About Ignatius Insight
  Who We Are
  Ignatius Press
  Ignatius Press catalogs
  Catholic World Report
  Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  IP Novels site
  IP Religious Ed blog
  IP Critical Editions

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

Print-friendly version

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." [1] To let something happen is also a decision of God.

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 catastrophes.

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.' " [2]

"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." [3] 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." [4]

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." [5] 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 established." [6]

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." [7]


[1] Enchiridion de fide, spe et caritate, no. 24.
[2] Die Erzhlungen der Chassidim (Zurich: Manesse Verlag, 1949), p. 387.
[3] De civitate Dei 22, 2, I.
[4] Enchiridion, no. 26.
[5] Opus imperf. contra Julianum, lib. 5, no. 60.
[6] Enarrationes in Ps I 18, v. 12.
[7] 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

• Related Products:

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

If you'd like to receive the FREE IgnatiusInsight.com e-letter (about every 2 to 3 weeks), which includes regular updates about IgnatiusInsight.com articles, reviews, excerpts, and author appearances, please click here to sign-up today!


World Wide Web


Place your order toll-free at 1-800-651-1531

Ignatius Press | San Francisco
Web design under direction of Ignatius Press.
Send your comments or web problems to:

Copyright 2018 by Ignatius Press

IgnatiusInsight.com catholic blog books insight scoop weblog ignatius