My faith took a big leap recently when I discovered the concept of seeking God’s will at every moment of every day. I started to see that this was something that all the Saints have in common — they sought to be completely in tune with God at all times, not just at Mass or during prayer a few times per day — and I realized that it’s something I need to be doing as well.
Needless to say, it doesn’t come naturally to me. And I want to make sure I fully understand the concept, because a little information on a subject like this can be dangerous for someone like me — I can just kind of picture myself sitting on the couch, flipping through a magazine, thinking, “God has not revealed to me that it’s his will that I vacuum today.”
Reading the advice of the Saints and other great Catholic thinkers was inspiring but left me with a lot of questions — they make finding God’s will for each moment sound so easy! I started to suspect that some of them had some sort of divine earpiece they could just put on to hear the voice of God at all times, like “Turn left. OK, now right. Smile at that lady. Give $1.75 to that beggar.”
So, as I sometimes do when I reach a spiritual stumbling block, I decided to send a rambling email with all my questions to one of the clever Catholics I know who’s way ahead of me in matters of faith, in this case Steve G. (regular commentor and Resident Et Tu Blog Apologist). We had an interesting email exchange on the subject that I thought I’d share in case anyone else has questions like this…or might perhaps just find my ignorance amusing. 🙂
In the excellent book He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter Ciszek says, “The circumstances of each day of our lives, of every moment of every day, are provided for us by God.” He doesn’t seem to account for the work of evil, human error, or randomness. Either he’s missing something or I’m missing something. Seeing as how he’s the one who had 20 years in a Siberian death camp to pray and think about it, I’m going to go with the latter. What am I missing?
It is flatly and undoubtedly so that the circumstances of each moment are provided by God, but perhaps not exactly in the way you are reading it. Let me take a step back and see if I can explain my own understanding.
Think a moment about the composition of the universe, of matter. What is each level of material composed of? Molecules are made up of atoms; atoms are made up of particles. What next? Strings? OK, what then? If we are to avoid the obvious nonsensical infinite regression that materialism offers, we know that at some point (and frankly this freaks me out a bit), everything is literally composed of…nothing (i.e. ex nihilo).
This is a way of looking at the first cause argument that I think is at once more profound and more enlightening. It shows us that really at any given moment, out of nothingness, God is ‘creating’ all things. The ex-nihilo creation of the universe was not a one time event. The big bang may have been such, but the continued existence of all things is an ongoing creation of God because he wills it. It would all literally collapse into nothing if His will did not hold it in existence.
So, if we set this as the background of Fr. Ciszek’s comment we can indeed see that it is true that the circumstances of our lives, every moment of every day are provided by God by simple virtue that existence is provided by God.
But surely there are plenty of circumstances we can find ourselves in that are temptations from the devil or at least the result of randomness that results from human free will, right?
I’d have to say (in my opinion only), that I wouldn’t be able to use the word randomness. If all things are held in existence by His will alone, then it seems hard for me to see any place for true randomness. But the human free will part, yes, I’d absolutely agree with that. That God’s will holds all things in existence doesn’t necessarily mean that he ‘wills’ every specific circumstances, rather that he allows for them.
That sounds murky, so let me offer a cheesy example.
Say two children want to play a game of Chutes and Ladders. I provide the goods for them to do so. I provide the game, the table to play on, the chairs, my supervision, the rules, etc. Now, I think it would be accurate to say that I provided for the circumstance of their gaming, but that I could still allow within those circumstances for them to play the game and determine the outcome via the use of their free effort (free will).
Not a great analogy since it totally ignores the issue of omniscience, but hopefully it makes the intended point. That point being that one of the paradoxes here is that indeed God’s will holds all things in existence and provides all our circumstance, AND we have the freedom to affect those circumstances as well.
Anyway, I think the most important thing to always keep in mind in trying to wrap our understanding around such things is to ask what is God’s overarching will for us.
The goal is this transforming union with God: to know and love Him in this life and the next, and to know and love our neighbor as a direct consequence of that. That is the larger context within which the entirety of our lives takes place.
That larger context should be teaching us in ANY circumstance to ask the question, “How does this, or how can I use this to, help me draw closer to God and neighbor in love?”
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