Christ, malignant all, ungodly all, unjust all, are to be condemned all; and, nevertheless, the Father hath not spared His Own proper Son, but for the sake of us all He hath delivered Him up. [Rom. VIII. 32.] Order if thou art able; distinguish these things if thou art able. Render to God thy vows which thy lips have uttered. See what the unjust hath here done, what the Just One. The one hath willed, the Other hath permitted: the one unjustly hath willed, the Other justly hath permitted. Let unjust will be condemned, just Permission be glorified. Do not therefore wonder; God permitteth, and in judgment permitteth. He permitteth, and in number, weight, and measure He permitteth. With Him is not iniquity. Do thou only belong to Him."

This then is the shortest way to attain tranquillity,-----not to regard the man who inflicts an injury, but God Who permits it. It was the custom of the Saints to think, not of him who for any reason might do them a wrong, but of Him who did not hinder the wrongdoer. Thus they accounted even injuries to be blessings; "for the doers of injustice," they said, "are those who make us blessed; but those who speak of us as blessed, deceive us." And so, with eyes ever fixed upon God, they rested on the Divine Will in everything, and waited to receive all things from God.

But understand from this that no man's sin merits pardon the more because God brings forth the greater good from it;-----for man affords the occasion of good alone, not the cause; and even the occasion he does not afford of himself, but through the abundance of the Divine Goodness. If some wicked person has set fire to the cottage of a poor man, he has not on this account committed the less sin, because the poor man has borne his loss patiently, or some prince has erected in its place a ten times better house. Another person's virtue and a happy circumstance do not wipe out the guilt of the incendiary; and so sin does not acquire any excellence because it has afforded opportunity for doing good. But that we may understand this the better, we must now consider how secret are the Judgments of God.