God’s Will Hath No Why?

My wife and I are reading the delightful The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, written by Maria von Trapp. I highly recommend it; it is written in an endearing colloquial style and full of practical faith and humor.

Maria clearly believes that the events of their lives are firmly directed by God’s will. She returns often to the theme of a saying posted above the doorway in her convent: God’s Will Hath No Why.

Now, my favorite question since — well, since I learned how to speak — is “why”? So, this idea that “God’s will hath no why” really challenges me. There are two questions that arise for me from such a saying. The first is: “Is God a rational being?” That is to say, does he have reasons for doing and saying what he does — is there a “why” behind God’s actions? It seems to me that Mormonism’s understanding of God as an exalted man requires that we answer “Yes” to this question. God is a rational being. He has reasons for what he does. He thinks, deliberates, plans. (Of course, the philosophical implications of this in terms of God’s absoluteness are very interesting — in what sense can we say that an absolute being thinks, deliberates, or plans?)

Since this answer seems obvious to me, the more challenging question is the second: Are God’s reasons any of our concern? Is it fruitful for us to try to figure them out? Is it harmful? If “God’s will hath no why” means that we are not to raise the question of what God’s reasons might be, is this a beneficial approach? Are there drawbacks to it?

Often, when questions such as this are raised, very quickly a closely related question is raised; namely, “How do we know whether something is the will of God or not?” I’m not particularly interested in pursuing that question in this post, except in this respect: Does our acceptance of the idea that “God’s will hath no why” influence us as we seek to determine what God’s will is?

Finally, how would we live our lives differently if we had a different perspective on “God’s will hath no why”?

5 thoughts on “God’s Will Hath No Why?

  1. In response to these questions: “Are God’s reasons any of our concern? Is it fruitful for us to try to figure them out? Is it harmful?” I have a couple of thoughts…

    I think the answer to the first question is absolutely yes. Part of our spiritual development involves making an effort — through obedience, prayer, and personal purity — to determine “God’s reasons.” That is the principle of personal revelation. We are promised throughout the scriptures that we can know the mysteries of God if we are diligent and righteous. (1 Ne 10:19 – “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost…”; Alma 12:10 – “…he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full”; Alma 26:22 – “…he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing — unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed.”)

    At the same time, we know that God’s “ways are higher than [our] ways, and [His] thoughts than [our] thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9) In Jacob it says, “How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways.” Yet, this statement is followed by this: “And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him.” (Jacob 4:8)

    I think these scriptures teach us that obedience (faith, submission to God’s will) is a prerequisite to receiving personal revelation or to understanding the mysteries of God. It seems like we run into trouble when we reverse the order… when our obedience is contingent upon receiving an answer. But if we are faithful and obedient first, we are promised wisdom and understanding if we seek it.

  2. …these scriptures teach us that obedience (faith, submission to God’s will) is a prerequisite to receiving personal revelation or to understanding the mysteries of God. It seems like we run into trouble when we reverse the order… when our obedience is contingent upon receiving an answer.

    Great comment Chelsea.

  3. Yes, maybe there are two sorts of why. The one asks why because we are obedient, amazed by God’s goodness and want to understand his reasons so we can make our own reasons more like his. The other sort of why is, in it’s very asking a sort of protest. One seems to me to be the very soul of spiritual development. The other seems like the beginning of rebellion.

  4. The comments stated pretty much say everything I wanted to. I have found that I understand the “why’s” as I study the gospel, and live obediently. I always understood why bad things happen to good people, because I understood the Plan of Salvation. Before my mission, I did not understand exactly why the Lord works with people the way he does, but being put in a position like that I came to understand Him better.

  5. It seems to me that these sorts of questions really are a problem more for the “traditional” Christian than the Mormon Christian. Recall that for the “traditional” Christian God is the source of all due to creation ex nihilo. Thus reason and God’s will are inexorably tied up together. In a sense for them asking “why” of God’s will is akin to asking the why of reason itself. Why is reason reasonable? An other way of putting the question is whether God desires the good because it is good or whether it is good because God desires it.

    I think for Mormons, we conceive of reason and the good existing independently from God – at least if you buy the King Follet Discourse. I recognize that some Mormons don’t accept what isn’t scripture. But I tend to place 19th century teachings a little higher than some. (Although I still cringe at some of Brigham’s views)

    Put an other way, I think that God does what he does because it is rational to do so based upon the way things are. Further I don’t think God makes things the way they are, althouhg he can influence great power. Indeed he can exercise all possible power. But not everything is contingent on him. We have an independent existence.

    That’s not to say that the problem of why can’t arise for us. But I think it arises in a slightly different fashion. We might instead say? Whis is God? Why am I? Some things truly are without why. But somethings have a why, and I think most of God’s will fits into that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>