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God’s Will Does Not Exclude Secondary Causes

June 12, 2008

The will of God, as it is the first and universal cause, does not exclude intermediate causes that have power to produce certain effects. Since however all intermediate causes are inferior in power to the first cause, there are many things in the divine power, knowledge and will that are not included in the order of inferior causes. Thus in the case of the raising of Lazarus, one who looked only on inferior causes might have said: “Lazarus will not rise again,” but looking at the divine first cause might have said: “Lazarus will rise again.” And God wills both: that is, that in the order of the inferior cause a thing shall happen; but that in the order of the higher cause it shall not happen; or He may will conversely. We may say, then, that God sometimes declares that a thing shall happen according as it falls under the order of inferior causes, as of nature, or merit, which yet does not happen as not being in the designs of the divine and higher cause. Thus He foretold to Ezechias: “Take order with thy house, for thou shalt die, and not live” (). Yet this did not take place, since from eternity it was otherwise disposed in the divine knowledge and will, which is unchangeable. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xvi, 5): “The sentence of God changes, but not His counsel”—that is to say, the counsel of His will. When therefore He says, “I also will repent,” His words must be understood metaphorically. For men seem to repent, when they do not fulfill what they have threatened. (Thomas Aquinas, ST. I, Q. 19, a. 7)

When the biblical authors speak of God “relenting” this obviously does not mean that God became something different than he was before. His eternal plan is not thwarted by the evil acts of men.  His eternal love for those whom he has created is mediated through temporal reality, including those events which God has foreknown to take place through the will of men. This cooperating principle is the Love of God. This “relenting” in God Thomas says should be understood metaphorically; that is, we should understand that when God seems to be affected by the persecution of his people or the evil of men he is much more than what we consider from the definition of “affect.” He is not eternally being affected from the outside – that would not be greater.  He is infinitely willing the good.  The suffering of God’s people has meaning for him so that he acts on their behalf.  In this sense “affect” is a metaphor for the fact that God really cares about his creatures.  

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