-by Br Bertrand Hebert, OP
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. (-Isa 55:8)
“Saint Thomas draws from various medieval authors (especially Saint Boethius) to explain why it is hard for man to comprehend God’s lofty perspective. To illustrate this difference in perspective, St. Thomas uses a simple analogy. Man is likened to someone traveling on a road that is along the side of a hill. He is only able to see what is a little behind him and before him—that is, some of the past and the present. This perspective differs drastically from someone who is standing on top of the hill. In a single glance, he is able to see all of these different perspectives of the traveler. Unlike the traveler, the one on the hill doesn’t have to wait for something down the road to come into his view; everything is already before him as if all of it were the present (ST Ia q. 14 a. 13 ad. 3). In a similar way, God sees all our past, present, and future in a single, all-encompassing glance.
Saint Thomas’s insight transforms the idea that we just have to “deal with” God’s providence into something more consoling: “God sees and is planning something beyond all of this.” However, every analogy limps; even so, this particular hobble ends up being helpful. God is not living on top of a hill with a far-removed and indifferent perspective on what is happening in the world of man. His higher and eternal perspective doesn’t prevent Him from having perfect knowledge of temporal things as well as Fatherly concern for the things we experience (Ps 8:5). After all, God, Himself, came into the world through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). Saint Paul reminds us here that God is intimately involved in our lives, even from His elevated state. In this relationship, He both governs the events that unfold on these winding roads, while also walking with us.
This last point clarifies Isaiah’s words above, and it further defends them from a disheartening interpretation. Although God is active in our lives, we can still say that He acts differently than us because, in a way far beyond our capacity, He governs with an attentive and loving concern for our greatest good. This good is ultimately found in God, Himself. He is concerned about matters from our perspective, but He also looks beyond them because he calls us to join Him in His own lofty heights.
This loftiness is what makes His ways different from ours. Even though His ways are different, we shouldn’t think they are worse. They are infinitely greater and better than our ways because they are the roads that ultimately lead us to Himself.”
Love & comfort, healing, grace,