The closest and most far-reaching union that can exist is that between two wills; we strive to make our wills one with the person whom we love. A self-seeking person seeks only to further his own interests. However, when a person truly loves another, he directs his thoughts, words, feelings, and actions towards pleasing the object of his love. This is exemplified in the unselfish love between husband and wife, and the self-sacrificing love of parents towards their children. In the spiritual life, this union is expressed by uniting our will to that of Christ.
The practice of conformity to the will of God is really in our own best interests, for whatever God wills or allows to happen to us, He wills or permits for our welfare. The circumstances of life are intended to be beneficial and advantageous, although they often do not appear so to us. Sadly, we lose many opportunities for growth in virtue and merit because of our rebellion and complaint, especially when we refuse to conform ourselves to God’s designs.
Holy Scripture frequently refers to God’s loving providence. In the Psalms David writes, “Thou wilt surround the just man, O Lord: Thou wilt surround him with Thy loving-kindness as with a shield” (Ps. 5:13). David goes on to express God’s personal concern for us in our suffering, “I am afflicted and poor; but the Lord is solicitous for me” (Ps. 39:18). Elsewhere he confidently prays, “Guard me as the apple of Thine eye” (Ps. 16:8).
Our Lord shelters us with the protective wings of His providence: “As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them, He spread His wings: and hath taken him and carried him on His shoulders” (Deut. 32:11).
In the words of the prophet Isaias, God compares His love for us to the love of a mother who cannot forget her child. Yet even if she should forget him, God will never forsake us, but will always assist us as the object dearest to His Heart. It is written in Scripture, “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee” (Is. 49:15).
God loves us tenderly and wards off real evils. He permits only those apparent evils that are to our advantage, since they are meant to be profitable to us. Many things that cause us sorrow, frustration or disappointment are actually blessings in disguise. Viewed in the light of faith, these apparent evils often bring us substantial benefits.
“In the first place, the trials which afflict us in this life are oftentimes designed by God to be the means whereby we attain to great temporal prosperity; they cannot, therefore, properly speaking, be considered as evils, since, even in the natural order, they are productive of great good. Joseph was sold as a wretched slave by his brethren to the Ismaelites: loaded with chains, and... [enclosed as a prisoner] in a dark dungeon, he bewailed his hard fate. Who could have imagined that the ignominy of chains and the disgrace of slavery were destined to be the means of conducting Joseph to the throne, and for procuring for him the viceroyalty of Egypt? Yet so it was; for, whilst no one thought of it, God in His Providence, was secretly preparing to turn the shame of a prison into the glory of the highest honors...
“On the contrary, it never could have occurred to any mind that the honors which Aman had received from King Assuerus, and his advancement to the position of favorite courtier of his sovereign, were ordained to conduct him to a shameful death on the gibbet. It is nevertheless certain that Aman was brought to this pass by his rise to power. God knew it, and decreed that the opprobrium of the scaffold should be the end of Aman’s ambitious and prosperous career. Therefore, I infer that what we take to be evil is often the means of temporal advantage, and that, consequently, all sensible men will allow themselves to be led by God, Who, in His loving Providence, seeks nothing but our good” (John Scaramelli, S.J., The Directorium Asceticum, pp. 171-172).
Second, God permits temporal suffering in our lives to purify our souls on earth so that we are spared the everlasting pains of Hell or the tortures of Purgatory. Thus, we purchase immunity from suffering after death by bravely and patiently bearing our crosses in this life. Viewed in the light of faith, this is a great blessing for our sufferings are greatly mitigated; we endure the momentary sorrows of life, thereby avoiding the rigors of divine justice in the afterlife.
Third, when suffering is patiently borne, it removes obstacles to grace and leads to amendment of life. The heroic woman of the Old Testament, Judith, was convinced of this truth. When her nation was surrounded by the army of the tyrant Holofernes and in danger of defeat she said, “...[We] must remember how our father Abraham was tempted, and being proved by many tribulations, was made the friend of God. So Isaac, so Jacob, so Moses, and all that have pleased God, passed through many tribulations, remaining faithful. But they that did not receive the trials with the fear of the Lord, but uttered their impatience and the reproach of their murmuring against the Lord, were destroyed by the destroyer, and perished by serpents.
“But esteeming these very punishments to be less than our sins deserve, let us beseech that these scourges of the Lord, with which like servants we are chastised, have happened for our amendment, and not for our destruction” (Judith 8:22-27).
The Old Testament records two other examples of how God permits suffering in order to heal the wounds of the soul. King Manasses suffered a series of misfortunes: he was dethroned, robbed of his treasures, enslaved and imprisoned in Babylon:
“And after that he was in distress, he prayed to the Lord his God; and did penance exceedingly before the God of his fathers. And he entreated Him, and besought Him earnestly: and He heard his prayer, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (II Paralip. 33:12).
Thus, as a result of his severe hardships, King Manasses detested his sins and amended his life.
Naaman, general of the Syrian army, was afflicted with the loathsome disease of leprosy. Yet this apparent evil led to many blessings. After being healed in the Jordan River by the prophet Eliseus, he embraced the true faith and no longer adored false gods.
The New Testament records the story of the miserable paralytic who suffered for 30 years and received no relief. This misfortune eventually led him to Christ, who cured his physical ailments and, more importantly, freed his soul from the disease of sin.
Countless other examples might be added here, for there is no doubt that whatever God allows to take place in our lives is for our greater good, even if it sometimes has the appearance of evil.
When we are burdened with physical or mental suffering let us not complain to God and say to ourselves that He is unfair in how He distributes His favors, comparing in our minds how sinners seem to prosper, while the good are deprived or destitute. We do not know God’s loving plan for us. When faced with struggles and misfortune, let us gaze upon the body of our crucified Lord upon the cross. What more proof of His great love for us do we need? No matter what the circumstances, we should never doubt that He loves us and is tenderly doing what is in our best interests.