Will of God
WILL OF GOD
The Existence of Divine Will: From Revelation. That God wills, and thus possesses a will, is evident within the Bible. Within the first creation story everything comes to be by the will of God. "Let there be light…. Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gn 1:3–26). God wills to give the Promised Land to Abraham and to his descendants (Gn 2:13–15). The Psalmist delights to do the will of God (Ps 39/40:8), and prays that God would teach him to do his will (Ps 142/143:10). The Israelites are permitted to do things according to the will of God (Ez 7:18).
In the Gospels Jesus wills to do the will of his Father (Mt 26:39; Jn 5:30; 6:38). In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that they would do the will of the Father (Mt 6:10). Paul is apostle by the will of God (1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1). Paul desires to visit the Romans in accordance with God's will (Rom 1:10; 15:32). The Holy Spirit allows Christians to know the will of God (Rom 8:27) and through the renewal of their minds are able to do God's will (Rom 12:2). Jesus delivered himself up for our salvation according to God's will (Gal 1:4). God wills our sanctification (1 Thes 4:3), and we are to give thanks in all circumstances for such is God's will (1 Thes 5:18). God equally wills all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tm 2:4). By doing the will of God, Christians silence the foolish (1 Pt 2:15), and it is better to suffer if such is God's will (1 Pt 3:17, 4:19). Christians must not live by the flesh but by the willl of God (1 Pt 4:2). While the world with its lusts passes away, the person who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn 2:17).
The Existence of the Will of God: Christian Tradition. The Fathers of the Church acknowledged, in accordance with scripture, that all things are done in conformity to God's will and that human beings are morally obliged to obey the will of God. For example, Clement of Rome states that the sending of Christ and of the apostles "originate from the will of God" (Ad Cor.,42.2). The Council of the Lateran (649) in defending the divinity of the three persons professes that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit equally possess "the same Godhead … [and] will (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 501). Moreover, while condemning the Monothelite heresy, which held that Christ possessed only a divine will, the church professed that he possessed both a divine and a human will (see monothelitism) (Enchiridion symbolorum 487, 556). In such Church teaching we have the first official acknowledgement of the divine will. This tradition persists, and while not explicitly defined, is clearly implied in the teaching of Vatican I: "The Holy … Catholic Church believes and professes that there is one true and living God … infinite in intelligence and will and every perfection" (Enchiridion symbolorum 3001).
The Christian theological tradition has also emphasized that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit possess one divine will in conformity with their being the one God (Augustine, De Trin 5, 9–11; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, 39.3). Nonetheless, since the one God is a trinity of persons, each person, in oneness with the others, possesses the one divine will in accordance with the distinct and unique identity of each person. Thus the Father wills as Father, the Son as Son and the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit. Thus Paul could write that Christians are inspired "by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (1 Cor 12:11).
The Existence of the Divine Will: From Reason. The Christian tradition has further argued that reason demands that God possesses a divine will. Aquinas taught that the divine will follows upon the divine intellect (Summa Theologiae 1a, 19.1; Summa Contra Gentiles I.72). Human beings seek and so desire to possess, through their intelligence, what is good. God, as intelligent, must also then possess will. However, because God is pure act, and as such possesses all perfections fully in act, so his will is fully in act for it possesses all good (Summa Theologiae 1a, 19.2). Just as God's intellect is one with his perfect existence so is his will.
Thus, the divine will differs in three ways from the human will. (1) The human will seeks the good it lacks. To this there is no divine counterpart, because God lacks nothing that is good. (2) The human will enjoys what limited good it possesses. Similarly, the divine continuously enjoys what it possesses, but this is infinite good, for the fullness of goodness in the divine essence is always actually possessed. (3) The human will, with its restless hunger for what is good which is ultimately God himself, must be "moved" by an object outside itself. The same is true of the intellect, for to understand something it must be "moved" from the capacity to know to actual knowledge. But the object of God's will is the supreme good of his own essence. Thus the divine will is not moved by anything outside itself. Rather, God's will is said to move itself. His will necessarily delights in his essence just as man's will necessarily desires happiness.
Freedom of the Divine Will. If God's will is fully actualized in accordance with his unchangeable perfect nature, is he truly free? Man's will must constantly seek things precisely as they relate, or seem to relate, to his happiness, for man's whole being desires happiness. However, God lacks nothing. Thus only God can suffice for God and so God "necessarily" wills to love himself. This is not a form of egoism, but the mere recognition that there is no greater good for God to love than himself. This doctrine can be explained in Trinitarian terms as follows. The Father completely gives himself in begetting his Son in the love of the Spirit. Thus the Father wills to glorify the Son (Jn 17). The Son completely gives himself to the Father in the same love of the Spirit. Thus the Son wills to glorify the Father (Jn 17). The Spirit completely gives himself as love to the Father and to the Son and so conforms them mutually to love, and so glorify, one another. Augustine states that "if any person in the Trinity is to be distinctively called the will of God, this name like charity fits the Holy Spirit more than the others. What else after all is charity but the will?" (De Trin. 15.38; see Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, 27.3).
God's will extends beyond himself to embrace all of his creatures. Though the self-diffusive nature of God's infinite goodness is satisfied only in the communion of the Trinity (i.e., only in the infinite giving possible in a communion of infinite persons), God wills to diffuse his goodness in the creation of finite creatures, and in the case of human beings to create them so as to share ultimately in his own divine goodness. God freely creates purely out of his divine benevolent goodness and not from any necessity on his part (Summa Theologiae 1a, 32.1.ad3). Vatican I states: "If anyone shall say that…God created not by his will, free from all necessity, but by a necessity equal to that necessity whereby he love himself, let him be anathema" (Enchiridion symbolorum 3025).
God freely wills all things in his goodness by one single eternal act, just as he understands all things in his essence by one single eternal act. "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but the will of the Lord abides forever (Prv 19:21). This does not mean that all acts that God wills are performed by God. God creates such that secondary causes bring about the ends he wills. For example, God wills that the gospel be preached, but such preaching is accomplished through the ministry of the Church. Or, God wills our holiness, but such is achieved through faith, repentance, prayer and the sacraments by which we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God often freely wills to work through the free actions of human beings.
God's Will and Evil. Because God is perfectly good and wills all that is good, it would seem that there should not be any evil. Yet evil does exist, and if God in no way willed it, then it could never arise. God willed to create human beings in his image and likeness and thus with freedom. God intended that such human freedom would be used to perform divine-like actions—love, kindness, generosity, courage. Yet, in giving freedom to human beings God allowed them to misuse their freedom. It is in this sense that he willed evil: not directly, but by creating a situation where sin and evil were possible (Summa Theologiae 1a, 19.9). Moreover, it must be noted that evil is the privation of some good and so can only exist in something that is good; for example, deformities exist in bodies or in things and sin exist only in sinners. God freely created only what is good. Biblically the privation of good is primarily the effect of human sin—suffering due to sin, as well as sickness, death, and even disorders within nature. Even when human beings will to sin they do so under the guise that such sin is good. The thief steals not because stealing is evil but because possessing what is stolen is perceived as a good. Because moral evil is contrary to all that God is in his perfect goodness, love, and holiness, sinners cannot abide with God not by a free arbitrary act of God, but because sin itself effects a separation. Thus God is said to hate sin and punish sinners, not because he does not love sinners, but because sinners have freely disassociated themselves from God and so reap the punishment that such free actions effect, ultimately hell, that is, a life separated from God. God freely sanctions the punishment that sinful free acts impose. Nonetheless, God always wills what is good for human beings and ultimately wills their salvation in Jesus Christ, yet God equally wills that human beings remain free and so allows them to refuse the good he intends for them. Thus, while God's grace is always prior to and empowers every good action a human being performs, yet such grace does not overpower human freedom so as to make it void.
Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, 19, 39; Summa Contra Gentiles I.72–90. b. davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford 1992). h. j. m. j. goris, Free Creatures of an Eternal God (Nijmegen 1996).
[t. c. donlan/
t. g. weinandy]