Reflection: Making Sense of the Will of God

by Father Don Thomas

Looking down the long corridor of the centuries, a question that has been very frequently asked by millions of people from all over the world may very well be posed in this fashion: "If God is infinitely good and loving, how do you account for all the terrible evil and suffering that occurs in the world"? This question covers and includes so many tragedies like typhoons, hurricanes, fires, all kinds of diseases, the horrible abuse of men, women and children, starvation, attacks and killing of innocent humans and animals as well, the sad and lengthy suffering of beautiful and good people like Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II and so many of our own relatives and friends—how does one continue to say that "God is good" and "it is God's Will" in the light of these and other tragedies that affect so many?

Even in recent times, think of the incredible suffering and loss of life inflicted on the peoples in parts of Asia by the incredible floodwaters. Hundreds of thousands of lives were destroyed, and yet we hear people continue to say "God is good" and "it's God's Will". What is that all about? How can that be the Will of God? Why is it not unusual for people to respond "Get lost, and don't talk to me about God's Will. I just don't buy it, and I will never understand why my wife had to die while giving birth to our ninth child. All that talk about God's Will is a lot of hogwash. Just get out of here and leave me alone". The anger and rejection are unmistakable. How do we respond to and tackle all these questions, objections, outbursts of anger, rejection of God and so forth? Let us try to explain.

In my seminary training, I state in all honesty that one of the most important lessons I learned in theology was the doctrine about the Intended and Permissive Will of God. Injecting a personal note at this point, I want to say that I was happy to learn about this distinction because my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters and I often questioned why family members Romayne died at 3 months, Frank at 18, Mariclare at 19 and Raymond at 42.

I know I felt a lot better when I learned the distinction between the Intended Will of God and the Permissive Will of God. God's Intended Will always deals with what is good. By His Permissive Will is meant that God allows an evil or an apparent evil to occur so that a greater good will result from that action. Respect for man's free will is always observed in God's way of acting. Examples of His Intended Will would include His acts of creation. Everything was good. The most important example of His Permissive Will would be the suffering and death of His own Son, Jesus Christ. God permitted the suffering and death to occur so that a greater good would result—the redemption of sinful man, making salvation possible for those who fulfill the Will of God. I remember when my mother was dying in the hospital after accidentally falling down twelve steps backwards and breaking her back and puncturing her lung, ending up partially paralyzed. Sitting with her one day, she said to me "You know, Donnie, God is good". At this time, I was somewhat upset with God over this accident. I said to her "Why do you say that, Mom"? She proceeded to tell me that she had been in that bed for a number of days, and she kept looking at the crucifix, and finally finding for herself the answer to the questions she had been asking for years as to why God had taken Romayne, Frank, Mariclare and Raymond in death at early ages. I remember how she said to me, "If God would allow or permit His own Son, who never did anything wrong, to die such a horrible and painful death, who do we think we are that we should just go through life, sinning and doing wrong, and then think that we should just die and go straight to heaven"? She reviewed for me what I had learned in theology about the Intended and Permissive Will of God. Let me give a few examples that will deal with our intended will and permissive will in our everyday lives.


Examples of Intended and Permissive Will


Example #1 ...A man is out in a boat with his wife and little boy. The boat capsizes, with all three thrown overboard. The man has to act quickly and by an act of the will, he intends to go after and save his wife (intended will); he looks back and sees his son going down for the third time and drowns (permissive will). The good is what is intended and the evil or bad is permitted to happen. The good that is intended has to be greater and more important than the evil that is permitted to happen.

Example #2 ... With your little year old son, you are visiting your husband in the hospital. In the course of the visit, your little boy starts choking badly because of something he put in his mouth. They rush him down to the emergency room and the doctor comes out and tells you "we don't have any time to lose, but we have to perform a tracheotomy at once, cut his throat in order to save him". Any good mother is going to say, "Cut his throat, cut his throat, but save my baby". A passer-by would be shocked to hear you, but they do not know the whole story. Your intended will is that the baby lives. You permit what appears to be bad, so that a greater good might result. The good is intended and the bad is permitted to happen. You have asserted your intended and permissive will. Once again, think about the case of God permitting Jesus to suffer and die, so that a greater good would result. Thousands of examples can be given, both in Scripture and in our daily life experiences, and the understanding of this distinction can be of great comfort.

Example #3 ... In Scripture we read of the young boy with the seizures, throwing himself on the ground, and some adults were asking Jesus what sins the boy had committed or his parents had committed and why was this happening? Jesus says that the young boy had committed no sin, nor did his parents commit any sins, but this is permitted to happen so that greater honor and glory would come to His Heavenly Father. Jesus cured the boy and the gift of faith came to a number of those people who had witnessed the cure, but who did not understand who Jesus was. So God permitted the bad thing to happen so that a greater good would result, the gift of faith coming to those unbelievers. Granted, it sometimes may take a long time to see what the good is that comes about, but if we are patient enough, invariably we do end up making some sense out of the situation. Our faith can truly be seriously tested, but perseverance in our faith will lead to eternal life. We have God's word for that. It is His plan and Intended Will.


The End


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