The Ways of God Are Often Contrary to Our Desires.
Not only are the ways of God often apparently contrary to their ends, but they are, still more often, contrary to our desires, to our enterprises, to our honor, and to our convenience. They compel us to do what we would avoid, and avoid what we would gladly do. We daily meet with divers obstacles to our designs. They proceed from times, places, accidents, business which comes inopportunely; from persons, and not unfrequently from sources, whence we should not expect them. Sometimes the merest trifles impede us, as flies and gnats tormented Pharaoh, whose pride God wished to tame, not by lions or elephants, but by these weak insects.
I could relate many examples on this subject, but I shall content myself with that of St. Bernard, which is very illustrious. This holy man, being inspired by God to preach the Crusade, and commissioned by the pope to the same effect, went through kingdoms, provinces and cities, exciting every one to this holy enterprise, with such zeal and success, that the Emperor Conrad III, the King of France, and other princes, with an immense multitude of men, formed an army of Germans, Franks, Italians and natives of all parts of Europe, to proceed to the Holy Land, and in this Crusade to increase the conquests which the Christians had made in the preceding ones. The design was holy, the war just, the zeal laudable, but the success was not commensurate: for, through the perfidy of the Greeks, the army perished almost entirely in Syria. The emperor was constrained to return to Germany, and King Louis to France, without having gained any conquest, but not without suffering serious loss.
The blame of this misfortune fell entirely on St. Bernard, for he had been the prime mover of the enterprise. His sanctity and miracles were forgotten, he was regarded as a deceiver, a hard-hearted man who had sent multitudes of persons, ecclesiastical and secular, of every rank and condition, to be butchered in a foreign land. Writing to Pope Eugenius, the saint himself says : "We announced peace, and there was no peace; we promised rest, and behold only trouble! Did we then act rashly, and of our own will? Did we not follow your commands, or rather those of God, in following yours ? All the world knows that the judgments of God are true; but the late event is so profound an abyss that we may well call those blessed who do not take scandal at it. But how shall human presumption dare to blame what it cannot understand? Let us call to mind the acts of Providence in times past, that we may obtain some light on this matter. Moses, when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, promised them a better land; for, if he had not, they would not have followed him. He brought them out, but he failed to bring them to the land he promised them; and yet we certainly cannot charge this grievous event to the temerity of their leader. He acted by the command of God, who foresaw everything, and confirmed his words by a miracle."St. Bernard adds that, as the sins of the tribes of Israel caused them to perish, so those of the Crusaders, who imitated them in their sin, were the cause of their misfortune. He next recalls what happened to these tribes of Israel, who, though they fought by the command of God, were twice beaten by the tribe of Benjamin. “Now, how, I pray you,” adds he, “would the Crusaders have treated me, if I had prevailed on them to return a second time to the battle; and if, after a second defeat, I had said to them, ‘Go back a third time’?” And yet this was actually the case with the Israelites; and it was not till the third time that they obtained the victory.
Certainly, when the saint reflected on all the circumstances of this Crusade, he seemed to have some reason to say to God, as Jeremias the prophet did: “Thou hast deceived me, O Lord! and I am deceived. Thou hast been stronger than I, and Thou hast prevailed. I am become a laughing-stock all day: all scoff at me.” But St. Bernard never doubted the truth of his divine mission; he knew that God never deceives in reality, though he does not always execute His promises according to the interpretation which men give them.
Why The Ways of God Are Thus Contrary
Why are the ways of God contrary to their ends, at least in appearance, and why are they really contrary to our will and inclinations? For this, I shall give two reasons.
1.The first regards God. Being infinitely wise, and having indicated our ends, He alone knows the means most proper to reach them. Hence, if He conducts us by ways which are apparently opposed to their ends, we ought to hold for certain that these ways are the best for us.
God being infinitely powerful, all means are good in His hands, and there is nothing so weak or insignificant that He cannot turn it to account when He pleases. In His hands, everything can become a means of salvation. Water, which, naturally, is useful only to wash away physical uncleanness, He uses in baptism, to cleanse away the stains of the soul; fire, which naturally burns, refreshed the children in the furnace of Babylon. Through poverty He confers riches, through sickness health, and through infamy glory. This is not the case with men, or with most of natural causes, for it is necessary that there should always be some proportion between the means they use, and the end they propose. If we want to write, we must take a pen; if we want to learn, we must study. But when God employs His absolute power over His creatures, when He moves these arms which all nature must obey without resistance, bitter and deadly things become sweet and salutary, because He, in whose hands they are, is infinitely good, wise and strong. In our hands, without the aid of God, the sweetest things become poisonous. So, then, the contrariety of the ways of God is such only in our eyes and to our minds—to God all things are proper for the accomplishment of His will: a good medicine may be bitter to the taste of a sick man, but to health it is very useful.
2.The second reason is drawn from ourselves. There is no greater obstacle to the designs of God and our own happiness, than we ourselves. God, to lead us to true felicity, designs to take us, as it were, from under our own control, to annihilate us, to break our unruly will, and destroy our false judgments, the two great sources of all our evils. Now, He executes all this very adroitly and efficaciously by these contrary ways.
Certainly, since we cannot be content by the possession of ourselves, but only by the possession of God, it is absolutely necessary to go out of ourselves, that we may be replenished with God. The best means of quitting self, and becoming united with God, are to die to our corrupt nature, to purify it, to go out of it, and, in this manner, empty our souls of self, that they may be filled with God.
The Spiritual Man; or The Spiritual Life Reduced to its First Principles by Jean Baptiste Saint Jure pages 348-351