Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Is God's Will Found in the Gaps of Ours?

Every so often, moving in religious circles, I hear people worrying (sometimes a great deal) that attempting to exert control over some aspect of their lives will leave no room for God's will. I ran into this most recently with people discussing NFP, where I've seen several people express variations of the concern that this post expresses:
But is using NFP to prevent pregnancy really trusting God? ... The whole idea of a married couple becoming aware of the wife’s fertile times, and using that knowledge to decide whether or not to engage in marital relations seems rather presumptuous if you really think about it. How can it be that human reasoning is greater than God’s providence and His plan to add one more soul to His Creation?
However, the concern is certainly not found only in relation to decisions relating to fertility. I've often heard similar comments made about finances, along the lines of, "I realized that I was putting all this time into trying to figure out how we were going to pay our bills, when I should have just stopped worrying and left it up to God's will." On one occasion, I offered a coworker some help on finding another job within the company because he'd been dissatisfied with his job lately. However, he replied, "If it's God's will that I move on, it'll happen. I don't want to get in His way."

It strikes me that all of these suggest a kind of thinking in which if we will something, that thing is somehow artificial, it is "our will" and thus "not God's will", whereas if we manage to attain some sort of just-letting-things-come state, we are "leaving it up to God."

Now, clearly, when we sin, we set our will above God's, choosing to pursue our own goods rather than the greatest Good. However, that formulation, in itself, underlines that even when we do God's will, we are not passive. We conform our will to God's will, acting as He wishes us to act.

If someone forms and acts on a plan, whether it relates to career, finances, fertility, or what you will, the mere fact that he has formed and acted upon a plan does not mean that he is necessarily acting in contradiction or in accord with God's will.  Nor can we simplistically assume that we if we step back and do nothing, we are allowing God's will to happen.  After all, our own actions can be the instruments of God's will.  Not acting can be as much in contradiction to God's will as acting.


love2learnmom said...

Amen! This concept tends to drive me crazy too, but I also understand that it is confusing. Part of God's will is that we use our good reason to make decisions. Also, as far as God's plan for when our next baby comes, is it thwarting God's will if conception doesn't take place because someone is sick or on business travel? (Or sort of conversely for that matter, God doesn't prevent conception of a baby outside of marriage, even though clearly conceiving under those circumstances are against his will). Of course not. I think sometimes well-meaning Catholics imagine that if one of these things happens then we somehow are missing a baby that God had planned for us. But we're forgetting that God works within our personal lives and circumstances, knowing us so well (and being so conveniently outside of time) that He is aware of our choices and circumstances and whatnot even before they happen.

MrsDarwin said...

I think sometimes well-meaning Catholics imagine that if one of these things happens then we somehow are missing a baby that God had planned for us.

Also important to remember is that each soul is created at the moment of conception, so there's not some nebulous baby floating around Heaven, wondering why Mom and Dad were so out of touch with God's Will that they wouldn't welcome him.

Our Heroine said...

One quotation that I think short circuits this debate nicely is from St. Ignatius Loyola (I hope I got the source right!): "Pray as if everything depended upon God, then act as if everything depended on you."

Action and prayer *together* will eventually uncover God's will.

It's finding that balance that I have yet to perfect!

Andy said...

This reminds me of a joke I heard years ago. I found it conveniently already typed out at

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house to avoid the floodwaters, faithfully praying to God to save him.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord, the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed even harder, knowing that God would save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord, the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed again for God to save him, steadfast in his faith.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect than that?”

love2learnmom said...

I love that joke.

bearing said...

I am also a big fan of the boat joke.

I think that the sentiment that many people are trying to get across is that, even though prudence may require us to plan and to take action, we are never required to be anxious or worried about the outcome of our actions, or to be consumed by our planning. Nor is it useful to second-guess ourselves and fret after the decision time has passed. It is possible to overplan and to overthink our decisions.

Sometimes, it may even be preferable to decline to plan, if it can be reasonably foreseen that overplanning, overthinking, and fretting will be the result of attempting to plan.

I am not sure I would call "declining to plan" "accepting God's will.". It is more like "accepting the natural consequences of this situation without exerting my will on it." I think God moves mainly through people's choices, including the choice not to decide.

JMB said...

In my rather unschooled in theology ways, I always thought that doing God's will was a cooperation between what you want to do (or desire) and what is possible in your situation. So you desire to get married and you meet a man and fall in love, you are acting in God's will. If you don't desire to get married, and you meet an eligible spouse, but act in a way that is no good for either you or the potential spouse, you are not doing God's will. God's will might be pushing you to make up your mind once and for all about entering the seminary.

I say this because I read a lot on the internet about mothers who are miserable in their marriages, or with their families, and it seems to me that they are always trying a way to find God's will in their misery and I wonder if it is there. Does God want you miserable? Is it God's will that you stay in a marriage where your husband verbally abuses you and with holds sex or hides money or has affairs?

Anonymous said...

God gave us brains because he wanted us to use them, not because he wanted us to throw them away. As I say when I'm exasperated -- use the brain God gave you!

The Ubiquitous said...

Something the vocations director mentioned: As we pray more, our will twins itself to God's will. As we are closer to God, this question of whether or not what we want is what God wants becomes redundant. By being close to God, we definitionally want what God wants.

The Ubiquitous said...

(At least, we want what God wants us to want.)

Saul said...

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Anonymous said...

Something else I've come to think about lately: because we're rational and bear God's image, we have a part to play in the unfolding (evolution) of creation. We have to use our will and volition to extend the Kingdom, as we know how in the moment.

Leaving it all up to God is abdicating responsibility, in a way (is that Acedia?)

Tony said...

Using NFP to prevent pregnancy strikes me as similar to Jesus' prayer in the Garden...

"Father, let this cup pass over me, but not my will, but thy will be done".

(For those who need to be told, I'm not equating a baby to a horrible death on the cross, BTW :))

Banshee said...

Nobody gets upset if you plan the time to plant garden seed, and manage your yard's fertility and fallowness according to the weather and the cycles of the year and climate.

But apparently, treating human seed and human earth that way is wrong.

NFP is agriculture.

Tony said...

God created a woman to be infertile about 75% pf the time. If God wanted a baby created every time we had sex, he would have made her fertile 100% of the time.

Could it be God's will that we use our intellect to work in harmony with what God created?

Nah! :)

The Ubiquitous said...

To overextend the metaphor: What we object to involves preventing fruitfulness without good reason. This includes every instance of ripping existing fruit out of the ground.

Of course, the metaphor fails when we realize we are not talking about mere fertility but rather life and death.

Darwin said...


I'm not sure I follow you.

Darwin said...


I'm not sure I follow you.

The Ubiquitous said...

Mine had been a response to and riff off of Banshee's comment.

We may manage our bodily fertility, but we must have a grave reason to prevent fruitfulness by way of children. And once our fertility has found fruitfulness in the form of pregnancy, we may not take steps directed against it.

Such rules do not make sense in the context of the metaphor of managing a field's fertility because the metaphor hides the humanity of the new life engendered by pregnancy.

Still opaque? I'm sorry if it is.