Question 57 Part II

What does “Thy will be done” mean?

When we pray, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we pray for ourselves that he give us the grace of obedience, that his will be done by us just as it is done by his angels in heaven.

from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger


Whatever God wills, He does. God’s will is done in heaven and on earth. God created creatures that have wills that are not His will. Some of these creatures will so as to attempt to thwart God’s will from being done. There is evil in the world, or actions that are contrary to God’s will.  We long in hope for the Day of the Lord, when all shall be accomplished according to His will. These statements, particularly the last and the first, seem to be in contradiction to each other. How should it be then, that God’s will is done, yet we pray for it to be done?

God is God because He is the origin of all. He is the origin of the shape of things, but also of the breath of things, their movements, and the places of their rest. Truly nothing is without His willing of its being, purpose, and end. The Watchmaker God of the deists is a fiction for God cannot will there to be another thing that can continue to tick along without His willing of its tocks.  God is intimately involved in the existence of every bit of creation and every moment of creation. You were more inward to me than my most inward part and higher than my highest, as St. Augustine writes (Confessions 3.6.11). A tree will make a sound should it fall in a forest without one to hear it, but no tree will fall, and there will be no forest, should God not will for these trees to be sustained in their being.

God created other wills. These creatures, of which we are included, are not His puppets – mere things that only act and do because He wills. Calvin’s mistake here should be plain; it is not just that God becomes the willer of the evil actions of His puppets, but in collapsing all action into God’s will, God is reduced to the concept of volitionalist nihilism. In understanding the other wills that God created, it must be recognized that these wills are fully dependent upon God’s will and at the same time truly do will their own courses of action.

This dependence means that God’s will sets the parameters by which the other wills may will, grants their ability to set into motion the willed action, and brings about the end of the action. That they are real wills means that, within the bounds of this dependence, there exists the ability to make choices according to the parameters, or the hierarchy of the good.  As they are real wills, there exists the possibility of the will attempting to will an action that is contrary to the hierarchy of the good and thwart the will of God. This is as irrational as it is futile for nothing has being or act without God willing it.

In the dance between God’s sovereign will and the dependent wills of His creation, when the created will wills actions according to the hierarchy of the good, these wills act in dependence upon God.  This synergism is referred to as God’s positive will for a given situation. When a created will attempts to act against the hierarchy of the good, God may permit this to occur; the evil is permitted to be willed, permitted to have reality, but the evil is not permitted to reach its intended end. This is God’s permissive will. This last cannot occur because the beginnings and ends of dependent willed actions are rooted fundamentally in God’s will and cannot be contrary. Try as a bad actor might, no evil action can do anything other than bringing about the good that God wills.

God’s will is done because He is the beginning and end of the willed action. We pray that it may be done because we who are here on earth are in the time of permitting, the time of trial, the time of proving  We are undergoing instruction, as we are being conformed to Christ and He is being formed in us.  When we are praying that His will may be done, we are asking for His grace that we might gain, practice, and be strengthened in the virtues that enable us to will according to the hierarchy of the good rather than succumbing to vain attempts to thwart that which cannot be thwarted.