God’s Loving Providence


We do not always see the loving providence that God has for each one of us. He has an infinite care and concern for each soul that he has created. In our own lives, God tries, in numerous ways, to wake us up from our slumber, especially if we are stuck in a life of sin. In St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, she describes the four winds of prosperity, fear, adversity, and conscience which God employs to wake us to see that our life, separated from him, will be one filled with pain and torment.

When people lose me because of their sins, they are in constant pain and torment, and so they weep. Then come the winds, and they strike the tree of selfish sensuality, the very heart of their beings.1

Mysteriously, the first wind described is prosperity. On the outside, it would seem that prosperity is not the cause of many people’s suffering. Because they are prosperous, they become self-sufficient and, therefore, have no need of God. As a consequence, their lives are governed by their selfish sensuality. Individuals filled with selfishness want continually what they cannot have. Because they cannot have it, they suffer, being burned up interiorly with the lust for more wealth, power, or honor. God permits this suffering in souls who are not satisfied with what God provides, to awaken them to see the inner corruption which is at the root of their dissatisfaction and suffering.

I, who bestow everything that exists, am extremely good, so what comes with this prosperous wind is good. But it causes the wicked to weep because it does not satisfy their heart. For they want what they cannot have; because they cannot have it, they suffer; and in their suffering, they weep, because the eyes like to respond to the heart.2

If the soul does not respond to the wind of prosperity, then what follows is the wind of fear. The fruit of goods accumulated with an insatiable appetite is the fear of losing what one possesses. This is a cringing fear that torments them: “such fear lets them enjoy nothing in peace.” This extreme discomfort is permitted by God to enable the soul to reflect on the wretchedness of their lives and how the craving for more and more wealth, or worldly honors, can never satisfy their hearts.

Then comes the wind of slavish fear, which makes them afraid of their own shadow, afraid to lose what they love. … Or they are afraid they will lose their position, or others will lose theirs—and all this because of their selfish love for themselves, or for honor or wealth. Such fear lets them enjoy nothing in peace. They do not hold what they have with respect for my priorities, and so they are dogged by slavish, cringing fear, made the wretched slaves of sin.3

A vicious cycle can develop where the more someone possesses, the more he or she wants to possess. This is evidenced in how the rich can become richer and richer; some to the point where the billions they possess is more than they can possibly spend—and way beyond what they need. Their fear and grief at losing what they possess will also be great. The destructiveness of this cycle is often more hidden that the destructiveness of an alcohol or drug addiction. The tragedy for individuals is that their thirst for more power, wealth, and honor will never be satisfied.

They are always suffering because they are wanting more than they can have. They suffer over what they do not have, and what they lose they lose with grief. Their grief is as great as was their love in possessing. They lose all affection for their neighbors and have no care for acquiring virtue.4

The “gentle doctor” applies the medicine most suited to our needs. Just as there are many different kinds of medicines, so also our divine physician has the perfect remedy to enable us to reflect on the emptiness of our worldly pursuits and begin to see how they only cause us grief and suffering.

While the wind of fear is battering them, the wind of trouble and adversity (the very thing they feared) joins in and takes away their possessions. … Sometimes, though, it takes only, now one thing, now another: health, children, riches, position, honors—whatever I, the gentle doctor, see to be necessary for their salvation, and so allow it to happen.5

The Purpose of the Troubles We Experience in Life
Without God’s grace, it is almost impossible to perceive that the troubles we experience in this world are his means of waking us up to discover the truth which has been hidden from our eyes. Our God wants to open our eyes to discover the primordial principle that will change our perception of life: that this world is temporary and that our goal is not to be focused purely on this passing world. As God the Father revealed to St. Catherine, “I am their goal.”6 The challenge laid open to us by God is that he wants us to seek him, and willingly come to know and love him. He gave us free will for this very purpose. He does not want to impose his will on us, and force us to come and know him. This is not the right use of freedom. He wants us to discover him in the place where we are born, the circumstances of our daily life and, most significantly, through the troubles and consequent suffering that we experience.

The purpose of suffering which arises from the troubles of this world is to enable us to stop and reflect, and actually begin to see the world and its pleasures for what they really are, and as a result, begin to taste reality. It is this experience which can lead us to see more clearly the consequences which follow from chasing the things that glitter in the world and so begin to “remove the cloud” from our eyes. Just as suffering was the means by which Christ redeemed the world, suffering is also the means employed by God to enable us to see the world for what it actually is, and so come to embrace a deeper reality, and discover the supreme gift of our salvation.

I send people troubles in this world so that they may know that their goal is not this life, and that these things (of the world) are imperfect and passing. I am their goal, and I want them to want me, and in this spirit, they should accept such things. Now, there are some, I tell you, who when they feel the pressure of trouble, are prompted to remove the cloud from their eyes by their very suffering, and by what they see must be the consequences of their sin.7

If the winds of prosperity, fear, and adversity have not awakened the soul, then God visits the soul himself with the wind of conscience. If we love persons who we see getting into trouble because of the choices they are making in life, then we will try in many different ways to get them to see the error of their choices. The attitude of the person can remain unmoved by our many fruitless attempts. We have no means to prod them interiorly. The persons we are concerned about are loved infinitely more by God, more than we can ever possibly imagine. He is able to prod them interiorly through their conscience.

I said that there is also a wind of conscience. My divine kindness creates this wind after I have tried to lure them with love through prosperity, and used fear to steer their hearts through misfortune to love virtuously, and tried giving them troubles so that they would recognize the world’s fragility and inconstancy. But none of this pleases some people. So, because I love you all so unspeakably much, I send a prod of conscience to rouse these people to open their mouths, and vomit out the filth of their sins in holy confession. They have been unwilling to receive my grace in any other way, so now I reproach them directly. But they, obstinate as they are, flee from the prod of conscience, and go right on amusing themselves with their wretched pleasures, in spite of me or anyone else. All this happens because their root is corrupt and the whole tree with it, and everything is deadly for them. Their suffering, their weeping, their bitterness are constant.8

Mysteriously, St. Catherine describes the winds of prosperity, fear, and adversity as graces which the person who receives the prod of conscience has rejected: “They have been unwilling to receive my grace in any other way. …” We instinctively think that God’s grace could not be communicated through the negative experiences of fear and adversity. Sadly, if souls reject the prod of conscience, then their suffering, weeping, and bitterness become constant. If we reject the graces that God sends us to recognize our own sinfulness, then our hearts will harden as a result. To flee from the prod of conscience is to reject the loving hand of God who desperately desires our eternal salvation. As a consequence, individuals become corrupted and suffer immensely from their selfishness through a life separated from God.

The Deepest Suffering in the Human Family
A surprising revelation in St. Catherine’s Dialogue is that the deepest suffering in the human family is in the will: “It is the will that causes (the deeper) pain.” The people referred to in the passage below—who already in this life, taste the pledge of hell—are those who lead a life full of selfishness. We would automatically think that those who suffer the deepest pain are victims of crimes, and those enduring poverty or serious illness.

No one born into this life passes through it without suffering of body or spirit. My servants may suffer physically, but their spirit is free. In other words, suffering does not weary them, because their will is in tune with mine. It is the will that causes (the deeper) pain. Those I have described to you, who taste already in this life the pledge of hell, suffer spiritually, as well as physically, while my servants taste the pledge of eternal life.9

Those leading a luxurious lifestyle often appear on the outside to suffer much less than those who are less fortunate. Yet, as described in St. Catherine’s Dialogue, the “rich man with all his wealth suffered more than poor Lazarus tormented by his leprosy.”

And, in the wicked who possess things with such disordered love, you see the greatest evil and unbearable suffering. Even though, on the outside, they may seem the opposite, in truth, it is always so. Who would not have judged that poor Lazarus was supremely miserable, and the rich man quite happy and content? Yet such was not the case, for that rich man with all his wealth suffered more than poor Lazarus tormented by his leprosy. For the rich man’s selfish will was alive, and this is the source of all suffering. But in Lazarus, this will was dead, and his will was so alive in me that he found refreshment and consolation in his pain. He had been thrown out by the others, especially by the rich man, and was neither cleansed nor cared for by them, but I provided that the senseless animals should lick his sores. And you see how, at the end of their lives, Lazarus has eternal life and the rich man is in hell.10

God’s Mysterious Ways
Life seems grossly unfair when we consider the countless people who are born into poverty and live a life that is deprived when compared to Western standards. The sufferings and harm that come to those who are just, and do not deserve such treatment, works against the notion of a loving and caring God. The mystery of God’s ways is beyond our understanding, especially when it comes to his permitting will. On the outside, it looks, to all sense and purposes, that God is powerless, cares less about our well-being, and is far from being the Father of infinite love.

And in my providence, I give to each of you, in particular, the manner of life and death I choose. Hunger, thirst, loss of worldly position, nakedness, cold, heat, insults, abuse, slander—all these things, I allow people to say and do to you. Not that I am the source of the malice and ill will of those who do these evil and harmful things; I only grant them their existence and time. I did not give them existence to sin against me and their neighbors, but that they might serve me and others with loving charity. But I permit these actions, either to test the virtue of patience in the soul who is their object, or to make the sinners aware of what they are doing.11

We can all be tempted to judge God as a distant and far-off being who does not care when we see the suffering that occurs in the world, especially, the evil inflicted on innocent people. God respects our free choice exercised in our will to choose to love him, or persecute him, and our neighbor. As he pointed out to St. Catherine, he is not the source of the evil inflicted in the world. It is we. God uses the misuse of our own free will to achieve holiness in one soul, and repentance and conversion in another. As virtue can only be tested by its opposite, the evil and harmful things experienced by those who are faithful to God, strengthens their patience and love for him. In an equally mysterious way, God permits the evil actions of people to make them aware of what they are doing. Evil can remain hidden in people’s hearts, the unfortunate home of their evil desires, intentions, and secret thoughts, which are centered on inflicting harm on others. The words and actions that arise will bring out into the open the evil and malice contained in persons’ hearts. The revelation of their perversity provides the persons concerned with an unexpected opportunity to become more aware of the harm they are causing others.

Both human evil and natural evil are permitted by God with one ambition: to bring about our salvation. How many of us, though, are left stunned in wonder at the disasters that afflict the poor and innocent. We are left gasping at how such harm can be allowed to happen by a loving God. The original sin of Adam and Eve led to our human nature becoming fallen, and as a consequence, every person has an inclination to sin. Because of our fallen nature, we are afflicted with physical illnesses, and suffer from the scourge of sins committed by our neighbors. The loss of paradise resulted in the world we live in, which, as a result of sin, means we also suffer from natural disasters. It is only through the eyes of faith, and holding onto God’s desire for our universal salvation, that we can begin to glimpse his loving providence.

Sometimes, I let the whole world be against the just, and in the end, they die a death that leaves worldly people stunned in wonder. It seems to them unjust to see the just perishing—now at sea, now in fire, now mangled by beast, now physically killed when their houses collapse on top of them. How unreasonable these things seem to the eye unenlightened by most holy faith! But not so to the faithful, for through love, they have found and experienced my providence in all those great things. Thus they see and grasp that I do what I do providentially, only to bring about your salvation. Therefore, they hold everything in reverence. They are not scandalized in themselves, nor in my works, nor in their neighbors, but pass through everything with true patience. My providence is never denied to anyone; it seasons everything. Sometimes people think that the hail and storms and lightning I rain upon their bodies are cruel. In their judgment, I have no care for their well-being. I have done these things to rescue them from eternal death, but they believe the opposite.12

How is it possible to see God’s providence seasoning everything that happens in the world? The seemingly purposeless disasters that afflict mankind are but one example. The tragic natural disasters that, in many instances, happen in the developing world—where the loss of life is greater because of the greater levels of poverty and lack of infrastructure—on the outside, points to an uncaring God. It is only the “most holy faith” as described by St. Catherine that enables us to see God’s providence in all the natural calamities which afflict mankind. God the Father only permits or ordains these things in order to bring about our eternal salvation.

We can also observe that just as God permits evil to awaken those who are committing the evil acts to become more conscious of their behavior, so also the natural tragedies provide opportunities for people to be awakened to the needs of others, and display compassion through the performing of charitable acts. Ultimately, it is the degree of charity in our souls which matters most to God.

God does everything imaginable to awaken us to the only thing that matters: our salvation and sanctification. As he revealed to St. Catherine, he tries to wake up those who are in deadly sin in “so many ways, your tongue could never describe them.”

Worldly people who are dead in mortal sin, I wake up with the pricking or weariness they feel within their hearts in new and different ways—so many ways, your tongue could never describe them.13

  1. Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue (Classics of Western Spirituality). trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P. (Paulist Press: New York, 1980), p 174. All translations come from this edition.
  2. Ibid: p 174.
  3. Ibid: p 174.
  4. Ibid: p 99.
  5. Ibid: p 175.
  6. Ibid: p 100.
  7. Ibid: p 100.
  8. Ibid: pp 175-176.
  9. Ibid: p 91.
  10. Ibid: p 323.
  11. Ibid: p 282.
  12. Ibid: p 283.
  13. Ibid: p 297.
Brent Withers About Brent Withers

Brent Withers is originally from New Zealand. He is now living in Farnborough, England, with his wife and three young children. He returned to the Catholic Church about ten years ago after being away for about twenty or so years. He has previously published essays with the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Presently, he is employed as a commissioning manager for mental health services in an inner London City borough.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    I wonder if what Cathrine of Sienna said and your comments only make sense to those who have had some exposure to the Catholic world view. As I read this article, I was thinking about the suffering of the Chinese people during the 20th century. In the midst of the human-made suffering of millions of Chinese people, I find it hard to see God’s providence at work.

  2. Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

    Tom – one must employ faith to see God’s loving hand always and everywhere mysteriously guiding all of creation towards its ultimate end: perfection in Him. Our faith informs us that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Further, He is Justice, Love and Mercy. He is all these things infinitely, eternally and in perfect harmony. That we do not “see” His will simply means we lack understanding which of course is quite understandable. Didn’t God say to us through Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts. For as far as heaven is from earth are My thoughts from your thoughts and My ways from your ways”. In short, God asks for our trust, not our understanding. And isn’t growing in trust a lifelong test of our faith?