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The Will and Providence of God | Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen |
From Chapter One, "Accepting God's Will", of Into Your Hands, Father:
Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us | Ignatius Insight
A problem many people have today is that they no longer recognize
God's will in everything that happens. They no longer believe in a Providence
that allows all that takes place to work
for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). They say all too easily and
superficially: "But it is not God's will that there are wars or that
people starve or are persecuted...." No, it is not God's will that human
beings fight with each other. He wills that we love one another. But when evil
people who are opposed to his will hate and murder others, he allows this to
become a part of his plan for them. We must distinguish between the actual deed
of someone who, for example, slanders us and the situation that comes to us as
a result oft he deed, which was not God's will. God did not will the sinful
act, but from all eternity he has taken into account the consequences of it in
our lives. He wills that we grow through those very things that others do to us
that are difficult and painful.
There is a deeply rooted tendency in human beings to look at others and their
failings. In doing this, we miss what is most essential: to accept and assent
to God's will in our lives, a will that is largely formed by the opposition of
others to God's will. We need only look at Jesus. It was not the Father's will
that his Son be killed, nor did he inspire anyone to kill him. He did will,
however, that Jesus would freely be the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He
willed that Jesus would let himself be put to death. Jesus did not say, as we
often hear today: "But this is not God's will, this cannot be God's
will." He said: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove
this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mk 14:36).
For everyone of us there is a chalice that the Father offers us to drink. We
have difficulty recognizing it as coming from him, since a great deal of its
contents comes from other people. Nevertheless, it is the Father who asks us to
drink the bitter cup. It was so for Jesus, and it is the same for us.
"Your Providence, O Father, Guides!" (cf. Wis 14:3)
God has everything
in his hand. Nothing exists outside the sphere of his influence. Nothing can
upset his plans. Augustine formulates this very radically: "Nothing
happens that the Almighty does not will should happen, either by permitting it
or by himself doing it."  To let something happen is also a decision of
That God allows so much to happen is a great stumbling block for us. Why is he
so passive? Why does he not intervene? How is Auschwitz possible and the
torture chamber and the threat of a horrible nuclear war if God is concerned
with us? These questions torment us and are not easy to answer. In chapter 2, I
will return to this and try to show why God endowed human beings with free
will, though he knew that this very freedom would pave the way for terrible
Let us limit ourselves for now to the undeniable fact that the Father did not
prevent the painful death of his only-begotten Son. This fact is a kind of
archetype, which shows us two things very clearly. The first is that suffering
and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father.
The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming
power. Since Jesus has gone through it, suffering has become an instrument of
salvation. This applies not only to suffering that is borne generously and
heroically. Who knows how we would react in the torture chamber? It is enough
that we try as best we can to accept suffering or that we merely allow whatever
comes our way to happen. The Church regards the Holy Innocents as martyrs, even
though they never consciously or willingly consented to their violent deaths.
God makes use of evil in such a superb way and with such skill that the result
is better than if there had never been evil. For those of us who find ourselves
in the midst of evil, this is not easy to swallow. We think that the price to
be paid for these good results is far too high. But Saint Paul rejoices when he
ponders the "mystery", God's magnificent plan, "hidden for ages
in God" (Eph 3:9), where evil and sin also have their place. "God has
consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all" (Rom
11:32). In this daring passage, which, strictly speaking, seems somewhat
questionable, since it seems to place the initiative of sin on God, Saint Paul
assures us that even the greatest catastrophe, namely, sin, contributes to the
revelation of love. Nothing falls outside of God's plan. That is why the
tragedy of the world, despite all its terror, has no definitive character. All
the absurdity of which mankind's foolishness and blindness are capable is
caught up in God's loving omnipotence. He is able to fit even the absurd into
his plan of salvation and thereby give it meaning.
In his stories about Hasidism, Martin Buber writes: "On the evening before
Yom Kippur, the great day of atonement, Rabbi Susa once heard the cantor
singing in the synagogue in a wonderful way: 'and it is forgiven.' He then
called out to God: 'Lord of the universe, this song could never have resounded
in your presence had Israel not sinned.' " 
"There is indeed much done against God's will by evil men," Augustine
writes, "but his wisdom and power are so great that everything seemingly
contrary to it, in reality, works toward the good outcome or end that he has preordained."
 In other words: "God accomplishes his good will through the evil will
of others. In this way the Father's loving plan was realized ... and Jesus
suffered death for our sake." 
There is no need to distinguish carefully between what God positively wills and
what he merely permits. What he permits is also a part of his universal,
all-embracing will. He has foreseen it from the beginning and decided how he
will use it. Everything that happens has a purpose in God's plan. He is so good
that all that comes in contact with him becomes in some way good. God's
goodness is contagious and even gives evil something ofits own goodness.
"God is so good", Augustine says, "that in his hand, even evil
brings about good. He would never have permitted evil to occur if he had not,
thanks to his perfect goodness, been able to use it."  Who can dare to
speak of chance? "Nothing in our lives happens haphazardly.... Everything
that takes place against our will can only come from God's will, his Providence,
the order he has created, the permission he gives, and the laws he has
The distinction between what God wills and what he merely permits is extremely
important on the theological level. When it has to do with real life, however,
with unavoidable events and our reaction to them, we might wonder if
speculation about the difference is not often a subtle form of escapism. If God
does not will the evil that befalls me, I do not need to accept it. Then I may
in good conscience rebel against it.
Job is not interested in such distinctions. The evil that afflicts him comes
directly from the devil. Nevertheless, Job says: "The LORD gave and the
LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!" (Job 1:21). Father
Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) writes to Sister Marie-Henriette de
Bousmard: "Be profoundly persuaded that nothing takes place in this world
either spiritually or physically, that God does not will, or at least, permit;
therefore we ought no less to submit to the permissions of God in things that
do not depend on us, than to His absolute will." 
 Enchiridion de fide, spe et caritate, no. 24.
 Die Erzählungen der Chassidim (Zurich: Manesse Verlag, 1949), p. 387.
 De civitate Dei 22, 2, I.
 Enchiridion, no. 26.
 Opus imperf. contra Julianum,
lib. 5, no. 60.
 Enarrationes in Ps I 18, v.
 Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J., Letters, in Abandonment to
Divine Providence (Exeter: Sidney Lee,
Catholic Records Press, 1921), p. 127.
Into Your Hands,
Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us
by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen
Into Your Hands, Father -- Electronic Book Download
In the spiritual life, we need a central idea: something so basic and comprehensive that it encompasses everything else. According to Carmelite Father Wilfrid
Stinissen, surrender to God, abandonment to the One who loves us completely, is that central reality. The life of Jesus shows us the centrality of abandonment, for
it is truly the beginning and the end of his mission on earth.
In this simple but profound book, Father Stinissen distinguishes three degrees or stages in abandonment. The first stage consists of accepting and assenting to
God's will as it manifests itself in all circumstances of life. The second is actively doing God's will at every moment of one's life. In the third stage, abandonment to
God is so complete that one has become a tool in God's hands. At this stage it is no longer I who do God's will, but God who accomplishes his will through me.
Father Wilfrid Stinissen was born in Antwerp, Belgium, where he entered the Carmelite Order in 1944. He was sent to Sweden in 1967 to cofound a small
contemplative community. His many books on the spiritual life have been translated into multiple languages. Among his works available in English are Nourished by
the Word: Reading the Bible Contemplatively, This Is the Day the Lord Has Made: 365 Daily Meditations and The Gift of Spiritual Direction: On Spiritual Guidance
and Care for the Soul.
From the Foreword:
The Gospels and the spiritual literature point out various practices of importance on the journey to God. We are told to deny ourselves, forgive one another, carry
our cross, fast, and give alms. We must also love our neighbor, pray with others and in private, bring our troubles to the Lord, and be peacemakers. All of these things
have their place, and nothing may be overlooked, but they may cause us to feel confused and divided, and we might even ask ourselves where we will find the strength to
do all that is required. In spiritual reading we are instructed about balanced asceticism, the Mass readings of the day tell of prayer, and the retreat master speaks
about love. We are pulled in different directions, and, instead of finding peace, we become restless. What we need most is a central idea, something so basic and
comprehensive that it encompasses everything else.
In my opinion, that central idea is surrender.
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Book Excerpts:
Introduction to Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J.
Happiness and the Heart | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. |
From Healing the Culture: A Commonsense
Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life issues
Catholic Spirituality | Thomas Howard
Perceiving God's Will | Adrienne von Speyr | From
Light and Images: Elements of Contemplation
Seeking Deep Conversion | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. |
An excerpt from Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer
The Scriptural Roots of St. Augustine's
Spirituality | Stephen N. Filippo
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