Accidents and Natural Disasters

Accidents and Natural Disasters

So many of the general rules have already been given which also apply here that only further specifics need be added. The fact is that when an accident happens it is, perhaps, the least logical attitude to blame it on the Lord, for nearly every kind of mishap is the result of man’s own intelligence. We often laud the brilliance with which man has fashioned for himself a civilization and a technology which provide untold comforts. We point to the ease of travel, the marvel of electricity, the economy of apartment dwellings, and feel that human ingenuity has done wonders. But when human ingenuity falls down, and there is an accident, we are tempted to blame the Lord!

Nearly all the accidents which occur are the result of a weakness in human invention. We have motor cars which carry us quickly, but they also kill many because we cannot develop fool-proof cars, or totally intelligent drivers. Yet we continue to drive them. We fly in airplanes which are rigidly tested for safety, but there is no way in which we can guarantee 100% safety. And if a vehicle is 99% safe, this means that to 1 % it is going to be harmful, or that in 1 % of situations it will be dangerous. In our freedom we, the Western world or the earth, have chosen this way of life, with its inbuilt percentage of accidents.

The Lord does not make the motor car. He cannot interfere to the point of insuring that no mechanic ever fails to tighten all the bolts in the steering assembly; that no engineer ever designs a road that is not perfect; or that the driver behind you will never become so impatient that he will try to overtake on a blind corner. He can lead and inspire and ameliorate. He will not dictate.

We ought to reflect now and then that technology is indirectly a killer. Because human inventiveness is not perfect, and because human diligence is far from ideal, there will be an element of destruction in our mechanical creativeness. Disease from pollution and death from road accidents are only the most publicized aspects of this problem. The writer does not suggest that we condemn technology or censure human inventiveness; especially since many efforts today are towards improving on the defects of the past. At the same time, we should realize that accidents are not implicit in the Lord’s creation. It is in the arena of man’s endeavors that they have their cause.

There is also a spiritual cause of accidents. The Divine will acts to prevent misfortune and to provide for an orderly life. When a sphere from hell invades, however, it opposes the Lord’s will and, if a man allows it, can do so even in the ultimates of order. Thus a sphere out of hell can produce a proneness to accidents and misfortune in a recipient individual. Swedenborg was given to perceive how spirits tried to lead him into unhappy situations; and without such instruction he would have believed the events to have been dictated by chance, by accident. (See AC 6493, 6494) This ideal leading, and the perversion which results if hell can have a say, is summed up in the following sentence: “All things, nay the least of all things, down to the leasts of the leasts, are directed by the Providence of the Lord, even as to the very steps; and when such a sphere prevails as is contrary thereto, misfortunes occur.” (AC 6493. [Italics added.] Cf. DP 212; AC 5179)

Of all the misfortunes that befall man, whether through evils of sickness or accident, the hardest to understand are those which seem to arise out of a fault of the creation itself. When an earthquake kills thousands, or a volcano does the same, it seems that the Lord has created an imperfect world in which men must live; for volcanoes are not the result of human endeavor.

To my knowledge the Writings do not speak directly to this subject, and it is difficult to see the inferences from which we may build an understanding of the problem. There would seem to be something of an answer in the fact that animals are far more aware of impending natural disasters than we are, and take steps to protect themselves. Before a flood, for example, animals often move to high ground, for no apparent reason. We may conjecture that man, too, when in the order of his life had this sensitivity to the elements, and could avoid certain natural occurrences. This is far from a complete answer, however, and it is possible that the knowledge of the origin of the cosmos will have to progress further than it has before we can enter with understanding into this particular mystery.

Conclusion

“The doctrine of permissions is an entire doctrine; he who does not understand permissions, or conclude [rightly] concerning them, falls into doubtful and negative things respecting the power of God-Messiah over the universe.” (SD 398) To dispel doubt and negation the Lord has seen fit to give us a comprehensive picture of the disorders in His creation and His government of them, to strengthen our hands in the face of evil which may come to us from within and from without.

And just as in all things of the New Word; the doctrine is new, (Lord 65)so also is this a new concept. We should not approach the Lord’s government of evil from the childlike concepts of yester year. Instead we should draw from the fresh waters of life which are now presented. We should start from essential, unassailable truths: the Lord is good, He never does or wills or visits any evil; He permits for the sake of freedom; yet still He governs, and His government is that through all the evil which man can do He still works good. Man may suffer in time; but the Divine wisdom never ceases to work within, softening and finally dispelling the pain. To the willing soul He does this, no matter what the circumstance; and His good must triumph until the sands of evil have run out, and it will be as if it had never been. “For the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21: 4)

Disease and accidents

Disease and accidents

by Rev. Peter. M. Buss

Even in the church the feeling has been expressed that a man, say a young man, has died because it “was his time to go.” One cannot escape the conclusion from this that the Lord, who willed him to go at that time, then, must also have chosen a sad way for him to leave, because a young man in the vigor of his life will not just drop dead! The Lord permits him to leave the earth, as one unwilling, and then provides for his uninterrupted, eternal welfare, as well as for that of his loved ones on earth. Thus the Lord is in no sense the origin of the evil which caused the death; His operation has been to provide only good, and to permit that evil wherein He can provide good, because evil must be permitted.

Such a view seems the logical one from all the teachings which have been presented. The Lord provides good only, and so cannot be thought to have had a hand, even indirectly, in circumstances which are evil. He had no hand in causing an accident so that someone who is “needed in the other life” can be brought, perhaps in pain, to the end of earthly life. He in no way causes the very real loss to wife and family which results; and we, who see the exalted uses of the home, can hardly call this loss merely natural! He permits, and never ceases to provide good.

A final point: perhaps we ought to see that evil consequences which men bring upon themselves through an evil love are sometimes permitted directly for a purpose. Of them it may correctly be said: That happened so that good could result. Again the Lord does not provide any but good things; but it is reasonable to assume that He permits a man to suffer the consequences of his own evils – to be caught out, or to bring ill-health upon himself – in order that he may recognize his state. This is in accord with the general teaching that the Lord permits evil to appear, for otherwise it would consume the man from within.( See DP 251, et al.) When the evil comes out, however, especially when it results in the loss of some earthly delight, then the man’s mind is directed toward it, and he can see it for what it is and be moved by the Lord from within to repent. This is a use of natural temptations. (See AC 8, 268, 762, 2284, 3147, et al)

We come now to three more questions for the answers to which the laws of how the Lord governs in permissions were necessary. There is no doubt that when a man falls ill, or when he suffers from some infirmity, perhaps from birth, he wonders why the Lord let it happen to him. This is in accord with the tendency of the natural man to seek the simplest of cause-effect relationships. Either the sickness is a punishment from the Lord, or else it has a direct and visible purpose of good which

forced the Lord to visit it upon us. Such thought was certainly common among the Jews, for it is recorded that when the Lord and His disciples saw a man who had been blind from his birth, “His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither bath this man sinned, nor his parents.” (John 9: 2, 3) Disease is not from the Lord. It is not of His will but of His permission. For us to see, then, why it must be permitted, we must go right back to the beginning, to the time when there was no such thing as sickness, and see the origin of diseases in the abuse of man’s freedom.

Out of the story of the fall grew the belief that the first man would never have suffered death, but would have lived forever. This is from the Lord’s warning to the man, when He said: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2: 17) When the man did eat of it, then he was first forbidden to eat of the tree of life, lest, having sinned, he should “live forever” (Genesis 3:22); and for this reason he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. The penalty of the original sin, then, was that man was doomed to suffer disease and death.

Strangely, the Writings seem at first to agree with this thought. “It is known in the church that the death of man is from evils, or on account of sins; and it is the same with diseases, for these belong to death.” (AC 5712) “Death is from no other source than sin.” (AC 5726, 8364) The context, however, especially of the second passage cited, renders a different understanding.

Death from pain, disease and murder was unknown in the Most Ancient Church, before the fall of man. Of course a man died, and went into the other world, but his transition was such a natural one that it was not thought of as death. Without evil, we are told,

“man would be without disease, and would merely decline to extreme old age, even until he became a little child, but a wise one; and when the body could no longer minister to his internal man or spirit, he would pass without disease out of his earthly body into such as the angels have, thus out of the world directly into heaven.” (AC 5726. Cf. SD 4592)

A beautiful description depriving death of all its unpleasantness and horror and presenting the order which is of the Divine will. Even today, such a transition is general elsewhere in the universe: the people of Jupiter, who are as the men of the Most Ancient Church, do not die by disease. (See AC 8850. Cf. SD 623)

When men chose evil, however, death as we know it arose (and we would reflect that even death in old age today is not the painless, gentle passing from one world to another described above). The cause of disease lies in two things. First, there is a correspondence of all things in the spiritual world with things in the natural. The beginning of evil meant, therefore, that there was an influx of infernal life into the natural world and its phenomena which endeavored to bring about physical insanities representative of hell. The destructive force which had perverted Divine order in the mental realm sought to wreak its will on earth.

Now the ills which beset the mind correspond to physical disorders, but it does not seem that correspondence is enough to produce an evil “creation” on earth without some ultimate invitation through man on earth. The second, and more lowly, cause was that man’s choice of evil affected his body. His spirit closed itself to the influx from heaven, and so also the “very smallest and most invisible vessels” (AC 5726. Cf. SD 4592) of the body were closed, forming an obstruction to the general influx of the heavens, and a certain vitiation of the blood. Thus the body became susceptible to the influx of hell. Finally, an evil man lives a life that is disorderly and brings about irregular conditions in his body. This enabled the influx from hell to create perverted forms – germs – which could thrive in the physical states of disorder. Thus disease arose.” (AC 5712, 5715; SD 2439; AC 8364)

Once in the natural world, life forms thus perverted which carried disease were kept alive themselves by the influx of hell, and were able to inflow into the bodies of men apart from those men’s spiritual states. This is important. Were we without hereditary evil, our entire beings would reject evil, and with it disease. (See AC 5726) But we are in the tendency to certain evils, which obstruct the general influx of heaven; therefore we catch sicknesses from germs by natural causes. (See AC 5713) We must not think, then, that because diseases correspond to spiritual evils it means that when a man gets chicken pox it is because he is in a certain spiritual evil! His sickness is not the result of his state necessarily, but because of the general state of the world, which enables the hells to keep these germs alive. In summary, then, diseases correspond to and originate from hell (a number of specific diseases and their spiritual correspondents are mentioned in Arcana Coelestia, nos. 5715-5725). The disorders in the body and in physical behavior enable them to ferment; and now they spread by natural means. The evil spirits with a man are not allowed to inflow into the “solid parts of the body, or into the parts of which man’s viscera, organs and members consist,” (AC 5713) to cause disease as a direct cause of his evil. When he contracts a disease, however, evil spirits can inflow and aggravate the disorder, especially if he is in a love which corresponds to the disease! (See AC 5713, 5715) Thus it is not unreasonable to suppose that such a disease as cancer flourishes because the form of hypocrisy to which it corresponds is rampant in the hearts of men.

All this is a preamble to our main concern – the cause of the permission of disease. It makes clear that the hand of the Lord in such disorders is, once again, in accord with the laws of the Divine Providence. It is essential that there be freedom, and man’s abuse of that freedom brings about disorder in the natural universe. Disease comes from man’s attempt to destroy the order into which the Lord brings him, and whereas from omnipotence technically He could prevent it, to do so would be contrary to the Divine wisdom, which provides for man the path to heaven.

The existence of disease and its train of misery underlines once again the point made earlier, that the evil which we do affects others who do not deserve the suffering which they thereby experience. That is why evil is evil: because it brings unnecessary, undeserved misery.

Sickness today is so prevalent that no one is going to avoid its effects, at least to a degree. While we can believe that the Lord did not bring about disease, and know for a certainty that His Divine proceeding always works toward the elimination of all its forms, both natural and spiritual: while we accept these truths, we can know that He will make good use of even such disorderly states.

There is, in truth a peculiarly important use of states of mind which result out of sickness, misfortune and accidents. As this use is unfolded, it may appear once again that the Lord brings on the sickness so that He can accomplish these aims. We should not think thus: in a world in which there was no disease the Lord could accomplish these aims far more effectively, with no pain at all.

The use of disease comes from the fact that it halts a man’s mental life, for a space of time. The pull of this world is very strong, and men who fall into its gyre often have difficulty in breaking away from its apparent necessities and turning their minds to more eternal concerns. Also, a man who falls prey to a specific evil so comes under its spell that he cannot turn his mind from it; it becomes a habit to think of this thing whenever he has the opportunity and the strength. He is caught up in the evil, a slave to its satanic instigators.

Then a man gets sick, and finds that he cannot enjoy the things of the world or practice his evil. His life is broken up, his delights temporarily suspended, productive for the moment of no joy. (See AC 8, 268, 762, 3147, 5127, 5353, 8651) Then the Divine Providence of the Lord goes to work once more; not that it has ever been inactive, but the man’s conscious enjoyment of worldly or evil delights has rejected its overtures. The Lord has always been working from within, and has preserved even with the worst man the faculty of seeing that evils are bad for him, and goods potentially delightful (See AC 5127); it has been impossible for the man himself to see this while the lower passions have raged unchecked. Through the external order which sickness paradoxically brings about the remains within him can be stirred once more, and he can be brought to long for a good life again. (See AC 857, 2284)

Without some hiatus in their enjoyment of natural things, we are told, few men would turn to self-examination and the repentance which such introspection makes necessary. (See AC 8) Their loves would run on unchecked, and they would never find the strength to change them.

Now we can see, of course, that this kind of interruption of a man’s life is a tampering with freedom, or could be. While he is ill, a man is not free to follow what he loves, so it is not “fair” to turn him to good when he cannot stand up for his favorite evil! There is a truth in this, and so the teaching is clear that while sickness serves to break up a man’s life, return him to a sane view of evil, and give him a new impetus to good, yet he is not reformed unless he confirms his repentance after the sickness has passed. (See DP 142; AC 4352: 3) In His mercy, the Lord may touch a man’s freedom, but He will do no more.

Finally, there are those who through immoderate enjoyment of this world have become “earth-bound” in their thoughts. They have become so interested in temporal things that they cannot have a spiritual love of good. Such, we are told, cannot be reformed in the normal manner, and have an affection for good only when in states of “disease, or misfortune or anxiety, consequently [of] . . . trouble and some combat.” (AC 8981) Such a man remains forever natural, and learns to discipline his natural affections from obedience to doctrine. In order that he might have his truths confirmed, however, and so come into a greater sense of obedience, he has to have his natural loves lulled by some external misfortune; and then some good affection can flow in and help him. (Ibid.) For these people, represented by the Hebrew manservant, sickness, although still not visited upon them by the Lord, is something of a blessing in disguise.

It is certainly difficult to understand at times why disease should be allowed to have the degree of influence it has over the lives of people. When we see a particular example, in which a man or a child is deeply harmed through illness, we are very tempted to ask: “Why did the Lord let this specific one suffer?” We must realize at all times that He allowed it as one more unwilling than we; for that one who is suffering is His child! But to prevent it would be to do greater evil to all His children. Then we can trust that despite the suffering, He can work, and does provide all the blessings of infinite mercy. It is just the sadness of man’s choice of evil that His work is often through tragedy. “Q Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3: 2)

It Would Have Been Better Had It Not Happened

It Would Have Been Better Had It Not Happened

Let us remind ourselves of the point made earlier that most things are not of the Divine will: many come from lower degrees of the Divine Providence. Especially if something comes from permission, which the Lord does not will, we are able to say: It would have been better had it not happened. This is the same as saying, the Lord did not want it to happen. He permitted it, as one unwilling. With this as a background, we can see what the Lord then provides in the way of good.

Temporal unhappiness the Lord permits: eternal harm, He does not permit. With this as a central concept, we can assume that the Lord will never allow an evil man to force a good man, through any ruses, to go to hell, when he would otherwise have gone to heaven. He may make him unhappy. He may lead him to do some wrong things: but the Lord will not allow that the good man lose his freedom to go to the heaven to which he wills to go.

We may go further, and say that the Lord will not allow a good man to be forced to go to a lower heaven than he would have chosen without the influence of evil from outside. This also would be a thwarting of the Divine Providence to some degree, which is impossible. I would speculate, however, and it seems a fair speculation, that we may bruise a sensitivity to some of the loves in the same degree but always there is a compensation. In other words, a man who teaches his child to love fighting and violence cannot stop that child from learning the truth as an adult, and rejecting violence, and coming into, say, the spiritual heaven. What he will have robbed the child of will have been states of innocence, during his childhood, in which he could perceive certain qualities of gentleness – a matter of continuous degree. However, in compensation for this, the child (now an angel) will have learned at first hand a quality of evil which those raised more gently could not perceive, and would be more aware of many states, from a knowledge of their opposites, than would others. He has lost, certainly, and it was a great wickedness that his father should have deprived him of these things, and almost certainly through it given him many years of unhappiness. The Lord has caused him to gain something else in place of his losses; and who can count the value of each, and weigh them in the balance?

With these thoughts in mind, then, let us take an example of a man who died as the result of a motor accident, which was the fault of the other driver, and left a wife and several children. We must feel for those who are left behind, for we know that the Lord did not will that such a disorderly exit from this earth take place. Nor can we say that the Lord willed that the man leave this earth at that particular time, since it seems that the only death the Lord wills is that of old age. (AC 5726)It would have been better, much better, had it not taken place; but if the Lord disallowed certain things, then the freedom of all would be destroyed. It would have been better, in the short run. I believe that the burden of the Word’s teachings on this subject is that husband and wife and children, will know temporary sorrow, not eternal loss; and therefore we may rightly conclude that, perhaps fifty years later, when the wife has lived out her life on earth, they will meet once more, and enter into the same degree of heaven into which they would have come had they remained together on earth – as the Lord willed them to remain! During that fifty years, the wife especially would have known sorrow, and a sense of loss, which the Lord did not will upon her; but once it had to be permitted, He provided that through the separation other things could be provided which would make up for their loss. So they would enter heaven no poorer: a little different, but facing the same eternal joy.

It is hard to think, in times of loss, about eternal joy; hard to resign oneself to the fact that someone we love will come to us in forty years’ time perhaps, and only then may we be sure that he or she will never leave us again. It is the tragedy of evil which the Lord must permit that these things come to be. But it is the wonder of the Lord’s Providence that despite all evil, He provides through misfortune new values, new joys and loves to make up for what was lost, so that we may find contentment over those years in working towards, building towards, and looking towards that final reunion.

If things were perfect, there would be no temporal unhappiness either. But since things are not perfect, the second best is that there be only some temporal unhappiness, and none that is eternal – unless the man himself insists on it.

The Lord still Governs

The Lord still Governs

by Rev. Peter. M. Buss

 

So far, only one side of the picture has been shown. We have seen that the Lord does not provide evil situations and that He does not will them, but He must permit them for the sake of freedom. Having permitted them, how does He then control them?

He does not provide them – that is, they are not His Providence. We note parenthetically that the power of evil comes from the fact that the Lord gives to men power; but it is man’s abuse, not the Lord’s. The Writings say that evil “exists out of the Divine from others who are opposed to the Divine” (AC 5195): a rather powerful phrase which makes us realize that the things which are evil are done against the Lord, and so He could hardly be expected to have willed them. Thus also the Lord on earth could tell Pilate: “Thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above.” (John 19: 11)

The distinction is made that He does not provide evil, He foresees it (AC 3854: 2 ; 10781; 5195): therefore the Lord has providence as to good, and foresight as to evil. The simplest explanation of this is that the Lord is not doing the good, so He sees it as something outside of Himself, as it were. Of course, the Lord doesn’t foresee, as we think of it. All is present to Him, and He continues to provide the good, but with infinite wisdom, so that the good will be provided whatever the state of the man. One may think of it as the Lord’s having provided from eternity that His good can be received, whatever state the man has fallen into; and therefore He has foreseen from eternity any and all states that are opposed to good, and already adapted them to suit the workings of His Providence. This would appear to be the meaning of the statement that the Lord has foreseen all the states of the human race “from eternity.” (C 3854)

Once the evil has been foreseen, then, the Lord’s work is, as always, unchangeably, to provide good, within that state. (AC 5155; SD 1088) This consists of the directing of evil away from its own intention, which is a headlong plunge into the lowest hell; and of providing that at every moment there can be a turning to some good. Thus we find a definition of “providence in respect of evil” as being “nothing else but the direction or determination of evil to what is less evil, and as much as possible to good.” (AC 5155)

We can return to previous examples to illustrate this. The good within punishment is that the innocent are protected. (AC 592, 2447) Worship by burnt offerings of lambs, and calves, and so on, which is offensive in itself, was permitted so that some worship might remain among sensuous people, and, hopefully, a deeper worship be introduced later. (AC 2180: 7) Temptations, of course, are a fine example, since in the temptation, which has been initiated by the evil spirits, the Lord is able to turn all their attacks to the good end of confirming a man in his choice of heaven, and in his trust in the Lord. (AC 6663)

Note that none of the evils originated with the Lord. The punishment, the sacrifice, the temptation, had their origin in evil; but some good was the Divine effect within such a state.

The vital point here is that the evil the devils intend never fully comes to pass! What they want is a complete destruction of a man, and what they also want is complete domination of him. These are their intentions, that is, the evil they then purpose. The Lord does not permit that. “For if the foreseen intentions of evil spirits were permitted it would lead to the destruction of men and of souls; wherefore the things intended by evil spirits are bent into such things as are permitted.”(SD 1088. Cf. SD 401, 418; DP 296: 7) This is so also of what men on earth purpose. Often in anger they see an end, and although they may appear successful in compassing another man’s ruin or unhappiness, it is a shallow victory, for the Lord is able to provide that the unhappiness is only temporary. We can see this most clearly in the case of murder from hatred. What the murderer intends is total destruction of the individual. But what has he accomplished? He has forced the removal of the outer garment of man’s spirit, and the man himself enters the spiritual world completely unharmed, and beyond further harm.

Evil men can do only temporary harm. That we must come to see. The harm may be of a deep nature; it may be termed, and rightly so, a lasting harm, in the perspective of the world. In the eyes of God it is still temporary. Here we come to assessments of what the Lord will not permit, and what is the character of that which He does permit. The general teaching is found in the statement that the Divine Providence regards eternal things above merely temporal things. In this case, we may understand this to mean that the Lord will allow a temporary unhappiness but He will not allow an eternal one; and we can also say that He will permit a temporary one, for the sake of freedom, and still preserve the man’s eternal lot intact.

Let us take some general ideas before going to examples. The appearance has easily arisen that the church says that the Lord does not care about temporal unhappiness, that we shrug off calamities with the observation that the Lord will look after the sufferer in the after-life. I recall vividly the comment of a doctor who said he had become an unbeliever, partly because of the terrible suffering he had seen in hospitals, but more because of the callous and sanctimonious attitude affected by priests, who made it appear that God did not care if these little things went on as long as His big plans were not harmed! We must not think that way. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matthew 7: 11) The Lord is infinite love. Can we think of Him that He does not feel as sensitively as we do the sufferings of all people? That is what we are suggesting, if we question His particular care. The Lord, who has one aim only, the happiness of each soul, wills that no pain or anguish shall befall any one of His creatures: that is why He has provided a heaven, in which such things will never again happen. And – we tend to forget this – He made the world that way too, but we fouled things up! – or our ancestors did.

When there is evil, or unhappiness, or sickness or great pain, therefore, we ought to say to ourselves that the Lord desires this even less than we do; but that the laws for our salvation have to permit such things. Then we can appreciate the first point: that it would have been better had it not happened. From that point, we can proceed, since it had to happen, to see what good can come from it.

Why Does the Lord Allow Man to Will, Intend, and Even Do Evil?

Why Does the Lord Allow Man to Will, Intend, and Even Do Evil?

In the prophet Isaiah we find the following declaration from the Eternal God:

“I am Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me. I am Jehovah, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Jehovah do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 5-7)

From teachings given already it is evident that the Lord neither creates evil nor wills it to occur. The historical context of this passage indicates that the Jews of that time were coming under the influence of the Persian dualistic concept of God. This belief would have us admit to two gods, one who controlled good, and the other who controlled matter, which was intrinsically evil. Since this would have denied the omnipotence of God – an essential of religion – the Lord gave a revelation in accordance with the state of the people, which claimed for Him power over evil. Within that simple teaching one may see the rational truth. Such revelation is in accord with a universal purpose of the Word

“that men may believe that the Lord governs and disposes all and everything in the universe, even evil itself, punishments and temptations; and when they have received this most general idea, may afterwards learn how He governs and disposes all things by turning the evil of punishment and temptation into good. In teaching and learning from the Word, the most general truths must come first; and therefore the literal sense is full of such things.” (AC 245)

Probably we all know of the most general law governing the Lord’s permission of evil – the need for man’s freedom. Although it seems that the Lord could have organized it so that we would all be good, that is not true. Freedom is life itself, and if man had not the power to choose, he would not be. That is his esse, that he is a power receptive of the Lord’s influx. (See AC 3938) Hence the teaching that “the Lord could lead man into good ends by omnipotent force, but this would be to take away his life, and therefore the Divine law is inviolable that man shall be in freedom.” (AC 5854) Therefore also we are told that freedom is maintained “unimpaired and sacred” in man, (DP 96ff) “not at all to be violated” (AE 1155):and three reasons are adduced. Without freedom and rationality man would not be a man, he could not be regenerated, and he could not have immortality and eternal life. (See DP 96; SD 398; DP 16)

It has been suggested that the Lord loves man’s freedom more than He does man’s salvation, since He will allow a man to have freedom and from it to refuse salvation. The above reasons show that such an idea is not only unjust, but is incorrect. Freedom and salvation are inseparable, so one cannot be loved without the other. The Lord cannot remove man’s freedom in order to save him, because then the man would cease to be a man, and salvation would be impossible for him. In general we sense this, for we know that we, and mankind in general, have held freedom of thought and will as the sine qua non of a happy life. When we are forced to do anything it loses most of its delight for us, unless we are forcing ourselves, in which case there is internal freedom. (See AC 1937, 1947)

Of course, there are some who argue that it is all very well for man to be allowed to will and intend evil, but why does the Lord then let him go ahead and do it? And why does the Lord allow that evil to succeed, without secretly controlling it so that it will always fail? Worst of all, why does it succeed against the innocent?

The trouble is that evil must be permitted to come forth, often even into act. Man must be allowed not only to will it but to seek to do it, otherwise he is still not free. It is not that the Lord allows it to come forth without any control – He still permits only that which He can bend to some good – but it has to come forth to some extent. One may take the very simple analogy of offering a child his choice of cherry cake or apple pie, when you really want him to choose the apple pie. You give him the choice, and he says he wants the cherry cake, and you then say:

“No, you can’t have it; you must take the apple pie.” Surely the choice is then a mockery. So it would be if the Lord allowed man freedom of choice, but when the man chose evil He forbade him the expression of it. Man must be able not only to will evil but also to meditate on it, and to use his faculties to accomplish it to some extent.

The main point is that man is permitted to will and do evil, and then the Lord strives to bend him to good. Through this permission some hope exists of the man’s salvation; without it there would be no hope, for the man would not be a man. (See AC 10,777, 8700: 3)

For the man himself, also, it is very important that the evil which he thinks in his heart have some opportunity to express itself outside of him, for otherwise there is danger that he will never realize it for what it is. Often it has to appear before he will admit its quality and origin. Before that he has justified himself in it and excused it, driven on by the allure of the evil; but when it comes to being in all its nastiness, then he can look at it, perhaps somewhat objectively, and see that it is evil. Then, or later, he can be led to reject it. We have perhaps all had the experience of brooding over an imagined insult or slight, and feeling we were fully justified in our position, until finally we have done or said something to the object of our ire, only to find we then recognized our anger to have been petty and imagined rather than real. The act of expressing the angry spirit within ourselves showed it up for what it was; but before that, we were convinced that we were justified.

“All evil that does not appear finds fuel for itself.” (DP 278) It is likened to fire in ashes, to matter in a wound, or to cancer or gangrene in a body which must be cut out or it will kill. (See DP 278, 281) This is a problem which we tend not to see, because we do not realize that the enemy is within. We think of ourselves as being basically good, afflicted with evils from without. But man’s old will from his birth is like a “little hell,” and it is vital that “he sees that he is there.” (DP 251) (Of course, from remains a part of him is like a little heaven, too.) The evil is within, and since it does come into our will, it should proceed from there into our intentions, so that it may be made manifest to us and we may fear for our internal state, and want to reject it. An external illustration is given in explaining why the Israelites were permitted to worship a golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai. They had become subject to idolatry during their stay in Egypt, yet were not aware of that tendency. If they were to represent the church of the Lord this had to come out and be shown to be a danger, and it had to be removed by means of severe punishments. Only then could they undertake the representation, for only then did they recognize the tendency within themselves. (See DP 243)

In the case of man, we would observe, the evil will come forth, and then be removed by repentance, not punishment.

There is still another reason, involving the man himself, which makes it necessary that his evils appear. In bringing evil into act, a man rejects internal good and truth and becomes unable to profane it. If, however, he is forced by miraculous means to admit what is good and true, and to enter into it in some degree while he still loves evil, he will profane. Profanation is the worst of evils, destroying a man entirely, and the Lord’s Providence is very special against this. (See AE 375, 46; DP 264) It is impossible, from Divine power, for the Lord to make anyone believe. Often, when we sorrow over the fact that a person for whom we care deeply is apparently leaving the church, we wish that something great and magnificent would happen which would “bring him to his senses.” But it is possible that the Lord foresees that were this to happen at that particular point in the man’s life, it would lead, not to eternal belief, but to a temporary faith followed by profanation! The reason would be that the man had not yet entered into a state receptive of faith because of some evil within. That evil has to come out first, and be seen.

Thus we find a universal law, which is that “man is not permitted to enter interiorly into the truths of wisdom, and into the goods of love, except in so far as he can be kept in them even to the end of life.” (DP 233) “On the recognition of this law,” we are told, “depends the recognition of the laws of permission.” (DP 232) A man is not led by too much power to see what he would not be able to maintain as his faith.

He is therefore allowed to stay in evils and the exercise of them without being struck down by God, or punished in some esoteric manner which convinces him that he is doing wrong. His evil is allowed the appearance of success. So, for example, the Israelites were allowed to lose all internals of worship before they took on their representation, so that they would not plunge into those holy things and profane them. (See AC 1327) Those in faith alone were allowed to falsify the externals of the Word, for “if they knew them, so as to think of them interiorly, they would profane them.” (AR 686) Solomon and others were permitted to have many wives and concubines because they had no good and truth to see the need for monogamy, and it was better that they remain so. (See AC 3246) In the most drastic sense, the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, were allowed to wipe out a whole village – that of Hamor and Shechem – so that these remnants of the Most Ancient Church could not profane their worship by acceding to the ritualistic externals of the Jewish religion. (See AC 4493: 6)

The Word also puts this concept in another way by saying that the effort of the Divine Providence is to see that truth and good are not mixed with evil and falsity. It is possible for man to be in good and in falsity, or in truth and in evil, or even in good and evil together; but the effort of the Lord is to alter this situation, even to permitting that the man be in evil and falsity. (See DP 16. Cf. AC 1159: 5) “Would that thou wert cold or hot!” (Revelation 3: 15)

The argument still comes out, however: Why do the evil have the power to hurt the innocent? This is what seems so unfair. To my knowledge the Writings are not specific in answering this, apart from the general observations already made, and I think the reason is that the answer lies in common sense guided by these teachings. Consider the alternative, that the Lord allowed only evil men to be hurt by other evil men, and miraculously preserved the innocent from all harm. A thousand questions immediately come to mind. How innocent are the innocent? Are they, then, harmed to the degree in which they are not good? If such a situation did exist, could we not tell from the punishment of a man that the Lord had allowed it because he is interiorly evil, and could we not therefore judge him spiritually, and reject him? If an evil man were to be punished the moment he did evil would he not then be removed from freedom, because fear of punishment, and the knowledge that the Lord had allowed it, would force him to reconsider his ways, but not from free will? The questions are myriad.

What such a thought is really asking is that the situation in the spiritual world pertain here too, for there the evil are not allowed to hurt the good, and can hurt the evil only when they have transgressed. It is allowed there because the ruling love is already fixed, the choice made. If it were allowed here, it would destroy freedom. Evil has to be allowed to hurt the good or there would be no freedom.

This makes us reflect on a point which is central to our concept of right and wrong. Evil is evil, not because God has autocratically ordained that it be so! It is evil because it brings harm and unhappiness that people do not deserve. It is inevitable that our choice of evil will harm someone in some manner, because that is the nature of the thing we have chosen. And the trouble is that because of the need to preserve freedom the Lord will not provide that its harm is limited to those only who deserve some punishment.

When we realize that it is inevitable for evil to harm others, and appreciate that it is not the Lord’s fault that it is so, then we can be more sensitive to the wrongs we do to others by our bad choices. “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7: 9, 10.) The Lord asked these questions as if men would always do good to their loved ones; yet in our choice of evil we do these wrongs, and more. With every conscious evil we deprive those who love us most of the effect of that love which should flow in from the Lord, through us, to them. We take away from them the sphere that would have existed had we allowed the Lord to soften our hearts to others, instead of their becoming hardened to all but ourselves. We deprive them of the gentle and thoughtful concern for their welfare which would have characterized us in time, had we allowed the Lord to lead us into charity. Perhaps they will never know what we have done; but we will have done it, all the same. Evil men hurt those who love them much more than they do their enemies, for their loved ones need them and look to them, and will cling to them; and they have nothing to give. “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink…. Then shall He answer them, saying, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me .” (Matthew 25: 42, 45)

Why did the Lord let it happen?

Why did the Lord let it happen?

by Rev. Peter. M. Buss

 

Why Does the Lord Allow Temptations, Punishments, Hell?

This is perhaps the easiest in our series of questions. One must realize that punishment is in itself a distasteful thing, especially in the world of spirits and in hell, about which we are primarily speaking. Condemnation to hell is harsh and final, out of accord with a casual concept of love. Even temptation is an evil, in that it is an assault by evil spirits who are trying to destroy the man. People ask why the Lord lets these things happen. Surely, in a universe under an omnipotent and loving God, they could be prevented?

The appearance is that the Old Testament credits the Lord with these states. “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” (Exodus 20: 5) We are told that “God did tempt Abraham.” (Genesis 22: 11) Jehovah is often portrayed as being angry and vengeful, and on one occasion punished the Israelites so heavily that Moses had to chide with Him, saying: “Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people…. And Jehovah repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.” (Exodus 32: 12, 14) Even in the New Testament there is the appearance that the Lord Himself condemns men to hell: “Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10: 28. Cf. AC 6071: 2-5, 9033)

Such statements are made for the simple, who need to believe that if they do evil the Lord will punish them. They are unable to perceive anything else. We can see this from our own attempts to punish our young children: no matter how much we may tell them that we do not wish to punish them, and that we love them and inwardly sorrow when we have to bring them pain or unhappiness, they cannot help but feel, when we punish them, that we are angry. In fact, if they felt we were not angry, they would probably feel that we were being cruel and enjoying the punishment. Hence the letter of the Word abounds in this type of appearance which, we are told, “must not be extinguished, that is, denied; for if it is denied, faith in the Word perishes.” (AC 9033) But in these truths deeper concepts may be sown later, which show a different idea of punishment, condemnation and temptation.

The deeper truth is from the laws of permission – that no evil is desired by the Lord, and therefore no evil is committed by Him. He does not do these things, but He permits them, not as one who is willing but as one who will not destroy a greater goal, which is the salvation and protection of the good. (See AC 1874, 2768, 6071) Therefore it is said that the Lord “cannot bring a remedy” to the people whom He permits to suffer these things. (AC 7877)

The Lord “cannot”? How can we use such a term in speaking of the omnipotent God? Is there anything He cannot do? Little children are permitted to think that there is nothing the Lord cannot do, for only in this way can they conceive His omnipotence. (See AC 245) But a mature mind is invited to see that the Lord is order. He ordained a certain law upon His creation, the law of love. This law is the Divine truth, and it is inconceivable that the Lord should operate outside of it, or contrary to it.

There are certain things, then, that the Lord will not do. He does not bring a remedy to punishment, because were He to do so He would be allowing the evil to harm the good beyond measure and to control them. He will not allow the evil to enter into heaven where the good are, and so He does not stop their being sent by their loves to a place of separation – hell. This is because the good have to be granted happiness and sanctuary eternally, which the evil would love to destroy. He allows temptation in man: He will not prevent it from coming. Only through temptations can the evils in a man, which he has previously loved or to which he has been inclined, be rejected, and only through temptations can a man come to believe in the Lord’s sovereign power over evil. This general law applies to all the questions which follow: the Lord “cannot” prevent certain evils “in view of the urgency and resistance of the end, which is the salvation of the whole human race.” (AC 7877)

The source of hell is in man, who wills evil. The origin of punishment is in man, the cause of temptation in him also.

“Jehovah God or the Lord never curses anyone. He is never angry with anyone, never leads anyone into temptation, never punishes anyone, and still less does He curse anyone. All this is done by the infernal crew, for such things can never proceed from the Fountain of mercy, peace and goodness.” (AC 245. Cf. AC 7877, 8700e; SD 4276, et al)

Man himself is the cause of these evils, as we have said. Strangely, it may appear, he causes them to come upon him by invoking laws of Divine order! The Lord has ordained that it is of order that whatever good a man intends will have the effect of bringing good and happiness to the doer; thus we have a perfect cycle of ever-increasing good, for finding happiness in bringing it to others augments the desire to do it again. When a man intends evil to another, then he invokes this law; but now, instead of good, evil returns to the doer and he finds himself in unhappiness and punishment, eventually if not immediately. Here we see how the Lord established that which would provide for increasing happiness, and the same law provides for the protection of those coming into happiness from others who wish them evil. “It is a law of Divine order that good should have its recompense – thus heaven – within itself; and it is from this that evil has in itself its punishment, thus hell.” (AC 9033)

The law is good, and it operates against the evil for the protection of the good. Thus we find the negative expression of it: “It appears from the order in which all things are in heaven and in hell of which I have spoken elsewhere, that it is ordained that all evil shall punish itself, and thus evil itself shall tend to abolish itself.” (SD 4206.[Italics added.] Cf. AC 592, 8227) This evil which returns becomes the evil of punishment. (See AC 592)

We can reflect on other aspects in which a man who rejects the laws of good finds that they force themselves upon him. A good man doesn’t do evil to others, because he cares for their feelings and can imagine the harm that the evil will bring. He as it were senses their possible pain as pain in himself. An evil man in the other world has the same sensation; not because he is sensitive to the feelings of others, but because the evil he intends returns upon him! So the good are aware from conscience of the evil they might do to others, and refrain from charity. The evil are aware from punishment of the effect of evil on others, and they refrain from fear. With one, there is freedom, with the other not; and both are subjects of the Divine law.

A man who does evil, then, steps outside of the provision for the protection of a good man, and comes under the provision for protection of others who are good against him! (See AC 2447) Then, in the case of punishments in the other world, he is no longer protected from those evil spirits who love to punish and torment, and they torment him up to the measure of the evil which he himself tried to commit. Then they are stopped; for the Lord wills no punishment at all, but permits just as much as is necessary to reduce the man to a state of external order. (See AC 592, 4493: 6, 6914e)

We tend to think of punishments in the other world being carried out by angels, stern and sorrowful in their justice – perhaps from our concept of a just judge on earth who is the instrument, but not the cause, of punishment to criminals. This is not the case, for no angel could love to punish those whom he knew had destroyed in themselves all hope of true amendment. The evil are allowed to punish their own, not as much as they want, but as much as the Lord permits; for He still governs.

The punishment of condemnation to hell is explained by another law of order. It is of order that the Lord should be present with man. His presence with those who love evil, however, causes them torment, for they hate good. They then willingly flee the sphere of heaven, which by His presence He is still offering! Thus the Divine laws of order for the protection of the good are intolerable to the evil. (See AC 8227) Similarly, the cause of temptations is in a most positive law of order. The Lord draws near as a man orders his external life according to the way of peace; and in drawing near, He brings to man a new love with its joys. This the infernals who are with him cannot stand, so they rise up and fight to keep the man in his old state, and temptations result. (See AC 4299) Through them the Lord works His greatest good – salvation – and His presence was merely for this good; but the evil was the cause of the temptation, and fulfilled its role of “abolishing itself.” (SD 4206)

“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger? saith the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?” (Jeremiah 7: 18, 19)

There Are Degrees of the Divine Providence

There Are Degrees of the Divine Providence

A father who is wise does not punish a two-year old in the same way as he might a boy of twelve; he knows that their appreciation of their transgressions is quite different. Similarly, the Divine wisdom dictates that the Lord’s provision for the leading of men takes account of the states in which they are. Some are spiritually children, others are approaching maturity. Some are in evil, some are in good, and most of us are in between.

“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. . . . The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His justice unto children’s children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those that remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103)

To have mercy is to lead man from the place where he is toward heaven, not to set an ideal far beyond man’s present reach and then condemn him because he is not there. “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” He accommodates His leading to us; never diminishing the ideal itself, never failing to present a perfect hope, but at the same time pointing out the first few steps on a path that will lead us away from our imperfect selves towards that heavenly goal. He does not say: “Find your own path, and when you are good enough then I will accept you.” He leads us through weakness. “If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139: 8-10)

The New Word describes, therefore, four general degrees of the Divine Providence: will, good pleasure, leave, permission. (See AC 2447, 9940; SD 892) One may say that the Divine will leads the celestial. The Divine good pleasure, on the other hand, is the grace of the Lord toward the spiritual who, relatively to the celestial, could be said to be in evil. Because of their willingness to love and serve the neighbor, however, the Lord is pleased to accept them and grant them His gifts. It was of the Divine good pleasure that the Lord was born on earth, for He came to save the spiritual. Therefore the phrase is used in the Writings: “It pleased Him to be born.” (See AC 10,579, 256)

The Divine “leave” appears to encompass natural good, be it genuine or merely a cover for internal evil. (See SD 2296, 3896. Cf. AC 2447) In other words, a man who performs charitable offices from a sense of external duty because it is his job does so from leave; so does a man who does the same thing from a purely selfish or evil motive. The first man comes under the Lord’s laws as to good, for He is leading him slowly to a greater good; the second, unless he repents, does not. (See AC 2447) Sometimes “leave” is divided into two – “leave” and “sufferance.” (See AC 17550)The implication is that “sufferance” has reference to natural good covering a state of evil, and “leave” to a genuine but merely natural state.

In summary, the Divine leave governs a merely natural state, whether of the lowest heaven or of hell. The Lord does not desire that men merely obey, still less that they obey with the lips but not with the heart; but He gives them leave so to be, that He may lead them further. Whereas leave compasses a state of external good, permission is the government where there is evil, usually both external and internal. Only a few things which are permitted fall under the Divine laws as to good, and we would assume that these are externally bad acts which are done with the utmost sincerity. (See AC 2447) In general, permissions are evils, which the Lord does not will, which do not please Him, and which He does not even suffer to be so. He permits, as one not willing, for the sake of the greater good.

These distinctions, which are discrete, are important.25 We frequently find that people are tempted to assign and attribute everything to the Divine Providence, with a few exceptions which they acknowledge as of permission. They forget about the things in between. A man may act in temper, cause a great deal of misery, and then on looking back he will see that something useful came out of it, so he will say: “Maybe I was meant to behave that way; see how it turned out.” The behavior was not meant. It was permitted and the good provided despite it. All too often people adopt a fatalistic attitude towards past faults, because it all “turned out for the best in the end.” Thus they take credit for the wisdom with which the Lord improved on their errors!

Let us take the example of a basically well-disposed young man in a promising position with a firm who develops a strong and unreasonable sense of grievance against his immediate superior, so much so that he eventually gives in to his anger, there is a nasty scene, and he resigns. He then finds another job and does very well there, too; and so, on looking back on his life he will say: “That change was for the best. Obviously I was meant to do that.” In saying this he excuses his ill-tempered behavior, and even insinuates the thought that the Lord willed him to leave the first firm, thus that he acted according to the Lord’s will. He did not. His action was wrong, but the Lord still led him and provided good for him, despite his wrong. Had he behaved well, he might have received greater benefits; he will never know, because that was not what happened.

Let us consider also the example of marriage. A young couple ought to believe, if they have searched themselves and each other, that their love is of the Lord’s will; but this does not mean that everything they are going to do from that time on in the name of their love will be of His will. There is a dangerous tendency to think this, to feel that because we have felt the joy of an ideal love which the Lord wills us to have, the rest of our married life will proceed also according to His will. Then, when we are motivated by selfish urges and find that a lot of our emotions in marriage are not as pure and ideal as they ought to be, we are downcast, and tend to question whether we ever truly loved each other. How, we ask, can such a bright vision fade? The truth is that the first of marriage love, that recognition that we were created to live to eternity together, is an acknowledgment of the Lord’s will. What follows, however, is a path in which two people walk together through things which partake of permission, leave and good pleasure toward that perfect goal. Many things we do in marriage may not be of the Divine will. We may be eternally thankful that He has other kinds of leading also, more accommodated to our state, which will enable us to reach in time the state in which we may be one flesh, which cannot be put asunder.

When we appreciate the infinitely patient and accommodating nature of the Lord’s Providence, we may understand better how things that we presently believe to be good are only partly good, and must fade in time, to make way for others which are more pleasing to our Maker. (See AC 4063, 3701, 4145)