Christians of every stripe (and especially Protestants, and I do not mean this as a criticism at all) want to know God’s will for their lives, so that they can do it. This is a perfectly rational question for those who love God, but the answer to the question is often (dare I say normally) pretty hard to see when it comes to everyday life questions. Here are a couple takes on the subject from two great men, and from completely different angles.
Our first sage is unsurprisingly this blog’s eponym, St. Thomas Aquinas. In this passage from the Summa Theologiae he responds to the objection that we cannot know God’s will in every case (and therefore do not need to seek to do His will at all):
We can know in a general way what God wills. For we know that whatever God wills, He wills it under the aspect of good. Consequently whoever wills a thing under any aspect of good, has a will conformed to the Divine will, as to the reason of the thing willed. But we know not what God wills in particular: and in this respect we are not bound to conform our will to the Divine will. (ST I-II q.19 a.10 ad 1; emphasis added)
So by the Common Doctor’s reckoning, we do not know God’s will concerning specifics (presuming here that it is not an obvious question related to keeping the Ten Commandments or something like that), and so we are not bound to try to do something that is impossible for us. God does not normally reveal His specific will to us, so it is sufficient that our reason for doing the thing must be conformed to the good as best we can tell.
Please note: this is not an excuse to do things that we know are evil because we intend good from them. The end does not ever justify the means! It does however mean that the better we know God’s general will, and the better we know Him, the better we are able to love Him and the better we will discern the good that pleases Him. And this seems like a pleasant place to turn our attention to our second author, Thomas Merton, who prayed this:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude; emphasis added)
See how nicely this dovetails with what Aquinas said above? And Merton is exactly right: we do not really know ourselves, so it is really absurd for us to think that we know exactly what God wants us to do at every turn in the road. But when we want to please God, He is pleased with us, and if we seek to please Him in all things, then we may with Merton pray that He will guide us and trust Him to do so.
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