The will of God

Editorial, May 2011

Over the years, in reading the lives of the saints, I have noted that they have tried to find God’s will in their lives. When they found it, they did all they could to follow it. There are many different paths to holiness—to which we are all called, clergy, laity and religious. St. Paul stated this clearly in 1 Thes 4:3: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” In his providence God deals with each one of us differently.

Man, in imitation of God, has two spiritual powers—intellect and will. That is why the Bible says we are made in the image of God. Intellect and will always go together. The object of the intellect is being as true, while the object of the will is being as good. Will affirms and desires what the intellect understands and presents to it. Since God is infinite intelligence, it follows that he is also infinite will. But since God is absolutely simple and absolute goodness, his will is identified with his goodness. So the act of willing in God is one of affirmation of himself, love of himself as supreme goodness. In confirmation of this, St. Thomas Aquinas says: “In every intellectual being there is will, just as in every sensible being there is animal appetite. And so there must be will in God, since there is intellect in him. And as his intellect is his own existence, so is his will” (Summa Theologica, I, 19, 1). Also in God there is no real distinction between his will and the activity of his will, as there is in us, since he is absolutely simple, having no composition of any kind. As St. Thomas says, his will is his existence.

Since the object of God’s will is his own infinite goodness, he is absolutely free with regard to all limited, created beings. Each one of them imitates his own being in some limited way, and so is a particular good. God necessarily wills and loves himself, but he is under no necessity to create finite beings such as we find in the material universe because they are all particular goods. God loves all of the things which he has made, but he loves them freely. In Genesis 1 we read that God saw each thing he made “and behold, it was very good” (Gn 1:31).

God gave a nature or form to everything he created. He created the natural law of cause and effect, the law of gravity, the speed of light, and so forth. All of these effects are the result of his will—they reflect the will of God. As we said above, they do what they do necessarily, according to their nature. But man is different from everything else in the material universe because God created him with an intellect and a will. He is spiritual and free and so he has his destiny in his own hands. Man conducts himself by reason. By reason he can discern what is good for him and what is evil or harms him. Since he is free, man can choose and decide for himself how to act and how to deal with other human beings who are like himself. So man governs himself, or should govern himself, by the natural law, which is a participation in the eternal law of God. In this way, on the natural level, God makes his will known to man. He also makes his will known to us by revelation, by the Church and by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

God prohibits evil and commands good deeds to be done by his commandments; he counsels us to strive for perfection. Since he made man free, he permits man to misuse his freedom and commit evil. He arranges things for us through his divine providence by the circumstances we find ourselves in, such as family, personal talents, sickness or health, time of birth, nationality, and so forth. This latter aspect of the Divine Will is called his “will of good pleasure.” Saints and holy theologians urge us to accept these things as manifestations of the will of God.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.