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.
“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)