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.