Sometimes you’ve gotta go through hell to get to heaven. That’s one place where George Strait and Dante Alighieri agree.
In his medieval epic The Divine Comedy, Dante chronicles his own arduous trek through three landscapes of the afterlife—the circles of Hell, Mount Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante’s pilgrimage becomes a place of learning—about his own sin, about sustaining grace, about things eternal. These lessons gleaned from his guide Virgil and his experiences prepare him to meet God.
The Comedy is an allegory of the soul’s journey. Dante’s travels bring him face-to-face with his own weakness. But there is hope even in the midst of the flames. When Dante falters, he falls time and again into the safety net of God’s own nature.
As readers of the Comedy, we watch God discipling the soul to depend on him alone. As fellow pilgrims, we learn to share in Dante’s hope: God himself is the guarantee of our journey’s end.
‘Where Power and Will Are One; Enough’
The book opens with a man (Dante) trapped in a hopeless valley. Troubled by doubt and his own sins, he stumbles blindly through the dark wood, menacing beasts hot on his trail. Repeated attempts to traverse the steep incline have sapped his strength.
God himself is the guarantee of our journey’s end.
In his panic, Dante bumps into someone else passing through the forest. The two men discover one another—Dante in need of a guide and Virgil sent for that very purpose.
Dante’s passage through the Inferno is fraught with roadblocks and monstrous nemeses. At Hell’s Gate, the grizzled ferryman Charon refuses to bear him across the river because, well, Dante isn’t dead. Frozen in fear before the fiery-eyed boatman, Dante hears Virgil issue this stern rebuke:
Then said my guide: “Charon, why wilt thou roar
And chafe in vain? Thus it is willed where power
And will are one; enough; ask thou no more.” (Inferno, Canto III)
The old mariner falls silent. Plying his oar, he obeys.
My own life has felt rudderless recently. I haven’t had to make a journey into the Inferno, but I identify with Dante’s fear, despair, and doubt. Life has felt a bit like a descent. God’s will seems hidden, his glory blocked from view, his purposes obscure.
However, Virgil’s admonition has been a comfort to my soul: “[His] power and will are one.” When the road seemed blocked, it was divine simplicity that made a way. Divine simplicity is the theological doctrine that there are no parts to God. His power and will are not separate, but one—perfectly united in God’s divine essence. This is good news for Dante. If God wants Charon to ferry Dante across the river, then Charon will ferry Dante across the river. God does what God wills. God wills what God does.
His power and will are one.
The Good News of Divine Simplicity
Divine simplicity is good news for you and me. In my own pilgrimage, there is nothing God wishes would happen that he will not, or cannot, do. Everything that has happened—all he has done in my life—is perfectly what he wills for me (Gen. 50:19–20). His power and will are one. He accomplishes all his purposes for me. And what he purposes, he accomplishes in me.
In the circles of Hell, God was teaching Dante to trust his promise: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isa. 41:10). It’s enough for God to cite his own nature as grounds for our hope: “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (emphasis mine).
God is not a God who merely wishes to do us good, who hopes to do us good, who has intentions for our good. He is a God of divine simplicity.
Whatever strives against us shall perish. The principalities that war against us will be as nothing at all (Isa. 41:11–12). How can we be so sure? God says, “I . . . I . . . I.” His nature is enough. Whatever sins may waylay me, whatever doubts may darken my sky, whatever failures or uncertainties may seem to block my way, they are all under the power of the One who “does all he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).
Let us take heart. God is not a God who merely wishes to do us good, who hopes to do us good, who has intentions for our good. He is a God of divine simplicity—a God whose power and will are united so that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
If divine simplicity was reason enough for hell’s ferryman to obey, God’s unified power and will should be sufficient to quiet our own souls: “Enough; ask thou no more!”