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)