TRUSTFUL SURRENDER TO GOD'S PROVIDENCE
by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure
Excerpt: However, you will perhaps now say, there is sinfulness in all these actions. How then can God will them and take part in them if He is all-holy and can have nothing in common with sin?
God indeed is not and cannot he the author of sin. But it must be remembered that in every sin there are two parts to be distinguished, one natural and the other moral. Thus, in the action of the man you think you have a grievance against there is, for example, the movement of the arm that strikes you or the tongue that offends you, and the movement of the will that turns aside from right reason and the law of God. The physical action of the arm or the tongue, like all natural things, is quite good in itself and there is nothing to prevent its being produced with and by God's cooperation. What is evil, what God could not cooperate with, is the sinful intention which the will of man contributes to the act.
When a man walks with a crippled leg the movement he makes comes both from the soul and the leg, but the defect which causes him to walk badly is only in the leg. In the same way all evil actions must be attributed to God and to man in so far as they are natural, physical acts, but they can be attributed only to the will of man in so far as they are sinful and blameworthy.
If then someone strikes you or slanders you, as the movement of the arm or tongue is in no way a sin, God can very well be, and actually is, the author of it; for existence and movement in man not less than in any other creature proceed not from himself but from God, who acts in him and by him. For in Him says St. Paul, we live and move and have our being. As for the malice of the intention, it proceeds entirely from man and in it alone is the sinfulness in which God has no share but which He yet permits in order not to interfere with our freedom of will.
Moreover, when God cooperates with the person who attacks or robs you, He doubtless intends to deprive you of health or goods because you are making a wrong use of them and they will be harmful to your soul. But He does not intend that the attacker or robber should take them from you by a sin. That is the part of human malice, not God's design.
An example may make the matter clearer. A criminal is condemned to death by fair trial. But the executioner happens to be a personal enemy of his, and instead of carrying out the judge's sentence as a duty, he does so in a spirit of hate and revenge. Obviously the judge has no share in the executioner's sin. The will and intention of the judge is not that this sin should he committed, but that justice should take its course and the criminal be punished.
In the same way God has no share at all in the wickedness of the man who strikes or robs you. That is something particular to the man himself. God, as we have said, wishes to make you see your own faults, to humble you, deprive you of what you possess, in order to free you from vice and lead you to virtue; but this good and merciful design, which He could carry out in numerous other ways without any sin being involved, has nothing in common with the sin of the man who acts as His instrument. And in fact it is not this man's evil intention or sin that causes you to suffer, humiliates or impoverishes you, but the loss of your well being, your good name or you possessions. The sin harms only the person who is guilty of it. This is the way we ought to separate the good from the evil in events of this kind, and distinguish what God operates through men from what men add to the act by their own will.
St. Gregory sets the same truth before us in another light. A doctor, he says orders leeches to be applied. While these small creatures are drawing blood from the patient their only aim is to gorge themselves and suck up as much of it as they can. The doctor's only intention is to have the impure blood drawn from the patient and to cure him in this manner. There is therefore no relation between the insatiable greed of the leeches and the intelligent purpose of the doctor in using them. The patient himself does not protest at their use. He does not regard the leeches as evildoers. Rather he tries to overcome the repugnance the sight of their ugliness causes and help them in their action, in the knowledge that the doctor has judged it useful for his health.
God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of well-being, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above.
This truth has always been familiar to the minds of those truly enlightened by God. We have a celebrated example in Job. He loses his children and his possessions; he falls from the height of fortune to the depths of poverty. And he says, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Note observes St. Augustine "Job does not say 'The Lord gave and the devil hath taken away' but says, wise that he is, 'The Lord gave me my children and my possessions, and it is He who has taken them away; it has been done as it has pleased the Lord.'"
The example of Joseph is no less instructive. His brothers had sold him into slavery from malice and for a wicked purpose, and nevertheless the holy patriarch insists on attributing all to God's providence. God sent me, he says, before you into Egypt to save life. . . . God sent me before you to preserve a remnant for you in the land, and to deliver you in striking way. Not you but God sent me here, and made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his house, and ruler over the land of Egypt.
Let us now listen to Our Savior himself who came down from heaven to teach us by His word and example. In an excess of zeal Peter tries to turn him aside from His purpose of submitting to His passion and prevent the soldiers laying their hands on Him. But Jesus said to him: Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? In fact He attributed the suffering and ignominy of His passion not to the Jews who accused him, not to Judas who betrayed Him, nor to Pilate who condemned Him, nor to the soldiers who ill-treated and crucified Him, nor to the devil who incited them all, though they were the immediate causes of His sufferings, but to God, and to God not considered as a strict judge but as a loving and beloved Father.
Let us never then attribute our losses, our disappointments, our afflictions, our humiliations to the devil or to men, but to God as their real source. "To act otherwise" says St. Dorothy, "would be to do the same as a dog who vents his anger on the stone instead of putting the blame on the hand that threw it at him." So let us be careful not to say 'So-and-so is the cause of my misfortune.' Your misfortunes are the work not of this or that person but of God. And what should give you reassurance is that God, the sovereign good, is guided in all His actions by His most profound wisdom for holy and supernatural purposes.