How can this be God’s will?

May 9, 2012

Faith and Reasons

It's hard to see how a loving God could allow suffering and setbacks. But we don't always see the whole picture. Photo/ Ben Sutherland. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Have you ever prayed to do God’s will, really hoping that He will do your will? Then when things turn out worse than you planned, you question how a good God could will such a lousy turn of events? Or do you ever wonder why God would allow things that are both terrible and random to happen to innocent people?

The classic question is, how can an all-knowing, all powerful God allow suffering, crime, disasters and all the other evil of the world?  Throughout history the greatest minds have pondered this problem. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers in a short blogpost but we can find some insights by looking at two facets of God’s will, which account for everything that happens.

Ordaining Will

This is the “active” will of God, who wants only what is good and holy. It’s God’s plan for all of creation and each person. God’s ordaining will is outside our free will; only He has influence over it.  Examples of God’s ordaining will are found in:

  •  Scripture,
  • The Ten Commandments as given to Moses,
  • The Precepts of the Church,
  • The duties of our state in life,
  • Obedience to lawful authority—civil, family and church, and
  • The New Commandment, as given by Jesus to love one another.

Permissive Will

We often want God’s ordaining will to line up with our own will but most of us are a little more apprehensive about what He’s going to allow. Under His permissive will, God operates in accordance with our free will, the laws of Nature that He established and the actions of angels and demons.

In his blog, Glenn Dallaire talks about how God allows but doesn’t will physical and mental illnesses, accidents, natural disasters, the bad effects of our sinful free will choices and those of the angels and demons, along with their influences and effects upon us.

It’s impossible for God to will evil because as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, God wills his own goodness. When He does allow evil He seeks to draw good from everything.   According to St. Thomas:

God therefore neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills to permit evil to be done; and this is a good.

It might seem contradictory that God wills our punishment but in itself that punishment is a good with evil attached to it. This can work the other way, too. Someone doing evil can accidentally bring about good without intending it. The good isn’t intrinsic to the action but it contributes to the beauty and perfection of the universe. One example is when a person is martyred for the faith. This evil action has at least one good result: the martyred person becomes a saint.

We may like some aspects of God’s will in our lives better than others but it doesn’t really matter if they’re the result of His ordaining or permitting will because God’s seen everything that happens to us beforehand, has pondered how we would benefit from it and has approved of it.

St. Augustine summed it up this way:

 “Nothing is done, unless the Almighty wills it to be done, either by permitting it, or by actually doing it.”

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About Susan Klemond

I'm a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the Catholic Faith, local issues and people. I love the challenge of learning about the Church and discovering the reasons behind her teachings.

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