The Nature of God – Part 3

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2003
The final installment of this series of articles deals with God’s will—what it is, and what it accomplishes.

The Nature of God—Part 3

God’s Will

Will can be defined as a being’s rational inclination toward its own good. Whatever has intellect also has will, for will follows upon intellect. Further, every nature inclines to its own proper end or good. When the end is rational then the inclination is a rational inclination. God has rational inclination toward the good of his own nature. Therefore, God has will (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1a.19.1).

Having will does not mean that God changes. For the object of God’s will is his divine Goodness. And whatever is in oneself necessitates no movement outside oneself to attain. Hence, God does not have to move outside himself to attain his own proper end. And will is an inclination toward one’s own end. So, there is will in God, inasmuch as he inclines toward his own good. Will also involves love and delight in what is possessed. God loves and delights in the possession of his own nature. Therefore, God has will in the sense of delight but not in the sense of desire (ibid.).

God’s Will Causes Things to Be

Simply because God wills things only in himself does not mean that he wills only himself. For it is in accord with the nature of being to communi­cate its good to others. And God is being par excellence; he is the source of all being. Hence, it is in accord with the nature of God to will other beings than himself (ibid., 1a.19.2). So God wills things other than himself in and through himself. God is not other than himself, but he can will things other than himself in himself. For will implies a relation­ship. Hence, although God is not other than himself, yet he wills things other than himself (ibid., 1a.19.2, ad 1).

God is not moved by anything outside himself when he wills to create through himself (ibid., 1a.19.2, ad 2). But in willing things other than himself, God is not moved by any insufficiency in himself but by the sufficiency in himself, that is, by his own goodness. Therefore, willing other things through his own sufficiency denotes no insufficiency in God (ibid., 1a.19.2, ad 3). Just as God knows many things through the oneness of his essence, he can will many things through the oneness (good) of his will (ibid., 1a.19.2, ad 4).

God Must Will and Can Will

God wills things in two ways. Some things—his own goodness, for example—he must will. He cannot choose to will otherwise. These things he wills with absolute necessity. Other things God wills with conditional necessity—the good­ness of creatures, for example. Whatever is willed by conditional necessity is not absolutely necessary. Creation is willed by conditional necessity.

Of course, God wills other things because of his own goodness but not as necessitated by it. For God can exist without willing other things. God need only will his own goodness necessarily and other things contingently. Therefore, these other things need not be willed with absolute necessity. Of course, it is necessary to God’s will that he will his own nature necessarily. But God need not will anything other than himself. When God did will things other than himself, he must have willed these things voluntarily (ibid., 1a.19.3, ad 3).

It would seem that God must will things necessarily. As a Necessary Being he must know necessarily whatever he knows. It would seem then that he must will necessarily what he wills.

Aquinas responds that divine knowing is necessarily related to the created thing known, because the knowledge in the Knower is one with his essence. But divine willing is not necessarily related to the created thing willed. Willing relates to things as they exist in themselves, outside of the divine essence. God knows necessarily what he knows but does not will necessarily what he wills. Further, all things exist necessarily in God, but nothing exists necessarily outside him. But God need only will what is necessarily of his own na­ture. Therefore, God need only will other things as they exist in him but not as they exist in themselves outside of himself (ibid., 1a.19.3).

All Created Effects Pre-exist in God’s Will

God’s will is the cause of all things, so all created things pre-exist in God’s knowledge. Will is the inclination to put into action what one knows. Therefore, all created effects flow from God’s will (ibid., la. 19.4). Of course, God must bestow good on all he chooses to create; God cannot create evil. But it is not necessary that God should will any other being or good than himself. Therefore, God need only bestow good on what he chooses to create (ibid., 1a.19.4, ad 1).

God’s Will Is Uncaused

As to whether God’s will is caused, Aquinas says that, rather, God’s will is the cause of all things. What is the cause of all needs no cause. For in God the means and the end pre-exist in the cause as willed together. Human will looks to a desired end and what may be done to reach that goal. God’s will causes both the end willed and the means to that end. And since all things pre-exist in the First Cause (God’s will), there is no cause for God’s will (ibid., 1a.19.5).

God’s Will Can Never Fail

The will of God is the universal cause of all things. There­fore, the will of God is always fulfilled. What fails to accomplish Gods will in one order does so in another order. For example, what falls from the order of his favor returns to the order of his justice. When particular causes fail, the universal cause does not fail. God cannot fail (ibid., 1a.19.6).

One may speak of an antecedent and consequent will of God. God wills antecedently that all should be saved (2 Peter 3:9). But God wills consequently that some will be lost, namely, those whom justice demands. But what is willed antecedently is not willed abso­lutely but conditionally. Only the consequent is willed absolutely in view of all the circum­stances. Of course, God wills some things through secondary causes. And first causes are sometimes hindered through defects in secondary causes. The movement of the body is hindered by a bad leg. Likewise, Gods antecedent will is sometimes hindered by a defect in a secondary cause. But his consequent will is never frustrated. For first universal causes cannot be hindered by defective secondary causes, any more than goodness, as such, can be hindered by evil. However, God is the universal first cause of being, and his will cannot be hindered in his causing of being (ibid., 1a.19.6, ad 2).

God Does Not Change His Mind

Neither can God’s will be changed, for God’s will is in perfect accord with his knowledge. He is omniscient, so what he knows will be will be. Therefore, God’s will is unchangeable. This does not mean that God does not will that some things change. But God’s will does not change, even though he does will that other things change (ibid., 1a.19.7). When the Bible speaks of God “repenting,” it means that from where we stand it looks as if he has changed his mind. God knew from eternity how it would fall out. And God’s will includes intermediate causes, such as human free will. So God knows what the intermediate causes will choose to do. And God’s will is in accord with his unchangeable knowledge. Therefore, God’s will never changes, since he wills what he knows will happen. What is willed by conditional necessity does not violate human free­dom, since what is willed is conditioned on their freely choosing it. God wills the salvation of human beings conditionally. Therefore, God’s will to salvation does not violate human free choice, but uses it.


Augustine, The City of God

S. Charnock, Discourse upon the Existence and Attributes of God

R. Garriguou-LaGrange, God: His Existence and His Nature

N. L. Geisler, Philosophy of Religion

Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

1 Comment

  1. […] Read Part 3 […]

Leave a Comment