I was reading a very interesting section on conformity to the will of God in the book Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues, (written in the 1600’s by a Jesuit priest), when I came across this passage:
“St. Gregory says very well to this effect: The leech sucks the blood of a sick man, and all his aim is to satisfy himself and drink all he can; but the aim of the physician is to draw off the bad blood and give health to the patient. This is what God aims at through the affliction and tribulation which he sends us…[W]hether through the instrumentality of men, or through that of any other creature, we should not look at them, but at that most wise physician who is God; for they all serve Him as leeches and means to draw off the bad blood and give us entire health and salvation. Thus we should understand and believe that He sends us all things for our greater good and profit…” ( Chapter XXII. Of the conformity which we should have to the will of God in the general afflictions and calamities which He sends us. Page 515)
We know that all that happens to us comes from the hand of God, excepting sin. But if sin does not come from the hand of God, how can it be that sinful actions are used by Him? The same book also gives this explanation:
“From the…certain truth…that God is not cause or author of sin, the devil draws a false and lying conclusion, making some people believe that though the evils that come to us by means of natural causes and irrational creatures…come from the hand of God, because there is no sin…yet the evil and affliction which comes about by the fault of a man who wounds me, robs me, dishonours me, does not come from the hand of God, nor is guided by His providence, but by the malice and damnable will of another man. This is a very great error…Theologians observe that two elements there are combined in any sin that man commits; the one is the movement and exterior act, the other the disorder of the will wandering away from what God commands. God is the author of the former, man of the latter…So of the sinful action that man does, the cause of the action is God, but the cause of the fault and sin that there is in the act is the free will of man.” (Chapter II. Further explanation of the second fundamental principle. Page 416)
It is not the action in itself that is sinful, but the misuse and perversion of it; for example, speaking in itself is not sinful, but when we misuse the gift of speech by saying what is not true, then the act becomes a sin…So it is that God uses the sinful actions of others to bring about a greater good, for nothing happens without His providence having planned it.
There are many biblical examples of this – the story of Joseph comes to mind. Though his brothers sought his ruin by selling him into slavery, God used their evil deed to bring about a greater good, as Joseph says: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20
So whenever you are struggling to see God’s will in the sufferings He sends you, especially sufferings inflicted by others, remember the leech and the physician. While others may not have good intentions, God always does. May this knowledge inspire us with an ever-greater trust in Him, so that we may say with utmost sincerity: “not my will but Thine be done.”
The Bible. Revised Standard Version.
Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues. Volume I. Eighth Treatise: Of Conformity to the Will of God. Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. Link to free online copy found here. Direct link to Google Docs file here.