The Doctrine of Permissions
3. 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.
It Would Have Been Better Had It Not Happened
Let us remind ourselves of the point made earlier that most things are not of the Divine will: many come from lower degrees of the Divine Providence. Especially if something comes from permission, which the Lord does not will, we are able to say: It would have been better had it not happened. This is the same as saying, the Lord did not want it to happen. He permitted it, as one unwilling. With this as a background, we can see what the Lord then provides in the way of good.
Temporal unhappiness the Lord permits: eternal harm, He does not permit. With this as a central concept, we can assume that the Lord will never allow an evil man to force a good man, through any ruses, to go to hell, when he would otherwise have gone to heaven. He may make him unhappy. He may lead him to do some wrong things: but the Lord will not allow that the good man lose his freedom to go to the heaven to which he wills to go.
We may go further, and say that the Lord will not allow a good man to be forced to go to a lower heaven than he would have chosen without the influence of evil from outside. This also would be a thwarting of the Divine Providence to some degree, which is impossible. I would speculate, however, and it seems a fair speculation, that we may bruise a sensitivity to some of the loves in the same degree but always there is a compensation. In other words, a man who teaches his child to love fighting and violence cannot stop that child from learning the truth as an adult, and rejecting violence, and coming into, say, the spiritual heaven. What he will have robbed the child of will have been states of innocence, during his childhood, in which he could perceive certain qualities of gentleness - a matter of continuous degree. However, in compensation for this, the child (now an angel) will have learned at first hand a quality of evil which those raised more gently could not perceive, and would be more aware of many states, from a knowledge of their opposites, than would others. He has lost, certainly, and it was a great wickedness that his father should have deprived him of these things, and almost certainly through it given him many years of unhappiness. The Lord has caused him to gain something else in place of his losses; and who can count the value of each, and weigh them in the balance?
With these thoughts in mind, then, let us take an example of a man who died as the result of a motor accident, which was the fault of the other driver, and left a wife and several children. We must feel for those who are left behind, for we know that the Lord did not will that such a disorderly exit from this earth take place. Nor can we say that the Lord willed that the man leave this earth at that particular time, since it seems that the only death the Lord wills is that of old age. (AC 5726) It would have been better, much better, had it not taken place; but if the Lord disallowed certain things, then the freedom of all would be destroyed. It would have been better, in the short run. I believe that the burden of the Word's teachings on this subject is that husband and wife and children, will know temporary sorrow, not eternal loss; and therefore we may rightly conclude that, perhaps fifty years later, when the wife has lived out her life on earth, they will meet once more, and enter into the same degree of heaven into which they would have come had they remained together on earth - as the Lord willed them to remain! During that fifty years, the wife especially would have known sorrow, and a sense of loss, which the Lord did not will upon her; but once it had to be permitted, He provided that through the separation other things could be provided which would make up for their loss. So they would enter heaven no poorer: a little different, but facing the same eternal joy.
It is hard to think, in times of loss, about eternal joy; hard to resign oneself to the fact that someone we love will come to us in forty years' time perhaps, and only then may we be sure that he or she will never leave us again. It is the tragedy of evil which the Lord must permit that these things come to be. But it is the wonder of the Lord's Providence that despite all evil, He provides through misfortune new values, new joys and loves to make up for what was lost, so that we may find contentment over those years in working towards, building towards, and looking towards that final reunion.
If things were perfect, there would be no temporal unhappiness either. But since things are not perfect, the second best is that there be only some temporal unhappiness, and none that is eternal - unless the man himself insists on it.
-New Church Life 1972;92:499-503