The Doctrine of Permissions
1. When His Will is not done
by Rev. Peter. M. Buss
The Lord rules the universe, we are told. He is omnipotent. There is nothing He cannot do. If we trust in Him, we can be sure that He will save us and order all things in such a way that we will be happy to eternity, and, incidentally, happy on earth. This is our faith.
Many people, however, deny the Lord’s omnipotence, pointing to a large variety of circumstances which they feel prove that it is impossible to maintain that He governs all things and so can insure the protection of the faithful. Some of these arguments unquestionably affect members of the church; although they may not say in so many words, “I don’t trust the Lord completely,” their unconscious feeling tends that way, and many of their decisions are based on a reserve about His omnipotence.
Now such a reserve can be of two kinds. It may be of the will – a man saying in his heart that he does not want to accept the consequences of total faith in the Lord. After all, if we fully accept that His leading is the best thing for us, not just in general but in the details of our lives, we no longer have our excuses for our favorite sins. No longer can we argue that we have to do evil because of circumstances. (See I Samuel 13: 5-15) The answer is that if the Lord does all things for our good, He can provide that we never have to do evil. The unwillingness to believe the totality of the Divine Providence may be a part of our personal interior combat against evil; or a measure of our rejection of the Lord from the heart.
There are also those, however, who feel obliged from their understanding to question the Lord’s leading. Depending on their background, be it religious or pagan, philosophical or pragmatic, they advance a series of doubts. Each one of them basically asks the same question: How can the Lord be omnipotent if he allows certain things to exist, or to happen?
There are objections from the Word. Adam and Eve ruined things for everyone by eating the forbidden fruit, and God did not stop them; Cain killed Abel, and Jehovah stood by, helpless; the Israelites worshiped a golden calf; David numbered the people; Jezebel killed all the prophets of Jehovah; the Lord Himself was crucified! (See DP 237) Why did the Lord allow all these things, if He could have stopped them?
Then there are injustices in civic and social life. Those who are evil, and glory in it, are not punished on earth by God. The deceitful succeed, often against the innocent. The guilty are acquitted through bribery and chicanery. Irreligious and unscrupulous men get to the top, and men of integrity frequently are ruled. (Ibid.) In general, it seems that the bad guys hurt the good guys, and get away with it. “The best lack conviction, and the rest are filled with passionate intensity.”
Differences in religion may also cause one to wonder why the Lord allows such confusion to reign. There are thousands of religions, most of which profess to be the right one; many of them are not even true religions, and the vast majority do not worship Jesus Christ. Why has the Lord been so apparently unsuccessful in communicating His law to man? (See DP 238) Allied to this argument is the feeling expressed by those who are incredulous of the claims of the Writings; why has the Lord waited all this time before fully revealing Himself to mankind? (See DP 239)
The questions listed above are dealt with fairly exhaustively in nos. 241-274 of the work entitled Divine Providence. There are still others which are answered, or the answers are implicit, elsewhere in the Writings. Why does the Lord permit disease? Why does He let the innocent get sick, while the evil often live disgustingly healthy lives? Why does there have to be a hell, and punishment, here and hereafter? Why does the Lord let any evil prosper? Why do accidents occur, which sometimes bring incredible misery to a family that did not deserve it? Finally, and most difficult to answer, why are there natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, tricks of the creation itself, to spread chaos upon a helpless populace?
One of the troubles with unregenerate man is that he expects everything around him to be perfect and without taint, despite the fact that he is close to the opposite. The ideal laws of the Divine Providence tell how the Lord works with that which is ideal; but since there is imperfection and evil in the world, the Lord has laws for dealing with evil also. They are called the laws of permission, and they embrace the entire operation of the Divine Providence where there is evil. They provide an answer to all objections to the Lord’s omnipotence, for “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)