Euthanasia – good or bad?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

euthanasiaRecently one mother, Frances Inglis, has been jailed for life for murdering a son who was in a persistent vegetative state, and another mother, Kay Gilderdale was acquitted of the attempted murder of her daughter, whose suicide she assisted. What should we do about euthanasia done to relieve suffering? When the patient brings about his or her own death with the assistance of a physician, the term assisted suicide is often used instead.

Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments, such as antibiotics, necessary for the continuance of life. It can be misleading to use the term ‘euthanasia’ for the withholding of life-sustaining treatment or for the use of pain-relieving drugs which may also shorten life, because these may be both life choices if one seeks to enable a person to live as fully as possible even while dying. But active euthanasia is to choose death as an end, and that is a very different thing. It entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill and is the most controversial means.

Some religious people condemn euthanasia as wrong. However, many reach no final conclusion although seeing several relevant spiritual perspectives.

Should the individual choice of euthanasia be respected?

We each have a human faculty of freedom and rationality. We expect people to exercise these in applying their values to the circumstances they find themselves in. Defending the innocent is justified when we risk our life taking responsibility for others safety. And so it is argued perhaps we should likewise take responsibility for ending our own suffering.

But having a responsibility to choose between what is good and bad doesn’t make our wrong choices right. We may have the freedom to think as we please, but this does not mean we should do so if our desires are against ethics and spiritual values.

Swedenborg pointed out that our rational good sense is reduced when we are ill and in pain. We may think we are making our own free choices but actually these may be subtly influenced by unconscious factors. Some terminally ill people, some deeply depressed, do believe that their choice of death is for the good of others. ‘They will be better off without me; I am such a burden to them.’ There may be many reasons behind such statements. They are most often the words of someone with misjudged feelings of low self-worth.

It might be asked did not Captain Oates ‘choose death’ when he walked from Scott’s tent into the Antarctic blizzard. Yes, in a sense he did, but not as an end. He chose to act in the way he did knowing that it involved death, and accepting his death as a means when there was no alternative – to help the safety of his fellow human beings. ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The distinction here is between intention and foresight. Oates foresaw his  death: death was not his choice.

Should one be allowed euthanasia to escape intolerable pain and loss of independence?

We can imagine a rare situation of extreme suffering, such as the soldier in the burning gun turret who cannot be rescued, and whose agonizing death is unavoidable, for whom it may be judged that a merciful bullet is a gesture of care.

Those who are aware of their ethical responsibilities may be sympathetic to the idea that to prolong life uselessly is to undermine the independent moral status of a person. This is where it seems that personal qualities of rationality, freedom, self-possession and responsibility have become inactive and not given any dignity.

On the other hand when rationality has been taken away by pain or brain damage, the patient’s competence to volunteer their informed consent for euthanasia can be difficult to determine or even define. Mercy killing without the patient’s volunteering for this is even more controversial a step. The public’s trust in doctors’ and nurses’ duty to preserve life would be undermined if they were allowed to assist in mercy killing.

It goes against all human love to allow unnecessary suffering and this is an important factor for those who believe in Love and Light. On the other hand only such a Light  can know what is unnecessary suffering. Cannot we trust that intolerable pain will not be allowed by nature? Does it not provide the unconsciousness of concussion rather than our experience of something beyond which we can bear?

Is there any point in keeping someone alive past the point he or she can contribute to society?

For many being useful is the purpose of their lives. But how can one be sure anyone is no longer serving a useful role? For all we know in any given situation, a need for nursing care is a stimulus for others to learn better how to act in a selfless way and for the sufferer to see the affection and concern of close family members as they do what they can to help.

Euthanasia implies a right to die

One consideration for religious people is they did not create their life — it is from God their Creator. The life within them is not theirs to own and dispose of as they wish. It is God’s life in them. But more than a gift, life is a trust. Their life is on trust and they see themselves as stewards of this gift. To choose death, for the person of faith, therefore, is a denial that God is trusting that person with life. If life is a gift then we have no right to a life and so have no right to a death.

The question of euthanasia raises many spiritual issues.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

 

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Posted on14th February 2011CategoriesEthics, Ethics & LifeTags,, , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

Disappointment: a blessing in disguise?

disappointment
Blessing in disguise?

The disappointing terrorist attack of 9/11 was clearly not a blessing in disguise. Evil got its way and many people were very badly physically and emotionally hurt. Nor in any conceivable way can many a disappointing setback be described as a piece of good fortune even if tiny morsels of something positive might be salvaged from such events. On the other hand sometimes a personal trouble can have a unexpected opportunity for a helpful outcome. For example occasionally a bout of illness can help a patient re-appraise an unhealthy lifestyle. The difficulty is in recognising what might possibly be a blessing when your expectations are so severely dashed against the painful rocks of reality. Here are 5 questions that will help you look for any blessing in disguise after you suffer a disappointment.

Was the disappointment due to your unrealistic expectations?

Sometimes when you think life is predictable, the universe has other plans. You may be taken by surprise, if for some reason you complacently suppose calamity will always affect somebody else and not yourself. Yet people do get injured on the roads in large numbers. Nobody can tell what is around the corner. Who can say one won’t get run over by a bus tomorrow?

You may assume you always get your just deserts. Don’t we reap what we deserve? But actually this is may not be the case. A drunken driver or a badly maintained aircraft can be the sole cause of mayhem to innocent passengers.

Was the disappointment something of your own making?

Not everyone learns from their own mistakes. The painful inflamed tendon in my arm was frustrating as it forced me to rest and ration my work of splitting logs instead of overdoing it everyday. It was my wife, who rightly pointed out, that I needed to learn to pace myself in re-using muscles and tendons which have grown tight and weak due to under-use. Apparently it is a common problem for gardeners to rush out in the spring and strain their backs after a winter of inactivity.

Did the disappointment show greater effort was needed?

I got excessively cross with my young grandson who was refusing to abide by the rules of the board game we were playing. Sometimes adults forget just how noisy, untidy and demanding they themselves were when children. My emotionality spoiled what should have been a leisurely family occasion. I have now resolved to try harder to be more patient with the boy whilst still remaining firm about the rules.

“What keeps me going is a constant sense of disappointment with what I’ve already done.” (Robert Wyatt, rock musician)

If we see a setback as a challenge then it can be a stimulant for bigger effort.

Did the disappointment broaden your horizons?

Say you were to suffer a major misfortune such as losing your job through redundancy, or your spouse through marital breakdown or death. Then you would be faced with a huge challenge. Perhaps having to find a livelihood doing a different kind of work. Or having to cope as a single person with no partner to intimately support you face life. In either case you will probably be obliged to get out of your comfort zone: deal with new kinds of situation: learn new skills: meet new people.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.” (William Throsby Bridges, senior military officer)

If you happened to have a tendency towards self-pity here is an opportunity to stop adopting the victim role. This role seeks to focus on blaming something or someone else for one’s troubles. If you are such a person you will have a chance to learn instead the role of the survivor and adopt the courage that is required to tackle the unknown and experience the new confidence that comes from success.

Did the disappointment mean you need to put your hope in something beyond yourself?

When you feel like you don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional strength to pull through, you are challenged to possibly put trust in something more than yourself – whatever that may be.

” As someone who has faced as much disappointment as most people, I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way.” (Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher)

This reminds me of the biblical story of Jonah. His conscience told him to go to do a job of work but he didn’t want to do it and so he journeyed in the opposite direction only to end up in the sea and swallowed by a whale. In his distress he called to his God for help, vowing to make amends for his disobedience. The whale vomited him safely on to dry land.

Conclusion on disappointment

I would suggest there is no such thing as bad luck. Facing and dealing with setbacks is a part of life for all of us.

If you will, you can choose to find only the negative in your disappointment.

“When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.” (Joyce Meyer, Christian speaker)

Or you can look for possible blessings in disguise.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” (Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist poet)

Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher, claimed there is a loving Divine Providence, under whose rule, bad things are allowed to happen, if some lessons of life can result. According to this view, your time here on earth can teach you how to be more spiritually mature and thus experience a deeper long-lasting happiness.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Christian activist)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on26th February 2015CategoriesConsciousness, Latest post, Meaning and inspiration, Meaning of life, SufferingTags, ,, , ,

Suffering – Is it really good for the character?

suffering
Value of Suffering project: David Bain

Almost on a daily basis we watch television news and hear about civil war, terrorist activity, or political oppression going on in some part of the world. Atrocities cause immense human suffering whether it be due to the loss of home, community or livelihood, the sudden grief of family bereavement, or a state of terror regarding the possibility of imprisonment and torture.

Yet on a personal level are we not all disturbed at some time or other by some disappointment or difficulty even in ordinary civilised life where there is a state of peace? Suffering distress seems like an inevitable part of human existence.  Who hasn’t experienced some degree of it? Whether it be as a victim of disease, injury, stress, poverty, unemployment, crime, etc.

What is your attitude concerning human suffering?

Perhaps you think that all suffering is a pointless waste of time and agree with Somerset Maugham who wrote that “suffering for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.” and with William Butler Yeats who said “If suffering brings wisdom, I would wish to be less wise.”

Or perhaps instead you feel that something good comes from human troubles and that every cloud has a silver lining. That for example Angelina Jolie was right to say that “without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes” and that as said by Victor Hugo “It is by suffering that human beings become angels”.

Suffering of Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill suffered from a lisp being unable to pronounce the letter “S.” He fought to overcome this but never quite succeeded; instead he gradually made it a distinctive part of his oratory, turning a liability to an asset.

A much worse form of suffering was the episodes of clinical depression he had throughout his life. He referred to his dark moods as his “Black Dog”. His parents were aristocrats: father a famous politician and mother an American socialite. He did not have a close relationship with them and was largely brought up by nannies and attending boarding schools. We might wonder whether his recurrent depressive episodes heightened his ability to realistically assess the threat that Germany posed? Was it because he had battled illness and despair during his whole life, that he could convey to others that despair could be overcome, even in the bleak period of 1940?

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” (Winston Churchill)

His persistence and optimism were able to lift up his nation despite his own suffering.

Suffering of Helen Keller

Helen Keller became both blind and deaf after suffering a nearly fatal illness at nineteen months of age. Seemingly sentenced to a life of isolation, Helen made a dramatic breakthrough at the age of six, when she learned to communicate with the help of her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Unlike many disabled people of her era, Helen refused to live in seclusion; instead, she achieved fame as a writer, humanitarian, and social activist.

In 1916, Peter Fagan was hired as a secretary to accompany Helen and her associates on their tour. Peter confessed his love for her and asked her to marry him. The press published a story about Helen’s engagement. Although Helen was 36 years old at the time, her family was very protective of her and disapproved of any romantic relationship. Several times, Peter attempted to reunite with Helen, but her family would not let him near her. Helen and Peter were never together again. Later in life, Helen described the relationship as her “little island of joy surrounded by dark waters.”

She wrote:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” (Helen Keller)

Suffering of Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran is famous for his writing which is full of lyrical outpourings and expresses his deeply religious and mystical nature.

But neither was Khalil a stranger to personal suffering. His relationship with his father was difficult and often strained; not surprising as the father was a rough man with a bad temper, who alienated his wife and children. This autocratic, temperamental man was hostile to Kahlil’s artistic nature and was not a loving person.

Khalil experienced the social and cultural disruption of exile in America at a very young age when his mother took the children abroad to escape from poverty and feudal corruption. When he was aged nineteen years there was a further family tragedy when his sister, half brother and mother all died of tuberculosis. Further trouble came on his shoulders when aged 27 his lover decided not to marry him because of their race and age difference. Yet his take on suffering was positive.

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” (Khalil Gibran)

He suffered from failing health in his forties when he died of cancer of the liver.

Swedenborg on suffering

According to the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, pain, distress and other forms of suffering are often useful in obliging us to turn away from complacency, laziness, and self-centredness. It is only through making mistakes that some of us can learn some of the spiritual lessons of life.

This all ties in with Swedenborg’s concept of divine permission. According to this idea, it is a mistake to assume  that whatever suffering God permits, he must cause. God can be compared to a loving parent who knows that as much as he wants to protect his children at all times, he cannot impose such total control that they are stifled and are not free to develop as individuals. Sadly, when humans make mistakes, which they often do, it means bringing suffering on themselves. The trick of course is to learn from the painful lessons of life.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Are we a victim of circumstance?

Do you believe you are a victim of circumstance? This attitude can develop when you feel out of control of your life? That events and the situations around you  dictate how you feel. That your appetites or fears are in charge of you rather than you being in charge of them. That you are not free to break away from their hold and that life is a powerful current that you are helpless to swim against. victim of circumstanceMany have wondered about just how free anyone is to determine one’s personal destiny. Are you a victim of circumstance or have you the freedom to transcend it?

Limiting factors

We are all only too aware of the way personal freedom is restricted by lack of money, demands of parenting, or the economic recession, to mention just a few limitations commonly encountered in everyday life. From an academic viewpoint, scientists point out the myriad of factors which influence our behaviour and thus curb our liberty to do and be what we want. These factors include — to name just a few — your bodily constitution and family upbringing, any physical impairment, the chemical effects of medication and the social values of our culture. According to some scientists we are all each to some extent a victim of circumstance.

Reciprocal determinism

Yet, although the environment can be seen to determine behaviour, psychologists also talk about how we shape our own individual environment. This they call ‘reciprocal determinism’. One example is the experience of mass media. People can affect this by what video and television they individually choose to watch and what magazines they  choose to read. Another example is to do with personal interactions. We have all come across those people who seem to cope well with problems. They can be easy individuals to be with because of their rewarding conduct and charming and sincere way of dealing with others. They predictably bring about a positive social atmosphere wherever they go.

In other words although the environment around them may play an important role in determining what they do, nevertheless to some extent they make this environment themselves in how they interact with it. Perhaps we have some say in controlling our lives after all.

Inner versus outer freedom

Another reason for supposing we have more chance to take control over life is the sense of inner freedom we can experience. For example how you choose to think is something you are free to inwardly do regardless of your outward activity. You can  manufacture a self-fulfilling prophecy by the way you look for the worst or the best in others, or in the way you focus on the threats or the opportunities in any new challenge.

My favourite Greek once said:

I must die. I must be imprisoned. I must suffer exile. But must I die groaning? Must I whine as well? Can anyone hinder me from going into exile with a smile?” (Epictetus)

Not even the god Zeus could conquer his inner freedom of will.

A patient of the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom had a serious physical deformity. She believed that life without a love-sexual relationship with a man was without value — that one is either coupled or one is nothing. So she shut down many options for herself including a close non-sexual friendship. Through therapy she eventually realised that although she was not free to escape her deformity, nevertheless she was inwardly free to adopt a different attitude towards it.

Illusions of freedom

We can get ourselves caught up by negative attitudes and corrupting habits. Fears and obsessive cravings can become reinforced if repeatedly adopted. The sufferer does not realise how much of life is dictated by these feelings.

Some people drift into self-centredness. They can be caught up in the desire to exercise manipulate and control, to get even with anyone who does not please them, and get hold of anything that they fancy having by foul or fair means.

When one wants to carry on in this way it seems like one is acting freely. But I would suggest that anyone who has allowed bad desires and self-delusional thinking to predominate is actually in a state of spiritual slavery. When you are carried away with delight in something it seems like you are a free person to have chosen it. But this is self-deception.

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Real freedom

According to philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, real freedom is something very different. It is having the heavenly state of mind and character to be able to receive the spiritual life unspoilt by all the negative stuff that blocks out the heat of love and light of wisdom.

Those who are free of resentful thoughts surely find peace.
(Buddha)

As long as we remain attached to envy, greed, resentment and other selfish attitudes we are not free to experience deep happiness. The negative stuff first needs to be set aside if we are to gain unfettered access to the divine source of all that is good.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Why am I not healed?

Conventional modern medicine has made great strides, the main progress having been focussed on specially formulated chemical substances and sophisticated surgical
techniques with their high-tech electronic aids.

This has led to some truly amazing advances, but it has also resulted in specialisation and an approach to the whole subject of ‘health and wholeness’ which has been increasingly concerned with the ‘point of pain’ rather than the ‘person in pain’. This can result in the treatment of symptoms whilst an underlying cause may go undetected.

The person in pain

The human spirit that thinks, feels and experiences is neither chemical nor
computerised, but a living consciousness with non-physical (as well as
physical) dimensions. The realisation that beauty is more than skin deep is
equally true of health. The whole person is more than the outer physical shell.
There is increasing reason to question the underlying conviction of
conventional medicine that ultimately all disorders have a physical cause that
can be treated by surgery or chemistry.

Emanuel Swedenborg maintained that there is an intimate relationship between the human spirit and the human body; between the spiritual plane and the natural plane of
life. The spiritual plane is the plane of causes; the natural that of effects.
For anything to come into being it will have a spiritual origin. In the case of
diseases this can be due to a spiritual condition within ourselves or the
spiritual environment around us, or a combination of both. This is not to say
that it is all in the mind; very far from it.

A magnificent cathedral is not only in the mind, but its origin was in the mind. Its bricks and stones are a natural expression of those who built it; their sense of a sacred space – a
deeply felt spiritual reality of feeling, thought and imagination. If this is true of the buildings we inhabit, is it not very probable that it is equally true of the bodies we live in – the temple of the human soul?

To change a house to suit our needs requires thought and imagination as well as the right materials. It is surely reasonable to expect that both physical and spiritual action are needed to complement each other in health care too.

 Inner and outer health

Emanuel Swedenborg, writing during the time of the early beginnings of conventional
medicine, whilst accepting it has value, points to deeper spiritual causes:

“Things existing in the natural world are nothing else than effects; their causes exist
in the spiritual world. … If the natural part of a person’s being were
separated from the spiritual part it would be separated from the entire cause
from which it has its being and so from all that brings it life. Even so, this
does not make it impossible for a person to be healed by natural remedies, for
the Lord’s providence works in co-operation with means such as these.”
(Arcana Coelestia sections 5711, 5713)

For some, the priority is physical health, with health and wholeness of spirit,
whilst acknowledged as important, seen as of lesser importance. Swedenborg
takes a very different view. He looks at the larger perspective of life that
only has its early beginnings on the earth-plane of existence. He seeks to show
us the over-riding importance of the health and wholeness of the spirit or soul
which lives on long after our bodily outer shell.

Divine Providence, he maintains, is concerned with our physical health, but this is of secondary importance compared with the inner needs of the heart, mind and life itself
which are not material at all, but spiritual.

The placebo effect

Modern medicine well recognises that disease, stress and anxiety are significant
health risks, and the list of ‘stress-related’ illnesses includes digestive,
coronary and cancerous conditions. Too often, however, the positive placebo
effect, where recovery takes place through faith in the treatment, even if
phoney, is simply seen as something to eliminate in a clinical trial. With
notable exceptions few have looked at this as a means of healing, when it is unquestionably
powerful in its potential effect.

In looking to use and understand this ‘effect’, a constantly recurring theme in
Swedenborg’s writings needs to be reconsidered. He maintains there is a
corresponding link between spiritual and natural levels of being. Many
recognise that effects emanating from our inner state, very similar to the
placebo effect, work in a variety of ways on our health.

Consider how the ‘spiritual pollution’ of personality caused by unresolved conflicts, worry,
hatred, envy and grief undermines not just spiritual well-being but, in time, physical health also. On the positive side few deny the effects of love, humility, forgiveness, peace and prayer in the promotion of health at all levels of our being. It is high time we accepted the challenge to outgrow the myth that our state of health is no more than the state of of the molecules of which the body is composed, and face the importance of developing inner health and wholeness. Diet has its place, but so does devotion, faith and forgiveness.
It is not a case of ‘either/or’ but the holistic ‘both/and’ that accepts and affirms the spiritual dimension in healing.

Those who are not healed

To penetrate the problem of those who ‘do the right things’ yet still do find
healing, whilst others do, we need Swedenborg’s clearer understanding of
underlying causes, and the relationship between inner and outer, between
spiritual and material. Spiritual growth and the unfolding of the real meaning
of our lives involves light and dark, good and bad, health and dis-ease.

All our experiences serve a use and for the many who cry ‘why me’ there are a few,
who like the Christ, say ‘why not me’. Whilst Swedenborg does not maintain
‘these things are sent to try us’, he is clear that they are only permitted if
it is possible for some eternal benefit to our spiritual health to result.

Copyright 2012 Clifford Curry

Posted on4th August 2012CategoriesMeaning of life, SufferingTags,, , , , , , , , ,

Personal tragedy – How could I face it?

Personal tragedyPersonal tragedy visited Jack. Although in his sixties and retired, he still felt young. His whole life revolved around doing handyman jobs in his own home and in the homes of his three daughters. He greatly enjoyed the company of his family and their appreciation. But recently he was experiencing some troubling ailments.

First he noticed he was getting blood in
his stools. He put this down to
haemorrhoids, a common enough problem in his age group. However, it was when he started experiencing some abnormal bowel complaints that he took himself off to the doctor who immediately did tests. The results were rather worrying. The doctor explained that cancer gives people no symptoms or signs that exclusively indicate the disease and that he should see a specialist immediately for further examination.

Typical fears in response to personal tragedy

We can imagine how Jack felt. He was facing the prospect of taking some powerful drugs with all sorts of uncomfortable side effects. He dreaded the thought of likely skin changes and fatigue due to radiation therapy, and his imagination started to run away with itself as he dwelt on surgery. Would treatment work? Would his body be permanently impaired? Would he die?

How could Jack best deal with his fears? Just how does one face a personal tragedy?

Passive victim role in response to a personal tragedy

Some people respond to bad personal news by becoming a passive victim: repeatedly saying to themselves “It’s not right… I don’t deserve this… I am helpless.” It is as if they see a dangerous animal approaching and instead of doing something about it, they become paralysed. They had always believed the world should be fair and can’t seem to get their heads around the point that sometimes this isn’t necessarily so.

Not everyone allows himself or herself to become a passive victim of personal tragedy even when confronted by the most appalling circumstances. Many of the survivors of concentration camps were able to endure because they refused to give in to feeling victimized. For example Viktor Frankl in Auschwitz, whose basic human rights and possessions were removed, used his one remaining freedom to keep up his spirits. This was the freedom to choose his own inner attitude of mind in response to the outer horrible situation.

Making assumptions about the consequences of a personal tragedy

If you had been sent to a death camp maybe you would have feared the worst. But how would you have known? Assuming you are utterly helpless in the face of fate is a feature of being a passive victim. But no one can know the future. Frankl wasn’t to know whether he would survive or die.

If your baby were deaf, mute and blind, this indeed would be a personal tragedy and you would probably assume the end of the world for your child. But how could you know this? Through exactly this profound disability Helen Keller found an uplifting spirit and fulfilling adult life.

There was a man who had syphilis. His wife had TB. One of their four children dies and the others suffer from an incurable illness that is considered terminal. The mother is pregnant. What should she do? You might say she should have an abortion. If so, you have just killed the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The prospects for anyone may seem dire. But how do you know? How do know what is going to happen in the next hour let alone the next month? Who can be so sure about what is going on around the corner?

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in
life!” (Marcus Aurelius)

Some things will be bad; a few things are exceptionally bad but not the end of the world. And no matter how bad it is, can’t you stand it? Can’t you adapt?

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them” (Epictetus)

Wanting to cast blame in response to a personal tragedy

In his book ‘Why does God let it happen?’ Bruce Henderson suggests that people often make the mistake of assuming that whatever personal tragedy God permits to happen in the world, he must be the cause. He also criticizes the belief that ill fortune is a deserved punishment for a past misdeed.

He puts forward an alternative religious view that God is like a parent who allows the children freedom to do as they choose even if this means mankind behaves badly at times with tragic consequences. According to this view, trying to impose total control over our behaviour or ways of thinking would stifle us and we would not be free to develop as individuals as we wish but instead turn out like pre-programmed robots.

A loving parent who allows the child freedom to make mistakes is one who wants to help as much as possible giving advice, offering support and encouragement and so on. The religious person trusts that likewise God is a loving parent whose divine providence is flowing into our lives to counterbalance the bad things we are experiencing. In other words it is claimed that a loving God provides some element of hope to make up for misery, some degree of sense to offset foolishness or an inflow of good feeling to compensate for evil.

Just as the child learns through mistakes so spiritual growth can sometimes only happen if first a person has to face and deal with something of personal tragedy.

I do believe that no matter what hardships we endure, God is with us all the time, lifting us up, helping us to find a way through, if we will only be open to this.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Tragedy – What if it happened to me?

Tragedy always seems to happen somewhere in the world; like an earthquake destroying buildings, someone running amok with a dangerous firearm, or civil populations of non-combatants affected by weapons of war.

Watching the television news you wonder ‘What if it ever happened to me?’ It is so easy for the innocent to suffer damage to limbs, destroyed home, or even death of family members. A tragedy might so radically change your life that you would lose your means of earning a livelihood or other important roles.

tragedyJim & Maureen’s tragedy

Even an ordinary event might be personally catastrophic. In 2002 a forest fire made over 2,000 families homeless in one county in California. By 2006 many homes had been rebuilt. One couple, Jim and Maureen, moved into their replacement home with their teenage son after four years living in makeshift temporary accommodation. However, they were then faced with a higher adjustable-rate mortgage.  On top of that, Jim was obliged to close his business which had been affected by the fire.

Selling their rebuilt home and downsizing became the preferred option but the housing market had changed. Buyers had become wary about living in fire-ravaged areas, even if the rebuilt homes included sprinklers, tile roofs and other protective measures and so property prices dropped. The tragedy was that having failed to make loan repayments for several months and receiving no offers on the vacant property, the couple not only expected repossession of their home by their mortgage lender with a cheap sale of their only asset, but also faced the prospect of bankruptcy.

Tragedy exposes assumptions about life

All this just shows the fragility of the things of the world that one takes for granted. Previously and without realising it, you had assumed that bodily and material things were permanent features of your life. You thought they sustained you and that you could not do without them. However, seeing personal effects of tragedy like the plight of people like Jim and Maureen, made me realise how transient such things really are – here today and gone tomorrow.

A personal calamity would throw anyone upside down so that they feel in utter turmoil. Our comfort zone would be no longer available. The blow is harder to take if we had unwittingly assumed that whatever it was that we loved would always be there. We feel like shouting out `It’s not fair’. `It’s not the way things are supposed to be’.

Tragedy can reveal hidden things

So what happens next? One thing some victims of catastrophe report is that although they may have become immobilised by a disastrous change in their outward circumstances, gradually they began to realise that is they themselves that really needed to change if a new happiness is to be found. You won’t always be able to carry on blaming others and fate for what has happened. So, you may decide just to get on with things remembering that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ We are never too old to move with the times, never so beyond it that we cannot adapt and find new things, new people, new relationships.

It may sound unbelievably harsh to ask this, but is it possible that a personal tragedy brings it home to us that divine realities like compassion, belonging and courage, are the enduring bedrock of our life? Are the things of the world, we  previously valued so highly, mere illusions of happiness? After all, no worldly loss can damage things of the spirit  – things like consideration for others, pulling together, and trying to be positive in the face of adversity.

If things we see and touch cannot be relied on, what about things we cannot? Heaven is one such idea. If it is true that the kingdom of heaven is within ’ (Luke 17:21) then we are all capable of experiencing heaven in our daily lives. Is it not an inner state of mind? A spiritual reality that our bodily senses cannot detect? A very real and permanent feature to human life that physical events cannot harm?

Goodness emerging from tragedy

Our confidence can start to increase a little as we see a heavenly state of heart and mind motivating the efforts of rescue workers in flooded areas; leading the deliberations of planners and politicians to be better prepared in places at risk,  like for example setting up a world-wide Tsunami early warning system ; and giving those suffering loss, some comfort and financial expectation that they can recover their lives.

Even though we cannot see or touch heaven, becoming more conscious of this state of mind inspires us and fills us with hope. We cannot take the things of the world with us when we die; only things of the spirit. I would argue that this shows that spiritual reality is more permanent and safe from destruction than what is merely physical; for a worldly disaster cannot destroy heaven. Rather, we find what is indestructible interiorly within ourselves if only we would look for it.

Even if (after death) you are attached to worldly goods left behind, you will not be able to possess them, and they will be of no use to you. Therefore, abandon weakness and attachment for them; cast them away wholly; renounce them from your heart
(Tibetan Book of the   Dead, ii,I.  – Buddhist tradition)

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems