God’s Will Always Works for Our Good

God’s Will Always Works for Our Good

This is a free lesson from our acclaimed Good Catholic series Thy Will Be Done. Click here to discover the complete series on how to surrender everything to God.

God is good; He is the essence, the source, and the personification of goodness itself.

Therefore God’s will is always good. At times we forget this attribute of God’s. Sometimes we even doubt it. Yet every good thing we observe in the world is an effect, or reflection, of the supreme perfection of our Creator “in Whom all good virtually exists” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

It follows, then, that His divine will is necessarily a good will. As we read in Scripture, “Thy Providence, O Father, governeth…She reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly” (Wis. 14:3; 8:1).

One of the qualities of “goodness” is that it distributes and shares itself with others. We recognize this truth in our own innate desire to enjoy the good things in life in the company of friends

In a similar way, God desires to share His goodness—His very being—with us. This is the reason why we exist: God made creatures to participate in and enjoy the goodness of His Trinitarian life. As the Psalmist declares, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8).

God’s activity in the world, then, is a continuous act of sharing His goodness with all of His creation. “The divine will,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “wills nothing except by reason of its goodness.” More significantly, God cannot act otherwise; as we have seen, His will is perfect and cannot change. Therefore it is impossible for God to will anything other than the ultimate good for His creatures.

“It is quite obvious that He who hath founded the earth by wisdom and hath established the heavens by understanding [Prov. 3:19] could not show less perfection in governing His works than in creating them. […]

For if He assigns to His creatures the end that He wills, and chooses the means which seem good to Him to lead them to it, the end He assigns them must be good and wise, nor can He direct them towards their end other than by good and wise means.”

Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure

What does this mean for us personally? As St. Paul tells us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). These words are not a mere expression of sentimental piety meant to console the despondent; it is a metaphysical certainty rooted in God’s very nature.

Just as all things have their origin in God’s eternal goodness, so also all things will find their fulfillment in His goodness. This is the key to understanding the fundamental order behind everything that exists, and the ultimate meaning behind everything that happens. Nothing—no sin, no evil—can thwart the intention of the divine will to achieve the highest and greatest good through all things, from the beginning of the world until the end of time. God’s goodness cannot fail.

This essential truth is our source of great confidence in God. Not only will His goodness triumph in every circumstance, but we ourselves cannot achieve a higher good for ourselves than He already wills for us, more perfectly than we can possibly imagine.

“God certainly desires our greatest good more than we ourselves desire it. He knows better than we by what way it can come to us; and the choice of ways is wholly in His hands, as it is He who governs and regulates all that occurs in the world. It is, then, most certain that in all chances that can befall, whatever may happen will always be best for us.”

St. Augustine

“What is God’s will?” is the perennial question of the person who loves God and wants to draw closer to Him. Theologians distinguish two ways in which God communicates His will to us:

The first is his signified will (voluntas signi). This includes His commandments and counsels that He teaches us in His Word and through His Church, as well as the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. St. Francis de Sales summarizes what God reveals to us through His signified will:

“Christian doctrine clearly proposes unto us the truths which God wills that we should believe, the goods He will have us hope for, the pains He will have us dread, what He will have us love, the commandments He will have us observe and the counsels He desires us to follow. And this is called God’s signified will, because He has signified and made manifest unto us that it is His will and intention that all this should be believed, hoped for, feared, loved and practiced.”

The second is His will of good pleasure (voluntas beneplaciti), as phrased by St. Paul: “He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1:9). This includes God’s action in our lives via the providential circumstances we encounter which God intends for our good and His glory. Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure summarizes God’s will of good pleasure:

“[…] God, being infinite wisdom and acting by Himself, cannot act except in an infinitely wise manner. For this reason many of the Doctors of the Church hold that, having regard to the circumstances, His works are so perfect that they could not be more so, and so good that they could not be better.

‘We ought then’ says St. Basil, ‘to ponder well on this thought, that we are the work of a good Workman, and that He dispenses and distributes to us all things great and small with the wisest providence, so that there is nothing had, nothing that could even be conceived better.’”

In certain respects, obeying God’s signified will is easier because it is given to us in clear, direct terms. For example, we have the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and the precepts of the Catholic Church. His will of good pleasure, however, must be carefully discerned throughout our lives by prayerfully reflecting on the various circumstances in which we find ourselves. We often do not know God’s will of good pleasure with complete certainty, and at times greater clarity comes only in hindsight. Considering this difficulty, St. Francis de Sales guides us in how to navigate between this two-fold expression of God’s will:

“The divine good-pleasure is scarcely known otherwise than by events, and as long as it is unknown to us, we must keep as close as possible to the will of God which is already declared or signified to us: but as soon as the Divine Majesty’s pleasure appears, we must at once lovingly yield ourselves to its obedience.”

The spiritual discipline of “trustful surrender” and “self-abandonment” to Divine Providence includes obedience to God’s signified will as our ordinary Christian duty, yet stretches us far beyond this to the heroic submission to His will of good pleasure as it unfolds through the events in our lives.

God’s will for us always has one ultimate purpose in view: that we attain our highest good according to the unique creature He has made us to be.

Reflection by Fr. Miller