Akatsuki no Yona, with all its talk of Tenmei–literally, “the Will of Heaven”–has got me thinking about the Will of God. This is often difficult to determine in our lives, and I have heard one Catholic commentator state: “The Will of God is inscrutable.” But, not everything which happens by God’s Will or permission outstretches our understanding; otherwise, we should simply not understand God in the slightest and not be able to have a relationship with Him. In general, He commands all people to follow the moral law and exercise charity towards each other. On a more particular level, the Will of God may be communicated to us through our talents and desires. Do you have an extraordinary talent for the most abstract arithmetic imaginable? Perhaps, God wishes for you to become a university professor. Do you love someone of the opposite sex profoundly? Do not be surprised if God wishes you to marry that person.
Yet, desires can be a very tricky thing, and people are often mislead. The particular Will of God for us is based in the individuality which God gave us. It subsists in the core of our being. Only by being true to ourselves can we be true to God and find happiness. However, we are surrounded by many happy people in the world, and we might think that by having what they have we shall also be made happy. Besides this, the world itself offers many things–especially money–which it claims will make us happy. But, you cannot serve God and mammon! The more you listen to the noise of the world the less you shall discern the whisper of God. To one who has become too worldly, God can no longer whisper: He must shout!
As C. S. Lewis tells us, pain is often the means by which God tells us something is wrong. We suffer anxiety, depression, and vague feelings of unhappiness. Should our response to these feelings be seeking worldly distractions, God may sever us forcibly from the pleasures of the world with the blade of poverty. Impoverished, we lack the means of spoiling or distracting ourselves with external goods. All we have left are those talents and desires which we ignored in our prosperity. In running away from our talents, our individuality, and our specific manner of serving our brothers and sisters, we have become less human. We struggle for a while in attempting to regain our status, but the Mercy of God prevents it while we yet ignore God’s voice and rely solely upon ourselves. At last accepting our fate, the vanity of worldly pleasures (many perhaps good in themselves but evil when they stand in the place of God) becomes apparent and the memory of them bitter.
Despite these many pains, poverty or very frugal circumstances are not signs that God hates us. Instead, God calls the poor blessed–both the materially poor and the spiritually poor. The fact that religious orders often include a vow of poverty indicates the link between the two. Why are the poor blessed? Because they contend less with the noise of the world and focus more on the Will of God and the intrinsic goods God has given them to share with others. The poor in spirit are capable of great things because their only concern is the Will of God.
Though, I could use the example of many saints to show the sanctifying effects of poverty, I’d like to instead use the example of Ulysses S Grant. Who can doubt that the man was born to be a soldier? He was the only Union general with the competency to avoid losing ground to General Lee and the dogged tenacity to make a war of attrition successful. The happiest times of his life coincided with his military service. After resigning from his first period of service, he relied on the charity of his father-in-law until the outbreak of the Civil War. After the Civil War, his name was smeared by the presiding over the most corrupt administration in history until modern times. Afterwards, he did the unthinkable action of trying to break with Washington’s precedent in order to run for a third term! A sore loser, Grant bore a grudge against James A. Garfield for winning the nomination–even though Garfield not only did not seek the nomination but even was horrified to gain it!
Compared to the humble, frank, and unambitious man of prior times, Grant the politician seems a different man–a monster! Here is a description of Grant just after the Civil war by General Richard Taylor from Destruction and Reconstruction:
The officers of the army on duty at Washington were very civil to me, especially General Grant, whom I had known prior to and during the Mexican war, as a modest, amiable, but by no means promising lieutenant in a marching regiment. He came frequently to see me, was full of kindness, and anxious to promote my wishes. His action in preventing violation of the terms of surrender, and a subsequent report that he made of the condition of the South – a report not at all pleasing to the radicals – endeared him to all Southern men…His bearing and conduct at this time were admirable, modest and generous; and I talked much with him of the noble and beneficent work before him. While his heart seemed to respond, he declared his ignorance of and distaste for politics and politicians, with which and whom he intended to have nothing to do, but confine himself to his duties of commander-in-chief of the army.
That is exactly the man who commanded the Army of the Potomac and the one who wrote the most famous memoir of any participant in the Civil War–a memoir which a friend tells me affected modern American prose more than any other work! (Grant’s memoirs do read like something our of the 20th century rather than the 19th.) But, politics, power, and fame almost ruined Grant for good. When Grant wrote his memoirs, he had been reduced to desperate poverty, which I have no doubt was God’s method of restoring Grant’s character. The Hound of Heaven will resort to any means to prevent people baptized in His name from perishing everlastingly.
So, people suffering from want or various forms of misery need not despair. Pain is often the sign that one is still united to Christ Crucified and often purifies the soul to a salutary poverty. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” The share of the Kingdom of God we have on earth is performing the Will of God, which, though it may be a gentle whisper, rings loud and clear to the poor in spirit.
[…] Who knew that Ulysses S. Grant, Akatsuki no Yona, and the materially poor all have something in common? [Medieval Otaku] […]
“All we have left are those talents and desires which we ignored in our prosperity. In running away from our talents, our individuality, and our specific manner of serving our brothers and sisters, we have become less human.”
….have you ever actually been depressed before? Nearly the first thing that is stolen from you are “your talents, your individuality.” You lose the desire to do any of the things that made you whole, as they seem to be pale shadows of what they once were. Writers stop writing because they feel their attempts at it are inadequate. Gifted painters stop painting because they feel listless and uninspired.
Becoming poor seems as though it would only exasperate the cognitive decline, not open one’s heart up to the voice of God. In fact, the madness and anger displayed by the average person facing it on the street seems to suggest as much. A powerful Heart, with an iron Will, can be enlightened to its true nature by such conditions. But for the average person, madness consumes them before God shines His Light.
Thank you for your comment! When I wrote this, I had the premonition that my opinion was imperfect; so I’m very happy to read yours.
I have indeed been so depressed that everything seemed empty and that I could not will myself to write unless it was about suffering, which filled my every thought. But, I still clung to the thought that joy existed somewhere, if only I would find it or it would find me. After all, I yet lived and God does not permit people to live for no purpose.
So, the spark of hope had not been extinguished in me. I have one friend who claims that he has no hope, and his depression is far worse than mine was. But, I think that it might have a similar cause of avoiding his talents. There might be one sort of depression caused by avoiding one’s individuality and another which might happen in the midst of pursuing it.
And it certainly is true that the utterly destitute often suffer from a mental illness. What I wrote mostly applies to those who are not quite so poor or experience a great drop in their standard of living, such that they need to forgo most of the pleasures they enjoyed. But, God can perhaps bring good even out of the evil of madness–like with King Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel. Herman Hesse and Joseph Conrad also suffered from bouts of depression or madness, and perhaps the overcoming of their illnesses made them better people. God knows!
To be fair, being one of the working poor with a home (Like Isto) leads more often to the enrichment of the mind than does being poor and homeless.
Very true, in particular, the American working poor are the most generous people in the world.